You may have come across the word ‘readability’ while striving to produce quality content for your audience. But what is it? The short answer – it is the measure of how easy to read your content is.
I know what you’re thinking, “but doesn’t that depend on the reader, his reading speed, available time, and all that?” Not one hundred percent. A lot depends on the way you write and present your content. It’s similar to choosing between a beautifully presented dish and one that looks bland.
No matter how finger-licking good the bland-looking dish is, your mouth will always water for the food that is garnished and presented in an eye-catchy manner. Blog posts and other content that you write are judged in the same way. No matter how well-written your content is, it won’t get any reads if it is not presented in a readable format.
So let’s dive into the nuts and bolts of writing readable stories in this post. You’ll also learn about Yoast SEO, the WordPress plugin that helps make readability easy for you. Additionally, we’ve covered using this plugin to its maximum potential for publishing successful content.
Here we go:
The basics – What is readability?
To recap, readability is a measure of how readable your content is for your audience. Take these two screens below as an example:
In this example, all the words look cramped for space. They tire the eyes, and I’m sure you won’t bother reading the screen completely. Don’t worry. It’s not your fault. The real problem is – the text isn’t readable. It’s where the issue lies.
Now look at screen 2:
Isn’t this screen pleasing to the eyes? And doesn’t it get its point across quickly? The reason is simple – it is easy to read. So what is it that’s contributing to so much difference between the two screens?
Let’s tally the differences together:
- Screen 2 has shorter paragraphs in contrast with screen 1 that has long paragraphs
- The sentences in screen 2 are shorter than those in screen 1
- Screen 2 formats text (bold text + italics) unlike screen 1 which sticks to a single format
Hence, when you write, you need to make sure that you write like the way the content is in screen 2. In other words, make sure you make your writing presentable.
But readability is not limited to short paragraphs and sentences only. There’s a lot more to it. And, fortunately, the Yoast SEO plugin demystifies this concept in its meta box below your page or side bar if you use WordPress Block Editor.
Before we look at the use of this plugin for readability though, let’s count the benefits of readability first.
The benefits of readability – for your readers, rankings, and site
By now, you already know that readability makes your content easy to read. But how does that impact you or your audience?
1. Readability benefits for your readers
One of the biggest challenges of writing is ensuring that you don’t bore your reader in any way. Or, God forbid, repel him altogether.
Readability can help save your day by:
- Improving readers’ experience
- Making what’s written easy to understand
Remember that a lot of people prefer paperbacks over eBooks (92% of the college students favor print books to eBooks – no kidding!) for the reading experience they offer.
While digital content can never smell as good as a fresh, crisp paper, you can always replicate some of the experience by writing readable content.
2. Readability merits for your rankings
When readers come across a wall of words, there’s little they can do except move on to the next tab. Do you know what that means for your site? Reduced time spent on your website. In fancy language, reduced dwell time or the time spent on your page.
Since the user left your site without reading or taking an action, he basically bounced from your page. Technically speaking, that’s an increase in bounce rate. What’s happening here is:
- Reduced dwell time
- Increased bounce rate
Both these factors work in sync to hurt your rankings.
Moreover, with the rise of Alexa and other virtual assistants, you need to write content they can work with. Similarly, Google is increasingly showing content in its featured snippets results (shown below). Your content needs to be readable enough to be featured here.
3. Readability advantages for your site
Now reverse the picture that we discussed above. When your content is easy to read, your reader enjoys it. Plus, the ease in reading makes the content understandable. This, in turn, means that your reader leaves with the takeaways that you shared in your content.
Such a pleasurable experience means that the reader will return to your site when he’s looking for related content. Ultimately, this leads to improved conversions.
We can turn all this into a formula too:
All this clears that readability comes in the company of several advantages, which is why you should pay attention to it. This brings us to the Yoast SEO plugin.
How does the Yoast SEO plugin help improve readability?
Chances are you may have already come across the widely known red, orange, and green signals of this plugin. These signals are indicators telling how well your content is scoring on the readability front.
Yoast isn’t limited to readability only though. Its expertise extends to search engine optimization as well as its name clearly indicates. In other words, the two parts of this plugin are divided into:
- Content analysis
Checks how friendly to read your content is for the search engine.
- Readability analysis
Surveys how readable your content is for your audience.
Both these analysis sections are linked. Since this blog post talks about the ‘R’ word though, we’ll concentrate on using the readability analysis section, which looks like this:
To clarify, the green signal indicates a good job. The orange and red lights, however, suggest that your readability needs work. When you click the eye icon (outlined in the image), the plugin takes you to the parts in your blog post that need revision. This helps you make your work reader-friendly.
