How To Test Readability
Introduction To Readability Testing
The Screaming Frog SEO Spider can provide a quick and easy way to perform a readability analysis of all pages on a website in English.
There are various readability algorithms that aim to estimate how easy it is for users to read a passage of text, each with pros and cons. The SEO Spider uses the Flesch Kincaid reading-ease score to assess readability, and help identify potential opportunities across a websites pages to improve them for users.
This tutorial explains what the Flesch reading-ease score is, how to perform the readability analysis in the SEO Spider and how to interpret the results into actions to improve readability.
What Is The Flesch Reading-Ease Score?
The Flesch reading-ease test is a widely used readability formula, which assesses the approximate reading grade level of text.
It calculates a readability score between 0-100. Higher scores indicate the text is easier to read, while lower scores mean it’s more difficult. The Flesch reading-ease test considers –
- The average length of sentences (by number of words).
- The average number of syllables for each word.
The formula for the Flesch reading-ease score (FRES) test is –
Scores can be interpreted as shown in the table below courtesy of Wikipedia.
Text that has long sentences and uses complex words (as determined by more syllables) are generally harder to read and understand. Copy that uses shorter sentences with less complex words is often easier to read and understand.
While readability scores are a useful gauge, they are only estimates. There’s plenty of arguments against using them, and caveats when you do.
Readability scores should not be obsessed over and used unquestioningly. The goal should always be to make your pages easy to read for your own target audience.
How To Test Readability In the SEO Spider
If you haven’t already, download the SEO Spider, install, and open the app.
It’s free for crawling up to 500 URLs at a time for readability testing, and a paid licence will remove limits and more.
1) Crawl The Website
Input the website in the top URL bar for readability testing and click ‘Start’ to begin the crawl and analysis.
To test specific pages or a group of URLs such as competitors rather than a whole website – switch to list mode, via ‘Mode > List’. Then click ‘Upload’ and paste in the URLs.
2) View the ‘Content’ Tab
Click the content tab at the top to see URLs populate into the interface in real time.
The content tab will display various details around each page – such as word count, sentence count, average words per sentence, as well as Flesch reading-ease score and readability columns.
The word count and readability analysis is performed against text contained within the body HTML element of a web page, excluding the nav and footer. This is known as the main content area, which can be configured.
The readability column definitions can be seen below –
- Flesch Reading Ease Score – The Flesch reading ease test measures the readability of text. It’s a widely used readability formula, which uses the average length of sentences, and average number of syllables per word to provide a score between 0-100. 0 is very difficult to read and best understood by university graduates, while 100 is very easy to read and can be understood by an 11 year old student.
- Readability – The overall readability assessment classification based upon the Flesch Reading Ease Score and documented score groups.
3) Review Readability Filters
Use the content tab filters to quickly identify pages with readability that is either difficult, or very difficult.
The number of pages for each of these filters will be populated in real-time during the crawl in the right-hand Overview tab. The Issues tab will also flag them as potential opportunities for improvement.
The readability filters include –
- Readability Difficult – These are pages with a Flesch reading-ease score between 30-49. Copy on the page is difficult to read and best understood by college graduates according to the Flesch reading-ease score formula. Copy that has long sentences and uses complex words are generally harder to read and understand. Consider improving the readability of copy for your target audience. Copy that uses shorter sentences with less complex words is often easier to read and understand.
- Readability Very Difficult – These are pages with a Flesch reading-ease score between 0-29. Copy on the page is very difficult to read and best understood by university graduates according to the Flesch reading-ease score formula. Copy that has long sentences and uses complex words are generally harder to read and understand. Consider improving the readability of copy for your target audience. Copy that uses shorter sentences with less complex words is often easier to read and understand.
4) Export Data
All readability data can be exported by using the ‘Export’ button at the top.
You can choose to export as a CSV, Excel workbook or to Google Sheets.
How To Improve Readability
The focus should be on improving readability for real users, rather than chasing high readability scores. So first and foremost, write for them.
Readability scores are helpful for catching long and complex sentences, but they are not infallible. Having a high readability score doesn’t mean the writing is great, and it should always be human reviewed and edited.
Here are 5 tips to improve the readability of website content.
1) Structure Your Content
Use headings and sub headings to provide structure and organisation to a page. They provide sign posting and allow users to skim, and digest content easier.
Include table of contents, lists, quotes, imagery and media where appropriate. Use logically and consistently to help users and improve accessibility.
2) Be Concise
Keep writing simple. Less is more. Avoid unnecessary words that add to the bulk of text.
Cut down on fluffy adverbs like ‘very’, ‘fairly’ and ‘really’.
3) Shorten Sentences
Ensure paragraphs and sentences are relatively short. Too many long sentences make a block of text difficult to read, and will reduce readability scores.
Shorter sentences allow users to read and absorb information efficiently. Try and keep sentences below 25 words, and paragraphs below a few sentences.
4) Use Less Complex Words
Keep language simple. Avoid using longer words with more syllables, which are considered more difficult to read. Using words with many syllables can make text difficult to read, and will reduce readability scores.
Unless you’re writing for an expert audience, avoid technical jargon that might confuse readers. Check out our post on tips for more effective online copywriting.
5) Write For Your Audience
While these broad principles can help improve readability, always write for your own audience with your own voice.
Readability scores can be useful for providing direction, but there will be times where longer sentences and more complex words are appropriate for the audience.
Don’t chase higher readability scores at all costs, use common sense – and always put your user first.
This tutorial will hopefully help you perform readability testing at scale and with ease across a website. The readability scores can be used to identify opportunities to improve readability for users.
Alongside readability, the SEO Spider can also be used to check spelling and grammar across a website.
If you experience any issues crawling a website after following guidance above, check out the following FAQs –
- Why won’t the SEO Spider crawl my website?
- Why is the SEO Spider not finding a particular page or set of pages?
- HTTP Status Codes – Why Won’t My Website Crawl?
Alternatively, please contact us via support and we can help.
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