How can you make your content more readable?
We hear the term 'readability' a lot as content writers, but what does 'readability' actually mean? Short sentences and simple vocabulary make for content that is easy to read, but may make it more challenging for you to accomplish the objective of the text. On the other hand, complex vocabulary and sentences could help you get your point across more effectively, but turn away those looking to read a quick article, not a research paper.
This article will cover how we define readability, how you can implement strategies into your writing to improve its readability, and how to compromise on both complexity and simplicity to produce readable content.
What is readability?
The Oxford dictionary defines readability as ‘the fact of being easy, interesting and enjoyable to read'. As you may be thinking, this is not a one-size-fits-all definition, and is ultimately subjective to the reader. However, there are some basic suggestions you can take on board to ensure that your copy is easy to understand and flows smoothly, which we will be going into in more detail later in this article.
First, we want to note that it is important to consider these as guidelines, and realise that optimising readability does not always mean simplifying your content. You may determine that more complex sentences and vocabulary are appropriate for your well-educated audience, or if you are writing for children then you may need to simplify your content further.
Either way, ensuring you do not sacrifice quality for readability is key, and the most difficult part of creating readable content. Think about whether your writing flows from one paragraph to the next, and how clear your sentences are, but be careful you don't change the meaning of your writing.
If you use WordPress for your online content, we recommend using the Yoast plugin to help you achieve your goal of more readable copy. The plugin gives you an indication of areas of your content that could be improved, through an easy to understand traffic light system that highlights whether the vocabulary, sentence length, number of paragraphs and headings, and other factors, are optimised for readability.
Why should you care about readability?
At face value, readability is important for your consumers. If your content is easy for your audience to understand, they will be more likely to return, or click to another page on your site. Likewise, if the copy is confusing and overly complicated, they may click off of the site altogether.
People are time conscious now more than ever, so they are likely to want to scan through the content to understand what it entails, or skip to the parts they are specifically looking for. HubSpot's The Future of Content Marketing report found that the most likely content to be skim-read is blog posts, with 43% of readers claiming to skim over them.
From a visual standpoint, if people open a blog post and are greeted by a long stream of text with no sub-headings or divisions, the chances are high that consumers will not stick around to read it. According to Adobe's State of Content report, 38% of users will leave a website if the layout or content is unattractive. Keeping this in mind, you should try to integrate practices for readability, and balance these with maintaining the original content’s sense of authority, tone, and overall quality.
There is also a search engine optimisation (SEO) factor to consider. Search engines are a lot more advanced now than they were 10 years ago, meaning they are now able to recognise whether content is clear, concise, and of a good quality, and prioritise content that fits this description in the results order.
Search engines will also scout out the content the searcher will want to read, as well as what can be understood by voice searches. Therefore, you should try to focus your content on your particular audience, and on ensuring that they have a positive user experience.
How can you make your content more readable?
The simplest thing you can do to make your content rank higher for readability is to introduce subheadings and paragraphs. This can allow your audience to more easily navigate to what they are looking for, or simply to determine whether the article is what they expected. On a visual front, dividing up the content into digestible sections is far more likely to entice the consumer to read on than a long chunk of text.
Where you can, try to break up long and overly complex sentences into ones that are shorter and more coherent. Likewise, you can sometimes simplify your chosen vocabulary to make your writing more approachable, and potentially more appropriate for your target audience. You can also try to use the active voice or transition words to allow your content to flow smoothly, and avoid confusion.
However, the active voice and transition words can be difficult to implement for certain niches and technicalities. As an example, ‘he wrote the blog post’ is using the active voice, but sounds very informal, whereas the passive voice (‘the blog post was written by him’) may be more appropriate in the context of an article. The idea behind using the active voice is that the text flows more easily, but how appropriate it is will vary depending on your sector, topic, and audience.
Although it may seem like common sense, the easiest way to see how readable your content is, is to read it yourself. Be critical, and put yourself in the position of a potential consumer when reading your content. Think about how the copy flows, whether the messaging is clear, and if it offers useful or actionable information.
It can be challenging to balance readability with quality, or conciseness with professionalism. However, with some simple tools and tricks at your disposal, your copy could be made easier to understand, more attractive to readers, and more appealing to search engine algorithms.