Improving Your WordPress Website’s Readability

Anyone who produces web content on a regular basis knows that content is king. And while that is certainly true, it is questionable how many writers actually put any thought into whether their readers can actually understand the content they are reading.

Mastering keyword density, meta tag descriptions, image alt tags, pretty permalinks, outbound linking, page load speeds, and many other SEO best practices leave very little leftovers for content readability analysis. In fact, many people might even say they don’t know what website readability is.

Today we will take a look at what your WordPress readability score is, why it’s important, and how to make significant improvements to your score so that your website visitors have a better overall experience while reading your content.

What is Readability and How is it Measured?

To put it simply, readability is the ease with which a reader can understand a written text. This includes written text both in print form and content found on the web. The easier it is for a person to understand the content they are reading, the more learning and enjoyment they will get out of it.

The most common factors considered when measuring readability include:

  • Speed of perception
  • Perceptibility at a distance
  • Perceptibility in peripheral vision
  • Visibility
  • Reflex blink technique
  • Rate of work (i.e. reading speed)
  • Eye movements
  • Fatigue in reading

There are many tests that you can use to measure the readability of your website’s content. These tests are all based on different mathematical algorithms that assign your content a score based on its readability. Here are some of the most popular:

Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease

This test measures how many syllables there are in each word and the average number of words per sentence for each 100-word block of text. It then scores the text on a scale of 1-100 (1 being the most complicated). A good score to aim for is in the 60-70 range.

Also related is the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test that assigns your content a score related to academic grade levels 0-12. This is intended to make it easier for people to make decisions about reading content for children.

Gunning-Fog Score

Taking into account “complex” words (those with 3 or more syllables), this test omits nouns, jargon, and compound words and rates the content assigning a grade level of 1-unlimited. Most content falls in the 10-15 range on the Fog Index. An ideal readability score to aim for is between 7 and 8.

Coleman-Liau Index

Relying on the number of characters rather than syllable counts, this test rates content and assigns scores ranging from 1-12. Again, a score of 7 or 8 is recommended.

SMOG (Simple Measure of Gobbledygook) Index

This rather simple readability test relies on a 30 sentence block of text and counts how many words have 3 or more syllables. After calculating the score, whatever number that appears is the U.S. grade level that should be able to comprehend that content. A score of 7 to 8 is best.

Automated Readability Index

This last readability test bases its score on characters per word (rather than syllable count) and words per sentence. The score your content receives directly correlates to a U.S. grade level. As with the other tests, a score of 7 to 8 is recommended.

WordPress Plugins

Yoast SEO

This SEO plugin conveniently analyzes your WordPress blog posts and pages using the Flesch Reading Ease readability test. Located near the end of your content in the Yoast SEO metabox, underneath Focus Keyword, you will find the Content Analysis section. If your content rates in the recommended readability range of 60-70 it will look like this:

Improving Your WordPress Website’s Readability

If your content is too difficult to read and is given a low score, it will make suggestions and look something like this:

Improving Your WordPress Website’s Readability

Word Stats

This free WordPress plugin offers a host of diagnostics to help you keep track of your content. Some of its features include:

  • Total word count (with monthly word counts graphed for each post type)
  • The number and percentage of each post type
  • Top 20 keywords
  • Percentage of posts with basic, intermediate, and advanced readability scores
  • Diagnostic tables with links to problem posts (too short/long, too easy/difficult, lack of relevant keywords, etc.)

You can display these diagnostics in your dashboard, as a widget, or directly in your posts as a shortcode. It includes readability scores for the Automated Readability Index, Coleman-Liau Index, and LIX Readability Formula (measuring foreign text).

Improving Your WordPress Website’s Readability

FD Word Statistics

FD Word Statistics reveals sentence counts as well as readability scores for 3 popular readability tests: Gunning-Fog Score, Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, and Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease.

Located at the bottom of your WordPress post or page, you will see a box labeled Writing Analysis. Here you will see the results of the 3 readability tests for that single post.

Improving Your WordPress Website’s Readability

Remember, the Fog-Gunning Score and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level scores are based on academic grade levels 0-12. The Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease (labeled Flesch in this plugin) displays a score ranging from 1-100 with an ideal range being a 60-70.

How to Improve Readability

Improving your content’s readability has the potential to change your reader’s behavior once they click on your website. Things such as time spent on each page, exit rates, bounce rates, and social sharing all correlate to how engaged your readers are with your content.

In the end, the easier your content is to read, the better.

So what can you do to keep your readers engaged, sharing, and coming back for more?

Focus on your audience. 

Knowing your target audience will help you cater your writing style appropriately. Things such as their education, reading habits, gender, age, geographical location, etc. will all help you to design content to meet their needs.

Use short and simple words.

Since many of the readability tests check for word length and syllable counts, using simpler words will only improve your readability score. Unless you are publishing scholarly works, think before you use big words your readers may not understand.

Be conversational.

Writing that is closer to the way be speak is easier to understand. Imagine you are talking to your readers in real life when you are writing. When you write in a conversational tone you are more apt to use shorter, simpler words and sentences.

Don’t forget typography.

Readability is not just about how your content reads, but how it looks as well. Visually, your content must be appealing. Consider font type and size, header/subheader use, white space, line length, and even the proper use of images. All of these things can affect how quickly your readers can read you and understand your content.

Final Thoughts

Improving your website’s readability is something all writers can afford to do more of. And with easy access to free WordPress plugins to help better inform you of your content’s readability, there really is no excuse not to.

It is definitely important to stay focused on popular SEO methods for increasing web traffic, user engagement, and Google search results. I do however, recommend placing more value on your content’s readability than you are probably used to. This is going to make a huge impact on your readers’ overall experience and will help your SEO indirectly as well.