Readability Goes Beyond the Words

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There’s no ignoring search engine optimization (SEO) causes a high level of anxiety for digital marketers. There are many unknowns. Hours of work don’t show immediate results. It’s easy to dive into a rabbit hole only to second guess yourself. With so many ranking factors to consider it’s imperative to focus on the crucial ones. You also want to focus on an overlooked one: content readability.

Part of why marketers overlook readability is it’s less technical than other ranking factors. It’s not as easy as adding alt tags to every image and checking off that box. It requires attention, thought and patience. SEO, after all, is a content strategy. And you want your strategy to be quality, right?

Keep reading for insight on why readability matters and ways to measure quality.

Why Readability Matters

Readable content is more likely to be share-worthy. And that’s a factor in improving search rankings. It also increases the likelihood that people will spend more time with your site and return. So not only are you improving discoverability but you’re improving key site metrics. Thus with smart, readable content, you’ve enhanced the chance of marketing funnel completion.

Additionally, Google tries to act and think like a human. So while forcing as many keywords into a sentence may seem like a good idea it might be creating sentences that normal people wouldn’t say or type. Thus, Google is going to ignore you. Just like any marketing practice, you need to think like the end-user. What would I type if I wanted to find something?

Finally, readability factors into voice search. One of the key indicators of readability is sentence length. When your smart device is reading an answer to your question, would you prefer a quick six-word response or a twenty word one?

Readability Helps Voice Search

What Makes Content Readable?

A service like Yoast looks at a variety of factors when determining readability. Specifically, according to their website:


      • Sentence Length
      • Paragraph Length
      • Subheading Distribution
      • Consecutive Sentences
      • Use of Passive Voice
      • Use of Transition Words
      • Flesch Reading Ease Score
      • Text Presence


They aren’t all ranked equally. And some are more complex than others. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on the length categories. Check back often for additional articles!

Sentence Length: As mentioned above, the goal is to keep sentences under 20 words. This isn’t always going to be possible. So Yoast has set the benchmark of 25% being over. That’s certainly attainable. The importance lies in the ability of readers to quickly consume the content. It’s easy to get lost while scanning long sentences. Especially when followed by a longer one. Also, think about the way content appears in search results. The less that’s truncated, the better.

Paragraph Length: The readability impact can be a visual one. When opening an article to find a specific answer you don’t want to be overwhelmed. First impressions matter. Shorter paragraphs are also easier to comprehend. If you find your paragraphs running on, consider planning each to be topic-based. Shorter paragraphs (Yoast defines as under 150 words) also force you to use subheading. Which is another readability factor!

Search Engine Optimization
Bottom Line

Readability is important. Not just for SEO, but for brand legitimacy. However, it’s important to not sacrfice quality or clarity for the sake of SEO. Don’t become repetitive by slipping an extra keyword into a paragraph when it’s already present plenty. Don’t mangle a sentence to the point it doesn’t make a lick of sense for the sake of flipping to passive voice. Instead, study what you’ve written. And pay attention to quality scores in your various tools. Producing quality and readable content will become the norm. 

Be sure to utilize Yoast and other tools like Grammarly. They let you know you’re doing well with green dots.

Go Green!

Want to learn more about SEO? Check out our podcast here and watch this video on Google ranking factors.

Content Is Not King

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My assumption is that your first reaction to reading that headline is “Say what?” And then you probably mutter under your breath, “Isn’t content is king a marketing mantra as old as the British Royal Family?”

If you’re asking that question, it’s the right one to ask. And you’re not entirely wrong. Content isn’t King because it’s the King, the Queen and the Jack. Maybe even the Joker every once and awhile. They are the cards you play to achieve your business goals.

content marketing


At MozCon 2018, Unbounce co-founder Oli Gardner gave a riveting, and sometimes hilarious, talk about ways to fix content marketing. One of the most interesting things he highlighted early on is a big misconception about this type of marketing strategy: someone reads your blog post and converts to a qualified lead. Most the time that’s not going to be the case. And by most of the time I mean somewhere in the area of half a percent, according to one of his examples.

But that doesn’t mean content marketing isn’t an integral part of your strategy. It is, and it serves many different purposes, all of which have value and together will eventually drive lead conversions. Regardless of your business model or definition of a conversion, firing up 500 to 800 words of evergreen content boasting about the services you offer, or just showing off your knowledge base, can become one of the most valuable parts of your marketing playbook along with along with advertising and email marketing.

Articulate Your Value Proposition

While attention spans are shrinking and the amount of time you have to connect with a person digitally is decreasing, sometimes longer content is necessary. Articulating the value of the service or widget your company provides, and showing examples of such, is key when establishing a level of comfort with your visitors. Use your blog to showcase all of your products in ways your homepage might not afford. Pretend this is your shot to impress someone, your pitch, and use plenty of images (insert groan about alt-tags) and videos when it makes sense.

All that said, if you are expanding on your value proposition, make sure what you’re saying is valuable. Even before drafting content you need to ask yourself what the purpose of the article is and will it be most meaningful to readers. And in a lot of cases, that means personalization, which you can read more about here.

And what’s meaningful to readers is also meaningful to Google. Which brings us to the next purpose of content marketing.

Online Marketing


Not only does content marketing, when done correctly, enhance your metadata via smart keywords, it helps make your website seem more authoritative to Google, which is going to get you more visibility. Free visibility. And perception is reality. Writing content that helps get you recognized as an authority makes you an authority. Suddenly you’re a valuable part of your value proposition.

In his talk, Oli shared an incredibly insightful quote from Orbit Media co-founder and chief marketing officer Andy Crestodina. He said:

“The content drives the links, which drive the authority, which drive the rankings, which drive qualified visitors who searched for a “commercial intent” keyphrase. Now you have a visitor who is highly likely to convert, unlike your typical blog reader.”

In this case you’re not even writing for the prospective lead. Andy’s “typical blog reader” probably isn’t even a major consumer. While they may click around on your site and visit product pages, they’re eventually going to bail and become a cold lead. Instead, you’re using the content to enable a qualified lead to find you. Plus, perception is reality. Writing content that helps you get recognized as an authority, makes you an authority!

Creating Content Isn’t as Hard as You Think

The thought of adding content creation to your already overflowing plate may seem daunting, but if it is actually possible to kill two birds with one stone, this would be the way. And we’re not suggesting a magnum opus every time you open up your word processor. Concise and to the point content is going to be the most effective. The best strategy is that each post employs the “less is more” principle. The flip side of that, however, is that when it comes to content marketing, “more of less” is the goal. In other words, five blog posts of 500 – 800 words each over the course of the month instead of a single 3,000-word post constructed over weeks and deployed haphazardly. It’s also important to remember that what you create has to be valuable, or as Jeff Baker calls it in a blog post on “quality content.”

There are the obvious next steps in terms of promoting the published content, getting a critical mass of eyeballs and spending time (hopefully) responding to comments. But it’s all worth it. In fact, maybe content isn’t even the King, Queen, Jack and Joker.

It’s the Ace.