A readability test should be top of your SEO checklist. Here’s why neuroscience agrees.
Readability is becoming increasingly recognized as an SEO-approved tool for writers and marketers. It really comes down to the human eyeballs scanning your content. How do they drive this optimization for Google, and why does the brain love a readable sentence?
What is readability?
The definition of readability is ‘the quality of being easy or enjoyable to read’. A readability test will score your content for how easy it is for the average reader to understand what you’re saying.
What readability can’t do is make what you’re saying more interesting. But as interesting as your topic might be, it’s never going to get across to your audience if they find it too difficult.
We’re inundated with reams of content every single day — readability is all about communicating in a clear way so that your reader doesn’t leave to find the information somewhere else. It helps you get to the point.
What does Google have to do with the human brain?
Google used to be wonderfully predictable in the old days. In the ’90s, we thought we had it all figured out. If you wanted to rank well on the search engine, all you had to do was some good old-fashioned keyword stuffing in your footer.
Then a Hummingbird flapped its wings and Google was faster and more accurate than ever. Placing an emphasis on natural language, keyword stuffer’s plans were foiled.
So, whilst search engines aren’t such a simple landscape anymore, it’s better for users. And your website should prioritize the person reading it.
What does this mean for my content?
The evolution of Google technology means that users are now encouraged to search for answers more conversationally.
This means if you want visitors to flock to your website, you’re going to need to put the work in to understand what they’re asking. You should also mirror their conversational questioning by answering in a conversational tone.
Don’t make it too convoluted, though — your visitor will bounce if they don’t find the answer to their query quickly. Never forget how easy it is for them to just click away.
You have 7 seconds to grab their attention. Make those seconds count.
Improving the readability and tone of your content will also improve UX. Regardless of reading level, the general public value website content which gets to the point and respects their time. Fantastic readability will also encourage people to trust your brand.
Take your focus off “writing for search engines” and start thinking about the human beings who are influencing how these search engines run. Google loves readability because the human brain loves clarity.
How do we know the human brain laps up readability?
Neuroscience and the study of language acquisition were revolutionized when some poor bastard suffered a brain injury.
Pierre Paul Broca, a 19th-century French doctor, coined the term ‘Broca’s area’, which is located in the left frontal lobe of the brain.
He had this eureka moment when one of his former patients was struggling to produce coherent speech following a large lesion to this area.
As far as the complexity of neuroscience goes, this is hardly brain surgery (sorry) but the Broca’s area was recognized as more complex than this later on. Turns out that as well as speech production, it also has complex connections to language comprehension among other functions.
The Broca’s area actually helps the reader to selectively vary their depth of understanding. It will help the brain evaluate what their reading goals are and act as a kind of mental filter. Sounds a lot like the user on the other side of the screen, scanning your content for the part where you get to the point.
The progression of neuroscience has only continued to validate that semantic functions are helped by a network of different areas in the brain. Most importantly, the Anterior temporal lobe networking with the Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area of the brain. All of this helps to inform semantic search.
Writing to make the Broca’s area breathe an “aaaaaah” of relief is key to understanding how your reader searches for answers from you.
Your user is perfectly capable of working the Broca’s area harder to find the information they need — they just don’t appreciate it being overworked, which makes for bad UX.
Put in the time to do some keyword research, anticipate questions your user will have, and get into their good books by following the same line of logic as they are. After all, they’re neurologically wired to follow a certain line of logic — finding clear answers.
When writing your content, ask yourself how hard you are making your reader work to find their reward.
Here are some easy tweaks you can do to make sure you’re writing for your reader’s mental filter:
- Use subheadings. This will make your writing more digestible as well as appealing to a logical structure.
- Use smaller paragraphs. Having more space between your points will make it easier for your reader to extract the essentials.
- Use shorter sentences. We’re not asking you to write like a robot — we’re just kindly asking you to cut the fluff.
The brain is a labyrinth and there’s still so much we don’t know. But we can do so much with what we do know. They can give us a really useful insight into how we can make our audiences happy.
By keeping your writing clear, concise and readable, you’re making an effort to ensure your content is easy to understand. Not only this — you’re also supporting your reader’s goal-setting.