Got the Yoast plugin, but confused about how to use the readability section? Wondering if you even need to bother? Here’s how to get a good readability score in Yoast (and why you really want to!)
If you’ve been blogging for a while, you’ve probably got the Yoast SEO plugin… Yoast SEO is an incredible plugin that helps you with all sorts of aspects of search engine optimisation, and so helps you get on page one of Google and grow your blog!
I recently shared a post on how to use the Yoast plugin to optimise a blog post for search engines. My post gives an overview of the four main areas of the Yoast metabox and how to use them.
You guys loved that post, but it threw up a ton of questions about one feature in particular: the readability analysis, with many of you confessing you didn’t really understand it properly or that you tend to just ignore it altogether!
Fortunately, I used to be an English teacher, teaching English grammar and writing skills was something I used to do on a daily basis… So, this part of Yoast I really ‘get’!
Many of you also asked if I would do a post on the readability section in Yoast, so that is what this blog post is all about…
New to Yoast?
If you don’t know much about Yoast or SEO, I really suggest you first read the following blog posts, then come back to this post to learn more about the Yoast readability analysis…
- Beginner’s guide to SEO
- How to set the Yoast SEO plugin up properly
- How to use the Yoast SEO plugin to optimise a blog post
What does the readability analysis in Yoast SEO do?
The Yoast readability analysis uses an algorithm to calculate how readable your post is. The plugin checks and scores a number of different aspects of readability, and then gives you advice about how you can improve your post to make it more readable.
Why is readability important?
Readability is a huge factor in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Writing content that is easy to read and enjoyable to your audience is a vital component in UX (User eXperience). Search engines are keen to send their readers to websites and blog posts where their users will have a good UX. If your content is hard to read, your users will not have a good experience on your website, and search engines will quickly learn not to send their users to your site!
Even more importantly, Google (et al) are becoming ever more clever! The Google algorithm tries to mimic a human as it reads your blog post. Google understands features which make a text more readable and so will boost content in its search results which includes these features and downgrade content which doesn’t. As Google becomes cleverer and cleverer at this, readability will become more and more important!
Do I really need to worry about the Yoast Readability Score?
The Yoast algorithm seeks to mimic the Google algorithm in assessing a blog post. It looks at the same sort of features as Google does and gives you a score for each of those features as well as tips on how to improve any aspects which fall short. So, taking note of the readability scores and advice Yoast gives you is very wise! It will give you a great insight into how Google views the readability of your text.
However, do also remember that you are ultimately writing for real humans and not an algorithm! It is most important that your text is easily readable to your intended audience. If you have to choose between Yoast and your reader, always choose your reader!
Having said that, most of the time what Yoast is saying is good solid advice for writing good quality web copy that will appeal to both Google AND you readers… Its suggestions, such as using short sentences and short paragraphs, headings and transition words are ALL important factors in writing good web copy that your audience will enjoy reading.
Finally, it’s really important to remember the rules for writing good web copy are often very different to the rules about writing you learnt at school or college!
How to get a good readability score in Yoast: step-by-step
Yoast scores your blog post against a number of key readability criteria: sentence length, paragraph length, subheading distribution, use of transition words, use of passive voice, consecutive sentences and Flesch reading ease.
In each case it will give you a green light if you have done well (your text is easily readable), an amber light if your text needs a little improvement to make it readable and a red light if you have some serious work to do!
Let’s look at how to get a good score for each of these criteria…
Keeping your sentences short is a very important part of writing good web copy.
Firstly, because the longer your sentences, the harder it is for your readers to follow your ideas. If you lose your reader and they have to keep going back and re-reading parts of your blog posts, that is not a good UX!
But secondly, and even more importantly, writing short sentences is important because of the way most of your readers will read your blog posts. Most of your readers will read your blog on their smartphones. What looks like a reasonable sentence when you write it on a computer, looks like a wall of impenetrable text on a phone!
The Yoast readability analysis will give you a green light if most of your sentences are under 20 words. If you get an amber or red light here, you can click on the eye symbol to see which sentences are too long and shorten some of them.
Keeping paragraphs short is also an extremely important part of writing good web copy. As with long sentences, long paragraphs are also hard to read and digest, especially on a mobile phone!
But more than that, the way people read websites means writing in short paragraphs is the best way to get your point across.
Most people read websites FAST! They don’t read every word. They skim over the words looking for the parts they are most interested in.
And how do they typically skim? By reading the first few words of each paragraph!
If you have lots of short paragraphs, your readers will read more of your text and be able to find what they are looking for more easily.
Be brave with this…
It is perfectly OK, when writing your blog to have paragraphs of only one sentence – or even one word!
Remember you are not writing an essay for college, a literary novel or an article for the print copy of a magazine or newspaper. Writing web copy requires short snappy sentences and very short paragraphs.
Yoast will give you a green light if most of your paragraphs are nice and short. If you get an amber or red light, you can click on the eye symbol to see which ones are too long and then it’s a simple job to break up the long ones into two or more paragraphs.
