What is Readability? Why Should Content Editors Care About It

Image of a computer monitor with the Siteimprove Readability icon to highlight the importance of readability on websites.

As part of the continuous digitization of user journeys, many organizations have implemented ways to reduce face-to-face contact and calls. By making information and processes available online, organizations can cut back on costs associated with these types of interactions.

For some government services, the average cost of a digital transaction is almost 20 times lower than the cost of a telephone transaction, about 30 times lower than the cost of a postal transaction, and about 50 times lower than a face-to-face transaction.

In general, organizations rely on their web presence to promote themselves, sell services, and provide information. But what if the information you put online is too complex and wordy? If you restrict a user’s ability to understand your content, then you risk losing important interactions online. And these interactions are important to your brand and a visitor’s buying process.

What is Readability?

Readability is about making content clear and easy to understand. In relation to a website, focusing on readability increases the chance that your target audience will actually read and interact with the content you publish. For this reason, readability should be a natural part of your content management.

So, let’s say that you have formulated a clear communications strategy and your content plan is all in place. Without checking the readability of your content, all of your hard work and planning could go to waste. Here are three reasons why readability should be a focus for content editors:

1. Your Audience’s Reading Age is Lower than You Think

Whether your website is targeted toward the general public or a specific demographic, it is important to realize that the average reading age is lower than you might expect. U.S. illiteracy statistics from the Literacy Project Foundation offer some surprising insights.

The average American is considered to have a readability level equivalent to a 7th/8th grader (12 to 14 years old). This level is actively used as a benchmark for written guidelines in the medical industry.

In the UK, the central government encourages content writers to aim for a readability level of age nine. Their reasoning for this is that around the age of nine, children stop reading common words and just recognize their shape. This allows them to read faster. By reducing long sentences and words, you can help keep text simple and easy to read.

2. Readability is about Web Accessibility

By not addressing the readability of your content, you could be actively discriminating against users with learning disabilities. In contrast to other online readers, some users will read words letter for letter – making long words and long sentences a challenge.

As part of the WCAG guidelines text should not require a more advanced level than lower secondary education.

3. Online Reading is Different

Regardless of literacy level, people read differently online than they do when reading printed text. Studies have shown that people scan web pages and only read about 18% of what’s on the page. The same studies say if you convert print text to the web, you should reduce content by about 50%.

Web users don’t even necessarily read from the top to bottom or word for word. This is because they are looking for specific information or trying to complete a task and can get impatient if the content is too wordy.

As a content editor, it’s not enough to copy and paste text from one format to another. In order to make sure that your website is understandable and accessible to all users, you must consider how the text is formulated and what words you’re using.

Interestingly, using long words can result in readers missing shorter words that follow them, which can greatly affect text interpretation. Using shorter words and shorter sentences will present content in a much more user-friendly way and will suit the way they approach text on a website better.

It is also important to remember that writing clearly for the web is a skill. Writing well on paper does not necessarily mean that someone communicates well online. By ensuring content editors are involved in the production of online content, they can help reduce jargon and other poor readability elements.

Implementing Readability on Your Website

So we’ve established that readability is vital to your digital content process, but how do you implement it? Download our Readability Checklist to learn how to write readable content and keep it on hand as a helpful reminder every time you’re writing new content!



Download the Readability Checklist: How to Write Readable Content

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by Kate Sygrove
October 6th
2016

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