Website editing isn’t confined to creating the content or even copyediting it. It’s also about pitching the text at the level of your target readership.
Let me introduce you to Matt Cutts.
Matt is the head of Google’s Webspam team and works with the Search Quality Team on search engine optimisation. He’s widely seen as Google’s unofficial spokesperson.
Here are a couple of quotes from Matt’s May 2013 video suggesting what you should be working on:
We try to make sure that if that’s your goal, we’re aligned with that goal, and therefore as long as you’re working hard for users, we’re working hard to try to show your high-quality content to users as well.
Quality content comes up again and again. However, to be effective that content needs to be directed at your target reader.
No automated tool is yet sophisticated enough to work out if your content is of good or poor quality.
But tools do exist to signal whether your content is aimed at the reading level of your target reader.
The Readability Test Tool (‘Let’s make the unreadable readable’) checks whether the reading level of text is appropriate for its audience.
Just tap in either your url or paste text directly into the ‘Test by Direct Input’ as shown below. Then press the ‘Calculate Readability’ button.
It will flag up scores against 6 readability indices, as well as test statistics, such as the percentage of complex words (words containing 3 or more syllables).
Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease
- One of the oldest readability tests and often incorporated into word-processing software.
- Calculated from average number of syllables per word and average number of words per sentence.
- Higher scores indicate how easy the text is to read on a scale of 0–100.
- A comic might score 90, while a complicated legal document might score below 10. Your target will depend on your audience but generally 60–80 is safe, ie easy for a 12–15-year-old to understand.
- US dept of defence uses this test for readability of its documents and forms
Flesch Kinkaid Grade Level
- Indicates the number of years of education that a person in the US will have had to enable them to understand the text.
- Calculated from syllables per word and words per sentence.
- Results are given on a scale of 0–12.
- US army uses this for assessing the difficulty of technical material.
Gunning Fog Score
- Rough measure of how many years of schooling someone would need to understand your site.
- Takes into complex words. Omits proper nouns, jargon and compound words.
- The ideal for a wide audience would be less than 12, with less than 8 for text requiring universal understanding. For example:
- The Bible = 6
- Readers Digest = 8
- Most popular novels = 8–10
- Wall Street Journal = 11
- The Times = 14
- Said to be an improvement on the Gunning Fog Index and the Flesch Kincaid indicators.
- Measure of readability that estimates the number of years of education a person needs to enable them to understand the text.
- Based on the number of complex words per sentence.
- Often used in healthcare materials and for secondary students.
Coleman Liau Index
- Based on counting characters instead of syllables per word.
- Tends to give a lower grade value than for example Kincaid, Flesch and ARI.
- Score is based on US school grade level, from 1–12 (year 2–13 in the UK).
- Recommended writing level is 7–8.
Automated Readability Index (ARI
- Similar to the Coleman Liau Index, this formula has two variables – characters per word and words per sentence.
- Scores correspond to US school grade levels.
- Recommended writing level is 7–8.