How to use the plugin to make your content readable?
Let’s quickly recap what we’ve discussed so far: what is readability and how it can breathe life into your content? On top of that, the role that the Yoast SEO plugin plays in sharing your content’s performance regarding readability.
The real question now is – how do you achieve those green bullets?
You can do so by following instructions that each traffic light gives you. To this end, the readability analysis covers the following checks:
- Flesch reading ease
- Sentence length
- Paragraph length
- Subheading distribution/usage
- Consecutive or repetitive sentences
- Passive voice use
- Transition words use
All these pointers surface from the readability requirements of the text you write. When used correctly, each point helps make your content easy to read and understand, and you score a green light.
Let’s discuss each point in detail:
1. Flesch reading ease
The Flesch Reading Ease Score is a readability scale that tells how readable your work is based on the word and sentence length of the text. The higher you go up on this scale, the easier to digest your writing becomes. On the flip side, a lower score means that the text is not easy to consume.
The readability scale determines content-friendliness based on this chart:
Yoast employs the Flesch Reading Ease Score to share your text’s performance. For instance, it shows here that the readability of my content is 71.1. The plugin also elaborates that this is a fairly easy to read score, which is why it awards it with a green light.
But what if there’s an orange or red light here? Focus on improving the length of your words and sentences. So steps to take here are:
- Keep your sentences short
Ensure each sentence is 21 words long. If needed, take it to no longer than 25 words. If you tend to write lengthy sentences, trim them when you edit.
- Write simple words
Refrain from using long, confusing words. For example, use “easy” instead of “challenging.”
2. Sentence length
We’ve already covered this above. But to reiterate, write short sentences. Long sentences disturb readers’ focus. Readers can get lost, which means they may not get your message clearly. Therefore, for clarity and reading experience, stick with short sentences.
Tip: Mix up your sentence length. Write a short sentence, say only a couple of words. Pair it with a full-length sentence. Then add a medium length sentence. This gives rhythm to your writing instead of making it sound mechanical.
3. Paragraph length
Long paragraphs are hard to read. They strain the eye. So focus on writing short paragraphs. Keep them to 3-4 lines. One good way to do so is by concentrating on one point in each paragraph.
4. Subheading distribution
Subheadings break the monotony of text, which helps make it digestible. Yoast SEO suggests you add a subheading after every 300 words. This is evident in the following suggestion that it makes:
Additionally, you can break text by:
- Using bullet points or numbered lists
- Adding images in your content
- Including charts or graphics explaining stats
5. Consecutive sentences
This marker checks the beginnings of each sentence that you write. If some of your sentences consecutively start with the same word, Yoast SEO wouldn’t give you the green light.
To spice up your sentences and improve their readability score, write sentences with a variety. Here’s an example:
❌ There isn’t an exact formula to improve your writing. There is only one thing that you can do though, and it is write daily. There might be difficulties in this case, but consistency is the key to progress here.
✔ There isn’t an exact formula to improve your writing. You can always work on it by writing daily though. Taking out the time to put your thoughts on paper can be difficult, but it is the key to progress here.
Note that the first paragraph uses “there” to start three sentences consecutively. On the other hand, the other paragraph leans on variety, ‘there,’ ‘you,’ and ‘taking’ instead of only one word. This enhances the reading experience.
Tip: Don’t repeat yourself. If you’ve made a point once, there’s no need to repeat it in other words in the next sentence. Repetition goes by the name of redundancy, and it bores the reader significantly.
6. Passive voice usage
For a second, the mention of passive voice may have taken you back to your high school grammar class. That’s exactly the case here. You only have to give preference to active voice over passive voice.
Remember that passive voice makes sentences long. In contrast, active voice delivers your message in a strong and clear tone. It’s easy to read and keeps sentences short too.
How? See for yourself:
7. Transition words use
Transition words are bridging words such as, ‘therefore,’ ‘hence,’ ‘but,’ plus ‘and’ to name a few. They connect one sentence with another to give direction to the reader. In fact, transition words are not limited to words only. Instead they can be phrases too such as, ‘in the same breath,’ ‘in like manner,’ and ‘as a matter of fact’ among others.
Find more of these transition words below:
Since these words and phrases provide direction to the reader, they add to your content’s readability. This is why Yoast SEO gives it importance for ranking your text on the easy-to-read-scale.
In sum, by following each of these pointers, you can tick the bulleted checklist the plugin offers.
Wrapping it up
The Yoast SEO plugin is easy to use. But more important than getting those green lights is ensuring your content is interesting, and offers actionable takeaways. So if a bullet point or two doesn’t turn green, you don’t need to tear apart the entire piece.
Here’s to writing readable content. 🎉