To marketers, the term “readability” conjures up images of the well-known WordPress plug-in Yoast SEO.
If you’ve never used it, this is a Yoast feature that calculates the reading “difficulty” of a piece of writing using a strange formula.
It then gives suggestions such as shortening sentences, employing a more active voice,
and splitting up large portions of text with subheadings.
It’s even bold enough to place red or orange bullets next to posts it thinks algorithmically sub-par, but let’s not go there.
The bottom line for Yoast is that readability is ranked. However, as technology like NLP advances,
the meaning of readability evolves (Natural Language Processing).
It’s taking on a more human appearance.
In this piece,
I’ll discuss techniques to improve your content’s human readability,
which will, in turn, improve its algorithmic readability.
They are as follows:
Get rid of the clickbait headlines.
Don’t overuse keywords (even if subtle)
Remove the unnecessary bloating of how-to posts.
Refrain from over-formatting.
Associated with mercy
Why HUMAN readability is important
As previously said, readability is important.
They claim increased reading comfort:
Enhances the user experience.
This increases the likelihood of your post ranking well in voice search.
Appeals to search engines, which are becoming more sensitive to what humans consider to be worthwhile writing.
I am dubious of any algorithmic approach to writing.
I have little patience for the Yoast plugin’s decrees, writing tools like Grammarly,
or anything else that tries to interfere with my writing thoughts (sighs in predictive text).
However, Yoast makes an important point here that is often overlooked in the frantic box-checking process of SEO writing:
your reader is not the search engine itself, but a human expecting a feeling of language consistency.
And, because of Google’s NLP developments, you can (read: should) consider the search engine to be a person to some level.
Focusing on keyword rankings is an excellent strategy for driving traffic to your website.
But if you lose sight of the fact that you’re writing for readers, not Google, you’re doing it incorrectly.
This is the kind of thinking that leads to articles like this one criticizing how search results now appear to cater to the interests of algorithms rather than users.
I’m not kidding.
To paraphrase the article’s irritated author,
Nick Slater, writing with only the interests of search engines in mind results in “a masterpiece
by SEO writing standards and an absolute excrement by conventional writing standards.
” Unsurprisingly, this material irritates people.
How to improve your content readabilty for SEO
On that point, for the benefit of your readers’ sanity, here are a few actions you may do to increase your content’s human readability.
1. Lose the clickbait titles
We’ve all grown accustomed to the internet by this point. Perhaps a dramatic blog post title like “[X number] of Content Marketing Mistakes
That Will Blow Your Mind'” would have succeeded in 2010, but now we just roll our eyes and scroll.
The same is true for any too optimistic prediction of the reader’s reaction:
if I see a title that promises to be “ultimate,” “exposed,” or “revolutionary,” I ignore it.
(The same goes for headlines that promise unbelievable success as a result of reading that post.)
Make sure you fulfill your promise
My point is that you should not set expectations that you will not be able to meet.
Consider how you choose your headlines—much like the process of titling a book, what you choose has a significant impact on the reception of a piece.
(In fact, authors as prolific as Toni Morrison have had their titles changed for financial reasons by their publishers.)
Your instincts matter
Others have investigated what makes a successful headline:
Danny Goodwin previously revealed his findings after performing A/B tests on headlines for 31 days in an intriguing post I recommend.
Just keep in mind that, aside from measurable measurements and headline analyzers, your intuition (influenced by your uniquely human grasp of language) will very certainly still be correct.
2. Stop the keyword stuffing (even the subtle kind)
Keyword stuffing at its finest.
When keyword stuffing occurs, you’ll know it’s happening because every other phrase has the same phrases, in the classic keyword stuffing way.
Google’s cryptic algorithm allegedly now knows better than to use keyword density as a sign of information quality and relevancy,
but we’ve all searched for something and encountered a wall of repeated keywords.
So what if useful information may found amid all the keywords?
I need to be able to find it, and keyword stuffing is preventing me from doing so.
3. Quit over-paragraphing
What exactly is this, a poem?
If not, why are the line breaks there?
Is this something you’re typing on your phone?
Stop throwing your reader off!
Micro-paragraphs are extremely distracting while writing a blog post or an email.
