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Make your content more readable

Your content's readability is so important - it gets your message across and keeps your audience on your page longer. Find out how to make your content more engaging.

A photo of James Joyce sitting in a chair, with a cane in his hand and looking into the middle distance. He has 2 rings on his left hand and a trilby style hat on his head.

This year James Joyce's 'Ulysses' turned 100 years old. Coincidentally, I found my old copy from Uni. I thought about giving it yet another go, determined to finish it this time. Then I remembered how truly difficult I found it to read.

Undoubtedly, 'Ulysses' is one of the greats of English literature, but even Good Reads has it ranked number one among its most difficult-to-read novels. It even got the better of its author James Joyce who didn't write any prose for a year after he finished it.

In the final chapter of 'Ulysses', Molly Bloom's inner monologue is expressed in a sentence of 4491 words with little punctuation – the longest "sentence" in the English language until 2001 (a title now held by Jonathon Coe's 'The Rotters' Club'). Is it any wonder people find this great novel so hard to read?

Long sentences aren't just visually daunting; they are hard to understand and can cost you dollars and engagement.

In the '90s, SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt promoted "plain English" in his industry so investors could make more informed decisions. And clear and concise writing can also help your business, no matter what it is.

Whether it's an email that makes no sense or an article that's too hard to read, we've all encountered unreadable texts. And what do we do? We put them down, delete them or move on. For this reason, ensuring our communications are well written in a natural language guarantees our audience can read with ease.

There is a misconceived idea that the longer the sentence and the bigger the words, the more intelligent or professional you sound. In reality, it makes it harder for your audience to understand what you're saying. Clear communication means your readers can understand what you're trying to say more quickly and will remain engaged. Added to that, it will often garner you a better SEO ranking.

Readability 101

Readability is the degree to which a reader can understand a written text. In natural language, the readability of a text depends on its content and presentation - headings, paragraphs and the length of your sentences. Complex and uncommon words can also affect your readability depending on your audience's familiarity with your topic. Even the styling of your text can affect how easily your audience can read what you have to say.

It's important to make your content accessible to everyone so you can reach the biggest audience possible and engage with potential customers. But readability doesn't mean dumbing down what you have to say. Instead, plain writing can draw readers in.

Great readability equals great SEO

Ulysses: one of the longest sentences in English literature
James Joyce with the publishers of Ulysses, Sylvia Beach & Adrienne Monnier of Shakespeare and Company bookshop.

Readability plays a big role in content marketing and can significantly improve your SEO results. People want their search engine results to be quick, coherent, and valuable, so Google favours content that enhances the user experience.

The algorithm used by search engines like Google employs many ranking factors to establish a site's credibility. You might have great things to say, but if your content isn't readable and visitors can't find what they came looking for, they will leave; Google will suspect that your article isn't helpful, and your bounce rates will go up.

The Web is a linguistic environment, so using the correct vocabulary is essential. If readers can find what they need, they will stay longer, engage with more content, and eventually, your page will become higher in the search results.

Ignoring your content's readability will cost you rankings.

There are many elements to search engine optimisation, but number one in improving your SEO is to speak to your readers using keywords that match their search queries. Gone are the days when you could stuff your content with random keywords – Google can recognise quality content.

Great readability equals great SEO. If you don't stick to Google SEO standards, Google won't help you grow your audience. Well-written and structured articles will increase your conversion rates and help your Google rankings.

Incy Wincy Spider

Almost 4 billion people worldwide are online, so including blogging in your marketing strategy makes economic sense. Regularly writing on your website or other platforms like LinkedIn drives traffic to your website, boosts your products and services, and builds trust with potential clients.

Google indexes the pages on your website and ranks you accordingly. As part of that process, a little bot known as a web crawler or spider looks for new things on the internet and then updates the indexed version of your website. Poor readability affects that.

Blogs can also bring more organic traffic. Research suggests that approximately 53% of your site's traffic comes from organic searches, and businesses that regularly blog yield 55% more visitors than those that don't.

An animated spider with the Google 'G' on it's body to represent an imaginary 'Google Spider' that crawls your content in order to rank it.

That's another reason readability will help your rankings; it's essential for accessibility, and search engines prefer texts that are easy to follow.

Use Plain English

The importance of readability and inclusive language has become clear since COVID began. A recent study found that critical public health documents from the UK,

US and Australian governments didn't satisfy readability standards, meaning documents aimed at the general public were too complex for the average person to understand.

Avoid complicated words or jargon and forget technical writing conventions.

Both technical language and jargon make your messages harder to read and understand, so avoid using 'filler' words which can confuse readers and make your sentences unnecessarily complicated - this includes acronyms or slang that your target audience isn't aware of.

Replace the conventions of technical writing and swap out complex language or business-speak with more familiar words that everyone is likely to know.

Cut it short

As discussed above, no one wants to read a long sentence. Lengthy sentences can be challenging for readers to follow. Shorter ones are easier to focus on and get your message across.

Vidal Sassoon cutting Mary Quant's hair circa 1960's London
Vidal Sassoon cutting it short with Mary Quant

Look for repetition – have you repeated the same idea in more than one sentence or paragraph? Try to say something just once. Don't start sentences with redundant phrases like "in my opinion", "as a matter of fact", and "as far as I am concerned".

And reduce conjunctions like "and" in your sentences. See if you can split longer sentences like this into individual


Be positive

Swap a passive voice for an active voice. Passive voice influences readability because active sentences are easier to understand. Writing in an active voice makes your sentences more direct and stops readers from getting confused because it's clear who or what the subject of the sentence is and what they're doing.

Action verbs express action and convey the subject of a sentence - for example, "She walked in the door" or "The car started."

Using action verbs for CTAs (calls to action) makes them more actionable and makes your writing more engaging in blogs or thought pieces. If you want your content to be straightforward and interesting, use the active voice as much as possible.

Structure your content.

Another way to improve readability is by adding structure to your text; ensure paragraphs are a good size - not too long or too short, and that you use headings and bullet points where appropriate.

We want to think that everyone will read our content from top to bottom, but the truth is, with online content, readers are easily distracted. Dividing up your text makes it more easily scannable and ultimately easier to read.

The Flesh Kincaid test

Once you've done all of this, you can add your text to a Flesch Kincaid grade-level tool and find out what age your writing reads to.

The Flesch–Kincaid" (F–K) reading grade level was first developed for the US Navy by J. Peter Kincaid and his team in 1975 to aid in evaluating how difficult technical manuals were to read. This text calculator can now be used by anyone to figure out what age group or education level their writing can be understood by.

Keep people on your page or website longer with content that meets your readers where they're at - if your audience is colleagues in your industry, you'll actually want a higher reading level, and if they are new to your topic, you will want a lower score. A Flesch-Kincaid score of 5 means someone would need a 5th-grade reading ability to understand, while a score of 8 would require at least an 8th-grade level.

Easy to read

Readability determines how easy your content is to read, and all of these factors affect the natural flow of your text. Writing in a way that's enjoyable and easy to read should always be a priority.

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