Lots SEO and content tools provide recommendations for readability in relation to a so-called Flesch Reading Ease Score.
But how much attention should you pay to it? What is it really good for? Can a better readability rating help you get a better ranking?
In this article, you will learn the answers to these questions with conclusions supported by our mini-study of 15,000 keywords.
But before we get down to business, let’s make sure we’re on the same page.
- What is Flesch Reading Ease?
- Does the Flesch Reading Ease Score affect the Google ranking?
- Should you optimize your content based on the Flesch Reading Ease Score?
- Methodological notes
Flesch reading comfort (FRE) is a way of assessing the legibility of text. The scores range from 1 to 100, with higher scores being considered easier to read.
Here is the Flesch Reading Ease score formula:
You will probably never have to calculate this yourself, but do keep the two variables in mind: the length of your sentences and words. The longer your words and phrases are on average, the lower yours FRE Result.
In 2018 John Mueller from Google said He is not familiar with algorithms that use basic readability ratings. And since FRE pretty simple with just two variables, it wouldn’t really make much sense to use it. So no, readability values like FRE do not directly affect rankings.
This is backed up by our study of 15,000 keywords that have virtually no correlation between rankings and FRE scores.
Then why so many SEO and content tools display this score?
The answer is because FRE is a proxy for readability, and readability is obviously important. It can affect the user experience – something that is becoming increasingly important in the industry SEO over the years.
If searchers find your content difficult to read and understand, they are likely to leave. This leads to negative user experience signals like low time on page, time on page, and high bounce rate, which may signal to Google that your page is not a great result.
Worse still, because fewer visitors actually consume the content, fewer people will link to it – and we know that backlinks are one of the most important ranking factors.
Since readability is important, it seems likely that you should optimize your content if you can FRE Score is too low, right?
Not exactly because that would be detrimental to some topics.
For example, consider a technical topic like the one you are reading right now. There is no way to talk about Flesch Reading Ease and SEO without using a few complicated words. If we tried to “tweak” this article for readability by replacing complex words with simpler ones, we would just make things harder to understand.
There is no need to do so, because this article is not aimed at the masses. Our target keyword is “flesch Reading Ease,” which has an estimated 4,900 monthly searches in the US:
You are reading this now, so it is clear that you have above average reading comprehension and are comfortable with a few big words here and there.
However, if you’re writing on a mainstream topic that is likely to appeal to people with different levels of reading comprehension, aim for a higher one FRE Score can be a good idea.
But here’s the thing: this will likely happen on its own because you’re less likely to use long, complex words and sentences when writing a pancake recipe, for example.
This is probably why the average FRE The score for the top 10 results in Google varies widely depending on the topic, as we found in our mini-study:
You can see the average FRE The score decreases depending on the complexity of the topic:
Food (simple topic): 69.7 on average which is pretty easy to read
Marketing (middle topic): 60.2 on average, ie standard reading level
Engineering (complex topic): 49.6 on average, hard to read
It is clear that people who write about food topics make no more effort to “optimize” their readability than those who talk about technology. It’s just that food is an easier subject.
What does it all mean in practice?
The results of this study confirm that there is no readability score threshold that applies to all types of content. We all naturally use different vocabulary depending on the topic and target group.
Here are six tips for writing content related to readability ratings:
- Don’t blindly pursue “perfect results” in SEO and content tools.
- Understand your audience and write for them.
- Make sure that your reading flow is good. Use short sentences, but don’t be afraid to add complex sentences here and there.
- Don’t make things more complicated than they need to be.
- Read it out loud as you edit. It helps identify problems that you would normally miss.
- Have someone proofread your text and provide feedback.
To sum this up:
As long as you stick to solid writing practices, the readability results don’t matter to SEO. Do great valuable content.
Don’t follow the recommendations tools give you based on scores alone. I would only suggest reevaluating your content for a readability score if it is significantly different from your usual scores.
I’ve picked a selection of a few great websites that focus on engineering, marketing, and food topics. Use of Organic keywords Report in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, I then exported a sample of keywords with different monthly search volume ranges, with each domain ranking in the top 10. This was done for English keywords in the US just:
I used different search volume ranges to make sure the samples had both fat head and long tail keywords in each category. The keywords were unique and all obvious branded keywords were removed.
In the end, we found 5,000 keywords in each category, which means that we analyzed a total of 15,000 keywords and SERPs. Some sites (19% in technology, 9% in marketing, 10% in food) were excluded from the study because the Flesch Reading Ease Score could not be reliably calculated for them.
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