Categories - SEO
Below are a statement (from Ted Ives) and a response (from David Waterman) on the concept of reading level as it relates to SERP rankings. Enjoy!
While it’s unclear whether Google utilizes reading level of web pages as an organic ranking factor explicitly, reading level clearly matters if you give it just a little thought. There are various methods of computing the reading level of a page, with pluses and minuses to each, but my favorite is the Flesch-Kincaid grade level, which takes into account the number of words per sentence and the number of syllables per word, and combines these two ratios to come up with an American grade level equivalent. A Flesch-Kincaid grade level of 8 simply means you need to be reading at an average 8th grade education level to understand the document.
Below is an analysis of a particular web page (that will remain nameless) versus the top 10 pages that rank highly for “debt consolidation”.
The analysis shows that for the target web page, its calculated grade level is 5; while high-ranking web pages for the desired term have a grade level of 6 (some of the other measures show a difference of one grade level as well). The obvious takeaway would be to rewrite the content to include longer sentences and longer words, but does grade level really matter?
It absolutely matters because, if the grade level is too high (i.e. the document is too hard to read), users will come to the web page and many of them will immediately leave and search for another document that is easier to read. Conversely, if the document is written at too low a grade level, it is probably “speaking down” to the end user who may see it as not providing enough value for them to accomplish their goal – and will immediately leave it as well after a quick scan. Thus the web page will have a high “bounce rate” relative to its competition – and Google very likely uses that bounce rate as an important factor in organic ranking.
So when you are analyzing your content from an organic ranking perspective, don’t just worry about keyword density and related words – measure your content’s reading level and make sure you are writing content at an appropriate level for your target audience.
Two people couldn’t agree more. If I had to put money on it, my bet would be on content reading level contributing to rankability. I’d also put a side bet on the thought that “ideal reading level” (at least according to the search engines) is different from topic to topic.
For example, if you’re writing content on the components of business intelligence and data warehousing, you’d have to assume that the search engines will expect this piece of content to have a high reading level.
However, if you’re writing a piece on Paris Hilton at the MTV Music Awards, you’d have to assume that the reading level would be…well…you get the idea.
In any case, just from a logical standpoint, having reading level as a ranking factor among the search engines just makes sense. It’s a good way to match the right content with the right audience. Of course you could make the argument that not all business intelligence content should have a high reading level (e.g. intro pieces/fundamentals of business intelligence/etc.), but then you’d also have to think that there are probably “trigger” words which might reduce the expected reading level of content written on certain topics…words like “Fundamentals” or “Basics” or “How to”. Of course we don’t know for sure if such triggers, or even if reading level, is one of the top factors of rankability. But it does make you wonder what “trigger” words would increase the expected reading level of an article on Paris Hilton.