Does readability affect SEO?

Optimise Your Website’s Readability to Boost Rankings

Have you ever visited a website full of complex jargon and ended up leaving quickly out of frustration? Most visitors have found themselves in similar shoes. With the average daily reading level at just grade 7-8 in both the US and UK, sites with advanced vocabulary or poorly structured content often struggle to retain audiences.

This not only impacts visitor experience but also signals issues to Google and other search engines. In their ongoing quest to provide the most relevant, satisfying results to each search intent, reading level has emerged as a key ranking factor that site owners dismiss at their own peril.

This article will explore why optimising readability boosts conversions and rankings, then provide tactical tips to assess and enhance your own site’s reading grade level. By ensuring content aligns better with visitor comprehension capabilities, you drive more engaging visitor experiences that ultimately lift both traffic and revenue performance.

Why Website Readability Matters to Visitors and Search Engines

If your content consistently strains readers’ comprehension capabilities, visitors will disengage rapidly. They care first and foremost that your site answers their intent with easily digestible value. Search engines have come to prioritise the same experience, with readability now factored into rankings in two ways:

Behaviour Metrics: Google monitors how visitors interact with pages that show up for different search queries. This includes bounce rates, session duration and scrolling depth. Pages with poor readability stats will naturally fall short here as visitors leave quickly out of frustration.

Direct Analysis: Advances in AI and machine learning equip search algorithms to directly assess site content on verbosity, sentence structure and general grade level scoring. Just as classroom materials get assessed, websites can be analysed for overall alignment with visitor reading capabilities and expectations.

Tip #1: Use an Online Readability Calculator

Not sure of your overall site’s reading level? Free online tools like Readable.com, ReadablePro, or Grammarly’s Readability Checker will assess full web pages against key grade-level scoring systems like:

  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level
  • Flesch Reading Ease Score
  • Dale Chall Readability Score
  • Coleman Liau Index

Testing a sampling of your site pages will reveal both your baseline grade level and how it might improve. Generally you’ll want to target a grade level of 7-8 with your core content to ensure maximum comprehension.

Tip #2: Simplify Vocabulary with These Swaps

Often just a few simple word swaps can drastically bring down reading complexity. When editing posts, watch for opportunities to remove or substitute the following:

  • “Utilize” becomes “use”
  • “Obtain/procure” becomes “get”
  • “Numerous” becomes “many”
  • “Significant/substantial” becomes “large” or “important”
  • “Initiate/facilitate” just becomes “start”

Aim for words with 1-2 syllables whenever feasible. Also avoid over using technical jargon and industry acronyms by first spelling terms out, then explaining briefly in simpler language before applying the shorthand code.

Tip #3: Break Up Dense Paragraphs

Content with short sentences and brief paragraphs naturally score better on readability. Chunk any paragraphs longer than 3-5 sentences into bite-size components with useful headers introducing the next section focus.

Bulleted or numbered lists also provide the eye convenient structure while enabling simpler, more concise points. Finally, generously incorporate supporting visuals like charts, photos and videos to reinforce comprehension of complex topics.

With these formatting shifts, you alleviate intimidating walls of text that readers reflexively ignore while catering better to varied learning preferences.

Tip #4: Test Different CTAs by Reading Level

With core content simplified for maximum comprehension, turn to landing pages and CTAs to optimise engagement further via testing:

Create Multiple Page Options: Using your original higher-level page along with revised, simplified versions, set up A/B testing around what drives most conversions. Send an equal portion of site traffic to each variation.

Test CTAs: Alongside different versions of pages themselves, test adjusting main call to action language. Simplify buttons labels, chat invites or banner text to assess impact on desired actions like downloads, contact form use and appointments booked.

The combined results will reveal what level encourages most site goal completions, which you then implement site-wide. As with all aspects of UX, when in doubt, listen to the data on what version your audience inherently responds to best in practice.

Start Tuning into Your Site’s Reading Level

With comprehension spanning such a wide spectrum for the average visitor, ensuring your website content, branding and CTAs cater to median reading capabilities provides multiple benefits:

  • Improved visitor experience through better information flow and dopamine release, building brand affinity
  • Increased average session durations and page scroll depth as visitors remain engaged
  • Higher conversion rates as simplified language removes friction and activates desired actions
  • Stronger quality signals to search engines around relevance of content to visitor intent
  • More organic search visibility as you out-satisfy sites ignoring reading level

Rather than viewing reading level optimisation as limiting, embrace the challenge of presenting complex topics in creative yet understandable ways. Just as the most inspiring teachers meet students at their level while elevating them, view your website as an opportunity to captivate and educate.

The data leaves little doubt – accounting for visitors’ reading capabilities drives more loyalty, action and ultimately long-term revenue. The winning combination of empathy and science is yours for the taking.

To discuss a website content assessment or structure usability review, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team. Leveraging 30 years of UX research and search visibility expertise, we’re ready to partner in tuning your site’s reading level for maximum impact.