As soon as they begin to speak, they are abruptly cut off at the windpipe, looking at you wide-eyed and fleetingly.
I’m not sure what the reasoning is behind this propensity (if it’s “better readability,” then I grieve for the human race), but the good news is that it’s a simple remedy.
There’s a time and a place
Simply be more conscious of when you press the ‘enter key—and if, after a second inspection, it appears there is no cause for you to change lines, don’t.
Second-guessing oneself is a necessary step in becoming a better writer, so go ahead and have a full-fledged existential crisis over every minor decision.
Congratulations, you are now a writer!
(In all seriousness, if you need a self-editing resource, here it is.)
Consider this example from a blog article about online presence.
Every syllable in the red box feels like a mean remark.
Is this some sort of list?
Are they distinct concepts?
What is the most important takeaway from this set of lines?
The key takeaway is isolated as its line in the green box, with supporting information above it.
4. Nix bulking out how-to posts for no reason
People Because people Google everything,
you’ll have to do some mental gymnastics as an SEO writer to come up with efficient responses to everyone’s queries:
You could be practicing “how to be joyful” one day and “how to utilize chopsticks” the next.
You’re not in high school anymore
“How to be happy” might merit a lengthy, introspective piece of writing, while “how to utilize chopsticks” could certainly be accomplished in two or three practical steps.
The important thing to remember is that this isn’t high school coursework,
and you don’t need to bulk out your writing to meet a word count.
You could actually come off as condescending
Over-explaining simple activities, on the other hand,
comes seen as patronizing (not to mention boring) and achieves the reverse of user-friendliness.
Keep it simple and considerate of your readers and your own time.
5. Resist over-formatting
Anxiety over “immobility” can present itself as excessive formatting.
To improve navigation, headers are made larger and may even presented in a different typeface.
Italicize one or two words? Sure.
Is the information condensed down into concise bullet points? That’s OK.
Occasional bolding to draw attention to essential information?
But what if half the text is bright blue with hyperlinks
if it seems like a piñata of headings and subheadings exploded,
or if five distinct fonts compete for your attention on a single page?
That’s not so good.
Skimmable content should not be busy content
There’s a reason why typography usually left to the professionals (at least in print):
they know how to generate a feeling of visual hierarchy, so your attention is drawn exactly where it should be.
Overcompensating with excessive formatting not the way to go for those of us who are not blessed with expert typographic talents.
Make the most of your headings and bullets,
but if more of your content is formatted then not, you should rethink your strategy.
6. Link with mercy
Finally, while internal and external linking are vital,
try not to overdo it with the number of links you include in a piece of writing.
Aim for no more than two links in a single paragraph—otherwise,
you risk distracting the reader.
If you have a lot of relevant materials to share,
try including them at the bottom of a post as recommended reading.
Use links strategically
But, more importantly, be cautious about the types of links you include in your posts.
You may not have complete control over what you must link to as part of your profession,
but you do have control over how you use links within the content.
For example, in this post, all links point to
a) The definition of a phrase to which it is related, in case clarification is required,
b) The source of a particular claim, or
b) I mention a more in-depth guide to a similar topic in passing.
When I mentioned noodles,
I didn’t link to a random chopsticks post, instead uncomfortably ignoring it and moving on,
allowing the unacknowledged irrelevant link to silently scowl at us both.
Relevancy is key
You would think that if I worked for a random chopsticks brand,
I’d have no choice but to link to them—but then I wouldn’t be writing a marketing post.
The link would be significant because I’d be writing about chopsticks.
SEO readability is not formulaic anymore
I believe it’s evident by now that readability is much more than a formulaic plugin checkbox!
As one of the major pillars of good content, the mentality is as important as individual writing decisions.
Some websites may be able to get away with prioritizing the algorithm’s needs for the time being,
but as the algorithm becomes more complex and (gasp!)
human-like in its preferences, writing that considers human readability will rise to the top.
And it will do so because people will not despise reading it.
It is critical to get a second
opinion on whatever you develop before releasing it to the world.
It should be appealing and simple to consume and believe in for your target audience.
Make sure your creation moves and inspires people while remaining completely original.
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