Subheadings are a hugely important part of readability. This is because your readers use subheadings to navigate your text and find the parts they most want to read (and also to decide if your blog post is worth reading in the first place!)
Ensure when you write your blog post that you include plenty of headings, using H2 and H3 tags appropriately. The Yoast readability analysis will help you know if you have included enough, or if there are any parts of your text that need to be broken up with more subheadings.
Subheadings are also important because they help Google and other search engines understand what your text is about, which in turn, helps them understand if your blog post is a good answer to a searcher’s query.
Transition words are words like ‘because’, ‘therefore’, ‘for instance’, ‘in other words’, ‘similarly’ and ‘finally’.
Using transition words helps your readers to understand your blog post better. This is because transition words help your readers to understand how each sentence links to the other sentences. It also helps them anticipate what’s coming next and generally makes a text flow better and sound more coherent.
To get a good score in Yoast make sure you use plenty of transition words in your text. The Yoast readability analysis will tell you if you have used enough or if you need to add some more.
Yoast has a great article on transition words which gives a good example of a paragraph with and without transition words, as well as more examples of different transition words to use in your blog posts.
This one causes a lot of problems for bloggers. What even is the passive voice? To help you understand the passive voice let me give you an example of two sentences…
Active: John hit Jack.
Passive: Jack was hit by John.
The two sentences have exactly the same meaning, but they come at it from two different perspectives.
Let’s look at another example… this time one that might actually appear in a blog post…
Active: Put the cake in the oven, then make the frosting.
Passive: Once the cake has been put in the oven, make the frosting.
Again, these two sentences mean the same thing, but the first part of the sentence is in the active voice in the first example and the passive voice in the second sentence.
Using the passive tense IS NOT a bad thing in itself. Occasional use of the passive tense can make your text easier and more pleasant to read.
However, the problem comes when you use the passive tense too often!
Using the passive tense too often can make your sentences very wordy and hard to understand. It can also make your text seem impersonal and distant: the opposite of what most blog posts should be!
Yoast will help you know if you have used the passive voice too much. If you get a green light here, you are good to go. But if you get an amber or red light, click the eye to highlight all the passive sentences, then figure out how to make some of them active. Yoast will tell you if you have succeeded or not.
The Yoast readability analysis will tell you if you have used the same word to start three or more consecutive sentences. If you find that you have, click the eye button to find out where they are.
Sometimes you have done this for a good reason…
For example, to emphasise a point:
‘Don’t think. Don’t hesitate. Don’t procrastinate. Just start writing!’
Or in a list:
– How to make vanilla frosting
– How to make vanilla cupcakes
– How to pipe with buttercream
But if it is not for a good reason, starting three or more sentences with the same word can sound annoying and repetitive to your reader.
Flesch reading ease
Flesch Reading Ease is a highly regarded test which scores texts based on how easy they are to read.
A high score means a text is very easy to read (i.e. short sentences, words of no more than two syllables). A low score means a text is hard to read (i.e. long sentences and complex vocabulary).
A Flesch Reading Ease score of 60-70 is considered appropriate for a blog post.
The Yoast plugin will use the Flesh Reading Ease test to analyse and score your blog post. If you get a score of 60 or higher you will get a green light. If you get a score lower than 60, you may want to improve your text by making the sentences shorter and the vocabulary less complicated.
How to use the readability analysis in Yoast SEO
There are two ways to use the Yoast readability analysis. The first is to keep checking the readability analysis as you write. The second is to write your text first, then use the readability analysis to check your text when you’ve finished writing.
Personally, I prefer the second method. This is because I fundamentally believe writing and editing are two separate processes, using separate parts of your brain.
Constantly checking in with Yoast as you write is likely to slow your writing process down AND take your focus away from what your readers really want.
My advice to you is this: write first and foremost for your readers, then use the Yoast readability analysis to check your text and see if you can make any improvements to its readability.
Do all the lights need to be green in the Yoast readability analysis?
In a word, NO!
The point of the Yoast readability analysis is to help you to make your text more readable for your audience. This should always be your focus.
Once you’ve written your text, use the Yoast analysis to see what improvements can be made, if any.
However, if after using the analysis and improving your text to the best of your ability, you still have some amber and red lights, don’t worry!
Remember to use the Yoast readability analysis as a tool, not a slave driver!
Remember too that the Yoast analysis does not TELL Google anything. Getting green lights here will not make your blog post automatically do better in Google. However, if you consistently write blog posts that your readers find useful and enjoy reading… well, that WILL help your blog do better in search engine results and ultimately mean higher pageviews.
Over to you!
Do you use the Yoast readability analysis? Do you find it helpful? What problems in your text does it normally pick up? Let me know in the comments.
Or do you have any questions about the Yoast readability analysis? If so, let me know in the comments below.
- Beginner’s guide to SEO
- How to set the Yoast SEO plugin up properly
- How to use the Yoast SEO plugin to optimise a blog post
- How to write the perfect blog post for search engines AND your readers!
- SEO Jumpstart – a jargon free SEO course for bloggers