Online Content and Readability: They Both Matter

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With recent updates to Google’s infamous search algorithm, creating high-quality content is of the utmost importance.

Blog posts, articles and other forms of written content should be both highly relevant to your audience and tailored to them.  This is especially important in the language you are using.

Before you begin writing, it is important to understand your audience.  If you are writing for travelers in a particular area, it can be helpful to use less formal language, and perhaps throw in some of the local jargon.  Make sure the language you are using, and the readability factor, match for the audience you are trying to reach.

Some Best-Practices for Writing for the Web

Writing online content uses skills, language and design elements which are different from those used in standard print.  Here is some basic information to keep in mind when creating text for the Web:

  • Do not be afraid to use white space.  Keep paragraphs shorts (no more than six lines) and ensure there is clear white space between each.
  • Use shorter words and sentences, depending on your audience.
  • Use language that is known to the target audience.  Some jargon may be necessary, for example, when writing for technology or corporate markets.

Flesch-Kincaid Readability Scoring

The Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test was created by Austrian-born Rudolf Flesch, one of the earliest proponents of writing in plain English.  This formula works because it is based on some very complicated facts of human psychology, and is based on the way the human mind works.

Boiled down to the basics, the longer the word, sentence or paragraph, the longer the brain has to suspend comprehending ideas until it can reach a point where all of the words make sense together.

Because they require more mental work by the reader, longer words and sentences are harder to read and comprehend.

Flesch based his readability formula on three key variables:  total words, number of syllables in these words and sentence length.  On a score of 0 to 100, 0 is measure as the most difficult and 100 is the easiest.  To view the readability chart, click here.

Basic English is considered to have a Flesch-Kincaid score around 60, and if a text’s readability score is between 60 and 70, 13-15-year-old students should easily understand it.  You may think you are insulting your readers by sticking to a score of around 60, but you are not; you’re just writing in plain understandable English.

Here are some examples of average scores for various types of content:

  • Comics – 92
  • Consumer Advertisements – 82
  • Reader’s Digest – 65
  • Time Magazine – 52
  • Harvard Business Review – 43
  • Standard insurance policy – 10

It is obvious that scores differ according to the target audience.  Harvard Business Review assumes a readership with a certain level of education.  Most insurance policies will include a lot of industry-relevant language, causing their readability scores to be quite low.

Microsoft Office users can check readability statistics when reviewing a document, and can edit their work accordingly if it does not meet your content standards.

Troubleshooting

Let’s say that you have finished your blog post, and your readability score is 25.  Some editing options to consider would be breaking up long sentences into one or more smaller sentences and cutting out words of three syllables or more.

One of Flesch’s overriding principles is that there are no complex, legalistic words that cannot be translated into plain English.  Use the thesaurus to help you find alternatives that will make your content more readable.  It can also be a good idea to use contractions, such as don’t and they’re, to help keep your content flowing.

To sum it all up, the key to writing good content is to use language that won’t detract from your message.  Just because you, the expert, understands dictionary terms doesn’t mean your readers will as well.  Keep it simple, use plenty of white space and let the Flesch-Kincaid formula help you craft plenty of solid content!

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