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Reading Ease May Boost SEO, But Common Sense Prevails

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The reading ease of an article helps search engine optimization, according to industry rumor and some fairly valid testing.

No one likes to conduct business on the basis of rumor, but the underlying logic of the claim is sound.

If Google and Bing use the reading ease of an article as a factor in search engine results, it seems logical to do so because reading ease affects the visitor’s response to that article.

Let’s take an extreme example.

Picture going to a site with a 1,000-word article that has only one paragraph. It will appear as an overwhelming mass of text.

Now go to another site with a 1,000-word article on the exact same subject that has 20 paragraphs with 50 words per paragraph.

Which article has more eye appeal? Clearly, the second article will be easier to read and is more engaging. Engagement is an important measure in search engine optimization.

It makes sense that the visitor is more likely to leave the first site without finishing the article than the second site.

It also makes sense that the visitor is less likely to click on other articles on the first site. The reader may assume the site has more articles that look like an ugly mass of text.

As a result, the bounce rate on the first ugly site is higher and time on site lower than the second more appealing site.

Bounce rate and time on site are important signals to search engines about reader interest and the quality of a site. Search engines rank such sites higher in search results because they want to give high quality results to encourage searchers to keep coming back.

Why Search Engines Care about Reading Ease

Search engines are in competition with each other to offer the best results possible for their visitors. Otherwise, those visitors will go to another search engine.

The fact that search engines use bounce rate and time on site to judge the quality of experience and the ranking of a page or site is well known throughout the industry. Google and Bing don’t have to admit that bounce rate and time on site matter. It’s simply logical — and human nature.

They certainly hint at it. Anyone who uses the Google or Bing webmaster tools will find that kind of information. Google Analytics, the most widely used analytic software on the planet, displays bounce rate and time on site as highly visible data points. The fact that the data exists is an indication of its importance.

So when the search engines track users and see the bounce rate is high and time on site is low, they suspect the quality of the site or article is a factor.

They will then lower those sites and articles in search results and raise the better ones for the sake of their users’ search experience.

Google is rumored to take it even further, and Bing may be doing the same. Google allegedly has a reading ease factor among its algorithms.

So reading ease is important for both visitor experience and search engine optimization.

Site publishers will find it is easy to track reading ease and give their SEO efforts an extra step up.

How to Measure Reading Ease for SEO

Reading easeThe best known scales for reading ease is the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease tests.

The Flesch scale goes from 0 to 100 with a goal for some experts of more than 70. The Flesch-Kincaid scale calculates a grade level from the Flesch score.

A score between 60 and 70 means the article is easy to read for students between the ages of 13 and 15.

The calculation looks at the number of sentences in a paragraph, the number of words in a sentence and the total number of polysyllabic words.

Free online versions are available via search on terms such as “flesch kincaid calculator.”

In many cases, users can enter the text from the entire document or just a URL to get their scores.

For users of WordPress, it is possible to add a plugin with the ability. One such plugin is the Yoast SEO tool.

But a higher score is not always a good thing.

High Scores Versus Common Sense

A high score is a good goal for a general topic, but it is not a good goal for complex ones.

Even some simple subjects have trouble with the score. An article about “Caribbean temperatures” will have many polysyllabic words unless the writer reduces the number of times they appear. But doing so may weaken the SEO profile of the article.

A paragraph with only one or two sentences may be easy to read, but a paragraph is supposed to serve as a complete unit for a subtopic.

Taking a paragraph of six sentences that stand together and breaking it up into six one-sentence paragraphs may result in stilted and unnatural writing.

The test is helpful in looking at an article from another point of view and making useful changes for the sake of the reader.

But going too far may result in an article that works better for a single SEO algorithm than it does for the readers whom the article is supposed to serve.

For the record, this article has a score of 69.

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