SEO Readability and Yoast’s Readability Score

If you work with a WordPress website, there’s a good chance you’ve come across Yoast, an excellent plugin that provides lots of insight to help with your site’s search engine optimisation (SEO).

Yoast SEO plugin on wordpress
Of the many functions that Yoast offers, one of the most difficult to understand could be the Readability Score. This traffic light system aims to highlight areas of your text that could be improved so that it’s more accessible to your user. However, some may find the suggestions unclear or even downright baffling. In fact, this blog post is inspired by one of my clients who called recently for some guidance on this exact topic.

Today we’re going to take a look at SEO Readability, its function, and how useful the Yoast plugin is in this area.

What is SEO Readability?

Readability defines how suitable your website text is for your intended audience. When done properly, your copy should be digestible and easy to read.

By improving your website’s readability, you increase the chances of the page showing in a high position in the Google Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). You also ensure that your text engages your users and brings them a little closer to purchasing from you.

While the main beneficiary of good readability is the human reader, it’s also worth considering the machines that could be ‘reading’ your text. Virtual assistants, for example, may be using the information to provide useful voice search results.

How to Use Yoast’s Readability Score

Yoast’s Readability Score analyses text your write and checks that it’s readable according to some defined terms. These terms are based on well-utilised SEO techniques and the reading skills of the general public.

If you already have the Yoast plugin installed, go to any of your Pages or Posts and click edit. Underneath the WordPress editor, you will see a dropdown menu for Yoast. Click on this and then select the Readability tab. You will see an analysis of your text, with several categories and a traffic light system of green, amber and red to indicate good results, improvements and problems.

Yoast's Readability Score on a WordPress website

It also helps you identify problem areas of your text by highlighting sections for improvement. Just click on the eye next to the category to toggle this. You can then easily make adjustments and check how such changes affect your score.

Analysis Categories

The analysis looks at the below categories to check your text. Remember to take all of these descriptions with a pinch of salt – I’ll expand on this a little bit later.

  • Sentence length: How many words, on average, do your sentences hold? More than 20 is considered too many.
  • Passive voice: Are the subjects in your text acting or being acted upon? The former is active voice and is often considered more effective in writing because such sentences are generally easier to read.
    • Active voice: Alison updated the menu
    • Passive voice: The menu was updated by Alison
  • Subheading distribution: Many people will skim text to get a small titbit of information they need, rather than reading from start to finish. Adding titles can make it easier for skimmers to find what they’re looking for, while breaking the text up nicely for those who are reading in full.
  • Flesch reading ease: This is a test that scores text from 1-100 based on how easy it is to read. 100 is considered very easy, and 1 very hard. Yoast marks text green when it scores 60-70.
  • Consecutive sentences: Do a number of your consecutive sentences start with the same word? Yoast recommends changing things up to add variety and interest.
  • Paragraph length: Long paragraphs can look like a wall of text, which could be off-putting to a number of readers.
  • Transition words: These often link two phrases together, allowing the text to flow better and letting the reader see how separate thoughts are connected. Transition words include ‘too’, ‘for example’, and ‘on the other hand’.

How Closely Should I Follow Yoast’s Readability Score?

If you’ve tried using Yoast’s Readability Score, chances are that you’ve asked yourself this questions at least once. And it’s important to remember that the score is guidance only, not absolute scripture.

The score is based on a lot of researched information, including top-ranking results on search engines, analysis of average reading levels, and general good writing practices. This means it offers excellent clues for how you could improve your position on Google, make text more accessible to your users, or even be a better writer overall.

However, it’s also worth remembering that the score is subjective. It doesn’t take into consideration the demographics of your audience, your writing style, or even the full intention of your text.

Let’s take audience demographics as an example. If your audience is mainly made up of  the average Joe, you’ll need to target a lower reading level than if you’re writing for academics with an interest in highly scientific data. It would be completely unreasonable to follow the same set of guidelines when writing text for these two very different audiences.

So, while it’s certainly helpful to look at Yoast’s Readability Scores and check your text based on them. However, at the end of the day, you are a human writing for other humans (mostly), and whether you follow the advice provided will come down to knowing your audience and using your own judgement. Even when robots like Alexa are reading your text, they are growing better at processing and understanding natural language, which gives you even more reason to use ‘human speak’.

Tips for Writing Good Content Without Yoast

Woman typing at a keyboard
When it comes to writing, there are a number of things you can do to create good content that’s both interesting and suitable for your audience. Here are some tips when Yoast’s Readability Score isn’t doing it for you.

Know your audience

If you know who you’re writing for, you can analyse the type of language they use, learn about their literacy levels and interests, and adjust your text to suit the reader.

Make good use of keywords

What is your main subject in this piece? Are you targeting specific search phrases? Try and include common search terms relevant to your subject, but avoid overstuffing your text with repeated phrases. A bit of keyword research can really help boost your content.

Be realistic in your promises

The title and intro of your copy should draw the reader in and make them want to read more. ‘Clickbait’ – dramatic titles that bear little to no resemblance to the content – will do you no favours. Instead, focus on using a descriptive title that gives an honest and engaging idea of what to expect in the longer content.

Be natural and find a flow

Though shortening sentences and paragraphs can help improve readability, overdoing it can make your text clunky and annoying to read. It’s much better instead to find a natural flow in your text, almost like speaking. Remember, you’re talking to people, not robots – and even the robots talk like people now!

Come back to it tomorrow

After writing a first draft of your text, it’s usually better to step away and come back to it later, preferably the next day. This gives your brain time to distance itself from the subject and will allow you to look with fresh eyes the next morning.

Conclusion

While there’s no doubt that Yoast’s Readability Score is a valuable tool, it certainly needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. Use its suggestions as a guide for your text, rather than hard-and-fast rules. And remember that you should be writing for your end users, not a WordPress plugin.

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