How to Create Readable Content: Quality Content Series Part 4

Valerie Turgeon November 2, 2017

Each week in the Brandpoint Quality Content Series, we highlight the most important factors of producing high-quality content that your audience will love, while helping your brand appear higher in search results. You’ll master the tricky balancing act of achieving top-notch writing with effective SEO.

It’s often overlooked that there’s a link between readability and SEO. Readable content is easy for your audience to consume and understand. The content is skimmable, written at an appropriate reading level and uses succinct sentence structures and uncomplicated word choices.

When content is easy to read, there’s a better chance that your audience will continue reading. This means a longer dwell time, a better bounce rate and better rankings in search.

In this post, we’ll provide tips to make your content more readable. We’ll also show you a few tools that check for readability before you click “publish.”

Tips for writing readable content

Try implementing the following tips sooner than later. Self-editing for readability may require a hefty, time-consuming rewrite. If you can consciously work on making content readable as you write, you won’t have to spend as much time editing afterward. Here are the top tips to make your content more readable:

1. Make a strong first impression

One of my teachers in elementary school was the first to teach me that introductions should “hook” the reader in. She’d then bend her finger in the shape of a hook and push her arm out as if she had just hooked a fish.

A good hook prevents readers from exiting a page right away. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy. If it’s a how-to piece, begin right away with a definition of an important term or stating what the reader will learn and why it’s important.

If it’s a case study or a story about a customer experience, start with a conflict and show the customer’s challenge. People with similar frustrations will relate and continue reading to see how your business solved the issues.

No matter how you start, the introduction should reflect the content of the rest of your post. That way you won’t mislead readers and they won’t exit the page when they don’t get what they expected.

2. Make it skimmable

Research by Jakob Nielsen, as outlined in a Hubspot blog post, shows that 79 percent of people scan web pages.

It may hurt to write a piece of content knowing that your audience won’t actually read the whole thing. But if your goal is to provide useful information, then making it skimmable will help readers find exactly what they’re looking for. They won’t leave your page in frustration.

One of the easiest ways to make a piece of content skimmable is to break up the copy with formatting techniques. Here are a few to start incorporating into your content:

  • Headings: These help identify main topics of the different sections of a piece. Use H1 and H2 tags to not only format your text, but also to help Google crawl your page to understand what it’s about.
  • Bullet points: Like this list!
  • Numbers and listicles: Using numbers is an easy way to organize a piece of content and break it up into sub-topics and show how each item relates to each other.
  • Short paragraphs: This seems like Neil Patel’s favorite tactic. He puts just a few words on each line, to the point where it’s almost annoying to read (here’s a recent example). While you should get comfortable with using more line breaks, too many make it difficult for readers to find the topic of each paragraph and where to focus.
  • Bold, italicized and hyperlinked text: Use these formatting techniques to highlight keywords and the most important takeaways in paragraphs. This blog from Usabilla suggests highlighting “one word or phrase per paragraph, but not more.”
  • Visuals: Photos, videos, memes and other graphics not only help break up the copy, but add engaging elements to your content, encouraging readers to stay on the page.

3. Use relevant and natural language

Do you really know who your audience is? As you develop your buyer personas, note the kind of language and jargon your audience uses. Study the content your audience consumes, whether it’s a popular blog or industry magazine, and pay attention to how they talk about the topics they cover.

Unless writing for academic or highly technical audiences, Problogger recommends to “type like you talk.” Using a conversational tone, you’ll be able to speak to a wider range of your audience.

This same blog also states that “you don’t become an authority by alienating your audience.” So use language that they are familiar with and can easily read.

Using pronouns such as “I” and “you” also enhances the conversational tone. It helps establish and build a relationship with your reader by allowing them to personally get to know you. It’s also a preview of the future conversation that the prospect may have with a salesperson.

The Content Marketing Institute calls this “natural language.” When people ask questions in a search engine (especially when using voice search), they’re not using keywords. They use full sentences, and your content should answer these questions. Google’s algorithm has evolved to prioritize helpful answers over keywords.

4. Be conscious of word choice

Even with formatting that breaks up text, confusing word choice and long sentences will detract readers. Here are a few editing and writing tips Hubspot suggests to keep in mind:

Don’t repeat similar information in different words: This isn’t a college term paper. You don’t need a certain number of words to pass the class. What matters is communicating your message clearly and being as engaging as possible. No need to be redundant and waste your readers’ time.

Use more active voice, less passive voice: The subject of your sentence should do the action. For example, active voice looks like this: “John published the blog post.” Passive voice looks like this: “The blog post was published by John.”

Passive voice can often cause negative reactions because it’s wordy and not as direct, and is sometimes annoying to read. This is an easy mistake to make while you’re writing, so don’t forget to look for it during the self-editing process.

Use fewer adverbs: Like using the passive voice, too many adverbs weakens your writing. Adverbs modify verbs and usually end with “ly,” such as “She quickly ran to class.” Instead of adverbs, use stronger, more expressive verbs. We could edit the example to say, “She sprinted to class.”

Avoid empty phrases and superlatives: Hubspot also calls this “marketese” language and provides an example of a farmer who says he produces “the world’s most delicious watermelons.” That sounds impressive, but the phrase is overused. Plus, there’s no way to prove it! Instead, ask what makes this one unique. Hubspot writes that this watermelon “does, however, produce seedless, uber-juicy, ultra-sweet watermelons that won the Blue Ribbon at least year’s State Fair.” This says a lot more about the product without having to exaggerate.

How to check the readability of your content

If you don’t have an editor on the team, recruit someone else in your company — or even a friend or family member if needed — to review your content. A fresh set of eyes will be able to let you know how readable your content is.

There are also a few scales that measure the readability of your content that look at the average length of your paragraphs, sentences and words:

  • The Flesch Reading Ease score is between 0 and 100, with 100 being the most readable. This blog by Harvard says to aim for a score of 60-70 for an adult readership.
  • The Flesch-Kincaid Reading Grade shows what reading level in school is required for someone to understand your content. Readable.io says to aim for grade 8 or below to ensure your content is readable by 80 percent or more of Americans.

Here are a few helpful tools to determine these scores:

  • Hemingwayapp.com: This is a free web app, or you can pay to download it to your desktop. This tool is especially useful for writers who tend to use more complex words and sentence structures. It gives your content a reading level and highlights all the problem areas, so you know exactly what to fix.
  • Yoast: This popular WordPress plug-in for gauging SEO meta titles and descriptions also has a feature that determines readability. It provides a Flesch Reading Ease score, measures the amount of passive voice, identifies sentence length and more.
  • Readable.io: This is a web app that checks the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Grade level and the Flesch Reading Ease score, plus many others. It also checks text stats like characters per word, reading time, number of adjectives, etc. You can use it for free here.
  • Grammarly: Use this as an app or as a handy Chrome extension. As the name suggests, it checks the grammar of your piece, as well as spelling, punctuation, word choice, style, and offers suggestions for improvement. There’s no readability score, but Grammarly will catch many of the mistakes that will help increase the readability quality overall.

Make it worth your and your audience’s time

The main goals of writing readable content are to answer your audience’s questions. Your content should be quick and easy for your audience to consume. Learning to write readable content takes practice. But it’ll be worth it in the long run for better SEO results.

Learn more about creating high-quality content by following along with our Quality Content Series:

Part 1: What is High-Quality Content?
Part 2: Google Search Quality Guidelines: What is E-A-T?
Part 3: Are High-Quality Links Important for SEO?
Part 4: How to Create Readable Content
Part 5: How to Create Comprehensive Content

Valerie Turgeon November 2, 2017

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