Writing seems simple enough, but writing a compelling text that keeps the attention is quite hard. Especially online. To keep people on your page, you need to write quality content that’s easy to read. Easier said than done? You’re absolutely right. That’s why we introduced a readability analysis in our Yoast SEO plugin five years ago. To celebrate its 5-year anniversary, our CEO Marieke van de Rakt and Irene Strikkers (creators of the analysis) explain why readability is important for your content SEO.
But first, meet the Yoast readability analysis
Before we start our interview, you can watch this short video about our readability analysis. Watch this to get an idea of how our readability analysis works and what it can do for you!
The importance of readability
Can you tell us why readability is important?
Marieke: “If a text is nice and easy to read, you’ll have a higher chance that your readers will stay on your page and read your text. They won’t get bored as quickly and there is a bigger chance that they understand your message. Sometimes the thing you’re explaining might be difficult, but your wording or structure should never make it more difficult.”
And why is readability important for SEO?
Marieke: “Google tries to give the user the best experience possible. If a text is nice and easy to read, that’s just better for the user. So, indirectly via the user readability is important. But above that, there’s also a direct effect: Google reads text too. Google’s algorithm tries to mimic a human. So, if Google reads texts the same way humans do the demands of readability rise.”
Read more: What is readability and why is it important? »
How the readability analysis came to life
Where did you get the idea of creating a readability analysis?
Marieke: “Well… the idea came from me. We had the SEO analysis in our plugin and I felt like it was sometimes forcing people to write texts that weren’t readable at all. Focusing too much on SEO can comprise the readability of a text. I felt like we needed something to balance that. Plus, the Panda update and Hummingbird update showed us that texts and context mattered. So, readability was becoming more important for SEO. And that made the need for a tool to help people with their readability more pressing.”
“We decided to hire a linguist to help us develop the readability analysis. And that’s when Irene came to Yoast.”
Irene: “I joined in 2016 for what was planned to be a 6-month project. However, it turned out that there was so much we could do and build. And there were so many things that needed language-specific research, that it has been an ongoing project ever since. We now even have an entire team that’s working full-time on adding language-related features.”
Were there similar tools around at that time?
Irene: “There were quite some tools correcting spelling and grammar, but very few tools focusing on readability. The ones that did exist didn’t really give actionable feedback. They would say a sentence was hard to read, but not explain what to do about it. Or they would focus on very specific details within sentences, like finding adverbs that could be removed. On top of that, almost all feedback would be on a sentence level. We saw very few tools that would give feedback on the structure of the text, for example on paragraph length or the use of subheadings.”
What did the process of creating the readability analysis look like?
Irene: “We started by doing some research into the existing tools and what they did. In addition, we read scientific papers about the factors that influence the readability of a text. This allowed us to create a long list of potential readability checks and do exploratory research into what the algorithms could look like. It also helped us decide if it was feasible to create an algorithm for them in the first place.”
“Together with the board of Yoast, we decided which checks we would implement. Which ones would be reliable, feasible and could have actionable advice we could give as feedback. After that, we did more research into what the algorithms should look like, what the boundaries would be and with that, the scores of the different colored bullets in our analysis. But also, what the weight of the different checks should be in the overall readability score of a text.”
“With all of that decided on, we could start with the implementation of the checks in our Yoast SEO plugin. And of course, lots of testing and finetuning to get where we wanted to be. We used real-world texts to see if the scores of the individual checks, as well as the overall score, made sense. Even in this last phase, one of the checks was removed because it was just not reliable enough.”
What the analysis can help you with
What can the readability analysis do for Yoast SEO users?
Marieke: “I think our analysis can really help users to write a text that is nice and easy to read. And that will help their users understand the message better. Writing can be hard, we’re making it a bit less hard.”