Readability is an important metric of good content, both by readers and by search engines. But it is something that can often be difficult to get right.

This article outlines what is meant by readability, why it is important, and outlines 7 ways to instantly improve the readability of your content.

What is readability?

Readability refers to how easy it is for visitors to read and understand your text. There are a variety of scales and frameworks that measure this, but most measure 7 key areas:

  • Audience relevance
  • Grammar and spelling
  • Language
  • Structure
  • Sentence and paragraph length
  • Text enhancers
  • Design

Why readability is important

Neil Patel of Content Marketing Institute writes:

"Content that people love and content that people can read is almost the same thing".

Essentially, if content is easily read and understood by readers, the more likely they are to engage with or share this content with others. And ultimately, you want people to engage with and share your content.

Readability is also a crucial component of SEO. Search engines measure the how easy it is for users to read and understand your content in order to determine its quality and therefore its rank. Search engines penalise low-quality content and favour content that is high-quality.

However, readability is only one of the ways search engines measure high-quality content. Check out our blog post for more information on how to produce content that search engines consider high-quality.

Improve readability with audience relevance

When it comes to producing web content, you should make sure that it is tailored to your target audience. Quite simply, if you are a fashion blogger, you should be writing about fashion-related topics, as this is the sort of content your readers would expect.

This will also mean that your tone, style and reading level is tailored to your audience. If you are a consumer brand, your tone, style and reading level will be very different to a journal website tailored to professors and academics.

target audience and readability
Make sure your content matches your target audience

You can also ensure audience relevance by making sure you use relevant search engine terms within your text. Use keywords and phrases in your content that you would expect your readers to use in search engines.

Using the fashion blogger example again, you should expect to rank well for search terms such as ‘2019 style trends’ or ‘what to wear to a wedding.’ You’re not likely to rank well for search terms such ‘auto traders in my area.’

You can analyse your audience by undertaking consumer or market research, using tools such as Google Analytics or by reading this helpful article by Yoast.

Improve readability with grammar

One of the most important metrics of readability comes from the grammar and spelling of your content.

Research from Globo Lingo shows that 59% of readers are less likely to use a service or product if there are obvious grammatical or spelling mistakes on its website or marketing material. Readers are therefore more likely to trust the authority of a source if its content is well-written and grammatically correct.

Another grammar point to consider is that many readability calculators will penalise over-use of the passive voice. An example of the passive voice can be seen below:

active and passive voice readability
Active vs. Passive Voice

According to Yoast, the passive voice almost always makes your message less clear, and often makes your sentences much longer. Of course there are some exceptions, but you should in most cases avoid this tense in web content writing.

Ensuring that your content follows strict grammar and spelling guidelines is an easy place to start when it comes to improving the readability of your content.

Improve readability with language

Regardless of the audience your content is targeted towards, you should always use simple, easy to understand language and summarise concepts in a way that is clear and concise.

The modern reader receives more information on a daily basis than ever before. Nobody is sure exactly how much readers remember of what they read. But research shows that readers are unlikely to retain above 50% of what they read.

When visitors discover your content, you have very little time to engage with them and a limited chance that they will remember what you’ve written. If your readers also have to work hard to understand what you are saying, it becomes increasingly unlikely that they will find your content interesting or memorable.

The language you use should always present your point in the simplest possible way. Try using analogies, direct statements and summaries such as the below:

Remember: summaries engage readers and help them to stay alert.

Improve readability with structure

You can improve the readability of your content by ensuring that it has a logical and easy to follow structure.

You should ensure that your content is structured with the use of appropriate headings which separate your content into thematic blocks. Separating or segmenting your text makes content easily-digestible by readers and increases reader engagement.

Readers want content that is easily skim-able. Providing readers with clear, thematic headings helps them to skim content and also breaks up lengthy paragraphs of text into clear, easy-to-follow content blocks.

As a general rule, you should aim to break content into sections of no more than 300 words.

Improve readability with sentence and paragraph length

Another easy way to improve your content readability is by limiting sentence and paragraph length.

readability - less is more
Less is more when it comes to sentence and paragraph length

Shorter sentences and paragraphs make information simple and easy to digest. Readers are more likely to engage with information that they can easily understand and follow. They are far more likely to abandon an article with long, rambling sentences and paragraphs.

According to Gov.uk:

“When average sentence length is 14 words, readers understand more than 90% of what they’re reading. At 43 words, comprehension drops to less than 10%.”

As a general rule when it comes to web content, you should aim to keep sentences under 20 words

Improve content readability with text enhancers

To improve your content, you could also consider using text enhancers such as:

  • Images
  • Bullet points
  • Lists
  • Tables
  • Videos
mixed media and readability
Use mixed media to make your content more readable

Studies show that readers are over six times more likely to remember information they have read if it was paired with a relevant image versus standalone text.

As a general rule, you should use one of these text enhancers after every 100 words. Research shows that content with this ratio receives a higher number of shares.

Improve readability with layout and design

You can easily increase your content readability by ensuring that your layout is consistent.

You should ensure that your content is aligned consistently. It takes less effort to read content that uses consistent text alignment and starts every sentence in the same point on the page. You should also ensure that your font design does not hinder readability. Font types should be legible and font sizes should be appropriate for all devices.

There is also of course the possibility that readability can be affected by the overall layout of the page itself.

If your website has lots of prominent ads or banners that distract the attention of the reader, it is likely that the readability of your content will be affected, and your site will be penalised by search engines.

You should therefore ensure that your overall page layout is sleek, uncluttered and does not distract the reader from the text.

Improve readability with tools and checkers

Lastly, you can improve your content readability by using tools such as Readable’s site readability checker, or built-in readability checkers in content management sites such as Storychief.

Using online readability calculators and checkers leaves little room for error and ensures that your content reaches high readability scores every time.

How can we help?

At Cambray, we specialise in digital content creation.

Our copywriters work to high copy standards to ensure readability. We also work from a custom copy framework based on psychological research into the buying journey to ensure your customers are given the right information at the right time.

Contact us today for more advice on improving readability, or to outsource your content creation. Alternatively, fill out the contact form below to receive a call from one of our experts.

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