How readability affects your SEO ranking

At first glance, it might not be obvious how reading age relates to Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Google, Bing and other search engines didn’t get their knowledge from school. Their vocabulary is more extensive than the most well-read decision maker. Search engine algorithms don’t take your readability score into account directly.

So why worry about your choice of words? We’ve pulled together the top 3 reasons and things you should think about.

1. Keyword Stuffing

Keyword stuffing is at the heart of Google Search’s origin story. Early search engines like Ask Jeeves (remember him?) would look in the text of a website for the keyword that you searched for.

Websites quickly worked out how to take advantage of this system. Cramming in as many keywords as possible was the quick route to the top of the search results. The endpoint of this was dodgy websites hiding keywords in the white space of their pages. This attracted keyword traffic that was not related to their content.

To combat this, Google search was built from the very beginning to rank pages based on how many other sites linked to them. Lots of links from other sites meant that the page was reliable. This system is much harder to take advantage of (though not impossible).

Having an appropriate reading age for your content is the best way to build up this sort of good reputation. The more people who think of you as an authority who can explain your topic clearly, the more of these back-links you will get.

2. Search Engines Use Human Input

The principle of reading age is to speak to your customers in the language that they understand and use. This is particularly important with search engines. A marketing executive who has heard of SEO but needs help understanding it will not search for “optimising longtail keywords”. They will search for “appear on page one of Google”. Your blogs and website pages should therefore use this kind of wording. Once you get into white papers and product guides, you can introduce more technical terms.

All search engines are working to make their products more human. Google search has been able to recognise synonyms since 2013. The focus is on the intent behind the search, not just the exact words used. Yoast has divided intent into 4 types; informational, navigational, transactional and commercial. Informational searches are what most people would think of, such as “how to change a tyre”. In this case, it is unlikely the searcher is interested in Dunlop or Michelin’s latest deals. They are just looking for practical advice.

Navigational intent is when someone is looking for a company or product but isn’t sure of the web address they need. Yoast’s example is their Google Analytics plugin. People who searched for “Google Analytics” were looking for the platform itself, not tools that worked with it.

Transactional intent is usually signalled by terms like “sale”, “discount” or “buy”. These people are looking to buy straight away. You definitely want to be reaching them with your content!

Commercial intent is the trickiest of the bunch. It still involves the intent to purchase but is more long-term. Given that over two-thirds of the B2B buying journey is now online, these are searchers that you need to attract. PR Sense has found that 88% of decision-makers want to read articles rather than adverts to gain information about suppliers.

3. Getting ready for voice search

When Gary Illyes, a senior executive at Google once said, “If something doesn’t sound right when you read it aloud, it won’t rank well.” This is particularly important as voice search is becoming more and more prevalent. At the time of writing smart speakers are more common in the home than the office. However, this is a trend that marketers should be ready for regardless of industry. The average person speaks much faster than they type (100 words per minute vs. 40). This means that banishing the jargon in favour of words people use is only going to become more important to help you perform well in SEO.

Set up for SEO success

Now that you know why readability is important for your search engine ranking, what are you waiting for? We’ve got 5 easy ways you can improve your readability to get you started.

Our AI module within GatorMail can recommend the changes which will make the most difference to your results. So, if you’re already a user, you can start improving your content right now.


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