Readability And Website Content

One of the factors that influences your content as far as visitors to your site are concerned, is the readability of the text. Readability isn’t just about your font, text size and layout, (although those are factors too), it’s literally about how easily what you’ve written can be read.

I’ve mentioned before that people online are not the most diligent of readers. There’s a noticeable difference between the way we read a printed page, and the way that we read on a computer screen. Reading on a computer screen seems to be much more taxing, and as a result, people skim much more than they read when it comes to websites.

Catering To Online Reading Habits

Content writers use a variety of techniques to counteract this habit of online skimming.

* They write short sentences.
* They use bullet points to highlight important points.
* They break content up into short paragraphs.
* They use descriptive paragraph headings.
* They keep the most important content at the top.

These are all good techniques for writing for websites. They make it more likely that people will absorb the essential information, and come away with an idea of what you were talking about. (Find more guidelines for writing online content here.)

There’s also another facet that can be considered though, and that’s the actual readability score of whatever it is that you’re writing.

Readability Scores

The readability of text literally refers to how easy it is to read, and understand. Over the last 100 years or so, a lot of work has gone into being able to determine how readable something is, on the basis that the more readable something is, the more people will enjoy reading it, and the better they’ll understand the message it conveys.

There are a number of different ways of measuring readability. The most commonly known is probably the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level formula. First developed by Rudolph Flesch in 1943, it was adapted in 1975 to show the level of education (measured in years) required to read any given piece of writing, taking into account the average sentence length, and the average word length in syllables.

Other basic readability measurements include the Gunning-Fog score, the Coleman-Liau Index, the SMOG Index, and the ARI, or Automated Readability Index. Although these differ in particulars, (some, for example, measure based on the number of characters in a word, rather than the number of syllables), the intention of them is largely the same. To determine the grade level, (years of schooling) needed to understand the text.

Websites And Readability

Obviously, the more readable your site is, the more likely your visitors are to be able to read and understand it easily. Using short sentences, and words without too many syllables will keep your text readable.

And the more readable it is, the more likely people are to read it. There’s no real right or wrong here. Your readability is going to be affected by your subject matter, your target audience, and the message you’re trying to communicate.

In general though, keeping your readability at around a grade 10-12 level is probably best. That’s not to say you won’t have people reading your site if the level is higher.

But in the high-speed, time constrained world we’re living in, both online and off, people are looking for information that’s easy to find, easy to read, and easy to understand.

If you’re looking to keep people reading your site, then catering to their needs is important. And those needs include speed, convenience, and ease.

Website Readability Testing

There are a number of online readability testing tools. Most allow you to either paste text directly into them, or put in your web page URL. The online tool will analyse your text, provide you with readability scores from a variety of different models, and then give you an average readability score, based on a combination of those different ways of measuring readability.

My favourite readability tool is this one: Read-Able. (You might need to use the direct input and paste your text in, rather than the automatic analysis where you only put in the URL depending on the site.)

This article, for example, has a grade-level readability of around 10th grade. It should be easily understood by anybody with the reading level of a 16 year old or higher.

Checking articles and website content this way is always a good idea, because it’ll help you keep an eye on how easily your writing should be understood. And the easier your content is to understand, the more people will read it, and the better your message will get across.