Like it or not, we’re all guilty of starting to read an article, a blog post, or even a novel before giving up a few sentences when the writing hasn’t immediately grabbed us. But what if users are doing the same with our hard-crafted content? Is there a way we can optimize readability to keep the attention of readers?
Don’t worry, we’re not going to spend the next few minutes simply reiterating that ‘content is king’. However, a fair point Mr. Gates does make. There’s no denying that quality content’s reign over SEO success is more important than ever – both on and off-page. With this in mind, there’s one secret weapon in your quest to create quality content. And, you probably don’t even know that you already own this.
MS Word’s Readability Statistics And Flesch-Kincaid Scale
If this sounds scary, hold tight. It’s a simple, pain-free process that measures everything from the average sentence length of your content to the ideal reading age that it’s best enjoyed. These statistics can be used to optimize readability effectively. We’ll come to why all of this is important in a bit, but first, here’s where to find it:
In MS Word, run the standard Spelling & Grammar check under the ‘Review’ tab. Some of us work with MS Word 2010. However, the Spelling & Grammar check is straightforward to find in any version. When this opens, click on the ‘Options…’ button in the bottom left-hand corner.
This takes you to the ‘Word Options’ dialogue box. There you can simply click the checkbox next to ‘Show readability statistics’ before pressing ‘OK’. Once this is done, run the Spelling & Grammar check again but this time, go through and correct your highlighted mistakes. As you reach the end of the check, a new dialogue box will open and this will reveal your readability statistics. You’ll see them from now on, every time you run a Spelling & Grammar check.
Understanding How To Optimize Readability Statistics
Ok, so everything’s all well and good now that you’ve enabled your readability statistics. But what do these numbers mean? And how can you use them to improve your writing skills? Let’s find out what they mean so you can use them to optimize readability.
We’re going to group all of the subcategories under ‘Counts’ together because, for this first section, there’s not much that you need to know.
- Words, Characters, Paragraphs & Sentences: These are just your standard totals, saving you from sitting down and manually adding up your word count. Not much to see here, but useful to know nonetheless.
Here’s where it starts to get interesting (if you’re a word nerd like many of us). Here the statistics begin to reveal a lot about your content. Take a leaf from the likes of Orwell and Hemingway and remember one thing: when it comes to making an impact with your writing, less is often more. This is the ultimate rule when trying to optimize readability.
- Sentences per Paragraph: Yep, this is showing you the average amount of sentences that you use in one of your paragraphs. It might seem obvious, but writing that’s broken up into lots of lovely paragraphs is easier to understand than one giant block of text. Not only that, but it’s much easier on the eye and is much more likely to be read.
TOP TIP: Keep this in mind and try to stick to just two or three sentences per paragraph for easily digestible content.
- Words per sentence: this is calculating how many words there are in sentences. As with paragraphs, short sentences are what you need. A good rule of thumb is to try and stick to no more than 25 words per sentence. However, some writers are even more strict and don’t go above 20. Using more might leave your readers with no space to think.
TOP TIP: It’s always worth going back and refining that one rambling thought into coherent chunks of information.
- Characters per Word: This one looks at the average length of the words that you’re using in your writing. It’s a little harder to immediately say ‘shorter words are better’. It depends on the intended audience of your content. Of course, if it’s a technical piece, there’s probably a good reason for your score to be slightly higher here if you’ve made use of lots of impressive terminologies.
TOP TIP: The main thing to remember here is to be aware of your intended audience and adjust your vocabulary accordingly.
- Passive Sentences: This is calculating the percentage of passive sentences in your writing. In case you’ve forgotten everything from your old English classes, here’s a quick lesson on the difference between an active sentence and a passive sentence.
A sentence written in the active voice means that the subject of the sentence is acting in the sentence. A sentence written in passive voice means that the subject of the sentence is receiving action from someone or something else. Active sentences push your point across much more succinctly – and they keep your word count manageable in the process. Your goal is to get the lowest possible percentage of passive sentences.
TOP TIP: Try to aim for a score of 15% or below for writing that’s clear and concise.
- Flesch Reading Ease: Finally, we reach the elusive and mysterious Flesch-Kincaid system. Congratulations if you’ve made it this far. In a nutshell, the Flesch Reading Ease uses all of the above statistics to calculate how easy your content is to read on a scale of 0-100. The lower the result, the more complex your piece is to read. With score of 100 means that your piece is 100% readable and you should win a medal.
TOP TIP: Again, this depends on your target audience and how easy you want your writing to be. However, speaking widely, anything around 60-70 is a desirable level for the average reader.
- Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: Your Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level takes everything we’ve covered so far and magically calculates it all into a hypothetical American school grade level. In other words, it tells you how many years of education someone needs to understand your writing. If you’re not familiar with the American grade system, simply add five to the grade number and you’ll get the average age instead.
TOP TIP: The best age for your content entirely depends on who it is that you hope will read it. Does it need to be understood by a five-year-old or does it need to appear sophisticated and knowledgeable? The choice is yours.
Why Is This Important For SEO?
As a large generalization that we can be confident is mostly true, internet users are looking to find the answers to their queries as quickly as possible. On the one hand, if your Flesch-Kincaid level is too high and your content is too hard to read, users will quickly leave your page in search of another.
On the other hand, if your content goes too far in the other direction and scores a very low-grade level, users may find it too simple and a waste of their time. It may come across as lacking in value and worthy of only a quick read-through before they move on with their search. Both of these things will give your page a high bounce rate. This will leave you with users that aren’t engaging with your content.
Running MS Word’s Flesch-Kincaid scale and readability statistics shows exactly what your writing looks like to someone else. It gives you the chance to add the final polish, the one that might make a hit for the desired audience.
Put all of these tips to optimize readability and you’ll be sure to have a great piece of readable content. The content that will reign supreme.