One of the many factors contributing to Google’s search algorithms is a reading ease test. This score rates how difficult a piece of written content is to read based on the number of words per sentence and the number of syllables per word.

Whenever I bring this up to a client, their face twists in concern.

“How does it affect my SEO?”

“Should I change the way I write?”

The quick answer is yes. Because Google takes the readability of your content into account, and because it does affect your search rankings, you should change the way you write. By calculating readability, Google adds another layer to providing their customers with the best results. People don’t like reading complicated content. If visitors don’t stay on a page for a long time, your bounce rate increases. A higher bounce rate, and Google knows you’re not providing the right content to searchers.


Flesch Reading Ease and SEO

Flesch Reading Ease Formula

The Flesch Reading Ease Test calculates the average sentence length and the average syllables per word and inserts them into a mathematical formula. This equation produces a number that dictates how “readable” a piece of writing is.

Flesch Reading Ease = 206.835 – 1.015 x ASL – 84.6 x ASW

  • ASL (Average Sentence Length) = Total Words/ Total Sentences
  • ASW (Average Syllables per Word = Total Syllables/ Total Words

The higher the score, the easier it is to read. The scores are broken down as:

  • 90 – 100:
    • Easy to read
    • Average sentence length is < 12
    • No words with more than two syllables
    • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level:Easily understood by an 11-year-old student (6th grade)
  • 60 – 70:
    • Plain English
    • Average sentence is 15 – 20 words
    • Average word has two syllables
    • Flesch-Kindcaid Grade Level: Easily understood by 13 – 15 year olds (8th – 10th grades)
  • 30 – 50:
    • Hard to read
    • Sentences mostly have 25 words and two syllables
    • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: Easily understood by high school graduates
  • 0 – 30:
    • Very hard to read
    • Average sentences are 37 words long
    • Average word has more than two syllables
    • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: Easily understood by university graduates

The above chart combines the Flesh Reading Ease Score and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, which produces the average grade level of education needed to read a piece of writing. The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level formula is:

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level = 0.39 x ASL + 11.8 x ASW – 15.59

  • ASL (Average Sentence Length) = Total Words/ Total Sentences
  • ASW (Average Syllables per Word) = Total Syllables/ Total Words

Like so many others, I thought this meant that Google was trying to dumb down the content of the Internet. It didn’t make sense that all writing should be targeted to 11-year-olds, especially legal, medical, political, and executive-level business writing.

Is it better to target your audience or the robots? Holly Hartzenberg of Search Engine Journal says that you should always write for your readers and your target audience. If you write for an 11-year-old simply to make it easier to read, then your target audience may arrive at your site, become frustrated, and leave in a huff.

To back up this sentiment, performed a case study where they performed over 3800 Google searches. Not surprisingly, their results showed that Google’s algorithms are smart enough to take your target audience into account when producing search results.

That means, that if you’re writing for doctors, there is simply no way that your readability is going to be above 50. There are too many polysyllabic words and the topic is too difficult to translate in sentences with less than 12 words. As suspected, you should always tailor your content to your specific audience, and not just for branding. Even Google thinks so.



Readability and Your Target Audience

As with everything else, you need to know your target audience when posting content online. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t consider the Reading Ease test when editing your work. Your goal should be to make your content easy to read and understand.

People don’t like to read long, complicated articles filled with big words, long paragraphs, and no white space. In fact, Contently performed a study on the readability scores of bestselling fiction and nonfiction books and authors. The results showed that most bestselling authors’ readability scores were 65 and higher, which translates to roughly 8th graders.

While their topics may not be targeted for young teenagers, their style of writing did. That’s because most of us don’t want to expend the energy reading difficult work. This is especially true when it comes to answering our questions about products and services that will make our lives easier. Remember Albert Einstein’s quote, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Spend the time editing your work. Get to the point, and get it to quickly. However, though brevity is important, clarity is even more important.

Continue reading about Penguin 4.0 and other Google algorithm updates. Learn how inbound marketing can help your business grow by scheduling your Free Consultation today!

Reading Ease Test Tools

  • Readability Score
    • Free to copy and paste
    • Connecting URLs: plans start at $16/year
    • Shows totals and averages for words and syllables
    • Provides scores based on many different algorithms
    • Scores for This Article:
      • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level = 6
      • Flesch Reading Ease Score = 69.3
  • Online-Utility
    • Free
    • Copy and Paste
    • Shows total and averages for words and syllable
    • Provides scores based on many different algorithms
    • Scores for This Article:
      • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level = 10.25
      • Flesch Reading Ease Score = 53.43
  • Microsoft Office
    • Included with Word
    • Shows counts for words, characters, paragraphs, and sentences
    • Shows averages for sentences per paragraph and words per sentence
    • Provides Flesch Readability Score and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level
    • Scores for This Article:
      • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level = 8.8
      • Flesch Reading Ease Score = 59.7

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Mike D. O’Brien
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mi[email protected]






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