SEO and readability – what you need To know

SEO and readability

You may have come across the term ‘readability’ in relation to SEO. Or perhaps you’ve seen it within the Yoast plugin and have always wondered how important it was.

So what exactly is readability? And does it really matter to SEO?

SEO and readability – why does it matter?

As I have mentioned many times in previous SEO-related posts, two of the key factors that Google takes into account when ranking your site is value and relevance. In other words, is your content providing genuine value for the user? Is it relevant to the keywords being targeted?

Readability is linked to the ‘value’ part of the SEO process, as it is all about making your content as easily accessible to users as humanly possible. Your content needs to be easy to read and digest. If the prose is long and convoluted then users may give up and go elsewhere for answers. Remember, if it’s good for the reader then it’s good for Google. 

A more recent advantage of good readability is for voice search. Copy that reads well is more likely to be the top result for voice searches. Given the huge rise in voice search, this is an important factor to consider as part of your SEO strategy.

It therefore follows that readability is important. For providing the best possible user experience and also for improving your SEO.

What does readability actually mean?

Readability is all about making your copy easy to read. It’s a very simple concept but it can make a big difference to the user experience. There are a number of simple steps you can take to improve the visibility of your content: 

1. Sub-headings

^ That thing right there, hovering above this paragraph. It may seem obvious to use them, but they are often left out when people are trying to make their posts appear more editorial in nature. This may work in printed magazines, but it’s not a good idea for online content. 

Breaking up the text with subheadings is important in providing structure to readers. It makes the copy more digestible.

Just remember to actually mark your subheadings with heading tags (h2, h3, h4, etc.) in the HTML. Don’t just make your sub-headings bold, as the search engines won’t recognise them as subheadings. This is usually very easy to do within the content editors of the CMS.

Bonus points if you use some keywords in your subheadings. Never force them in but hopefully this will occur naturally if your keywords are highly relevant to your content.

2. Sentence & paragraph length

If you’re a rambler then you may struggle with this one. Both readers and search engines prefer shorter sentences. Like this. Don’t let it completely overrule your natural style of writing but it’s important to bear in mind.

The same goes for paragraphs. Long and lengthy chunks of text are not considered to be readable. They can be off-putting, especially to those reading on mobile. Keep your paragraphs short and sweet. 

3. What on earth is passive voice

If you have the Yoast plugin then you may have seen the little red flags and thought, what the sodding hell is passive voice?! It’s not a straightforward one to get your head round – it’s all verbs this and nouns that. Rather than try to explain it myself, here is a useful article on the passive voice.

Using passive voice can weaken the impact of your writing. This is why it’s best to avoid it where possible, as your copy should be sharp and to the point. However, I also wouldn’t recommend spending too much time re-writing your copy to completely eliminate the passive voice. Frankly, there are more important aspects to focus on, which will have a greater impact on your SEO.

Try to avoid using the passive voice if you can. But don’t lose sleep over it. Totally not worth it.

4. Alt text on images

Alternative text (alt text) is added to images and essentially acts as a description of the images. It’s important in terms of user friendliness and therefore SEO.

So how does it make your post more user friendly? There are several scenarios in which alt text may come in handy.

  • The first is if the images in your post don’t load for whatever reason. Instead, the page will display the alt text so you can at least get an understanding of what the image should have looked like.
  • The second is for accessibility reasons. The alt text will be read out to blind or partially sighted users, helping them to understand the images.
  • Finally, Google is pretty smart but it can’t read images. So adding alt text is key to making those little bots happy as anything. Plus you’ll improve the chances of appearing in the image search results.

Try to include your keywords in the images if possible (but ONLY if it’s natural). Ultimately, the alt text should describe the image.

In short, if it’s good for the reader then it’s good for Google. And that’s the big fat secret behind SEO.

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