September 27, 2011

Reading level and SEO

If you want your texts to be readable by many people, you need to write in a way that people understand. Simple enough, right? The easier to read, the more accessible. Simple is better than difficult and short is better than long.

I have regularly fallen victim to my own ego when writing tutorials extending them beyond the limits of what is readable on a regular screen. Thank God for mobile devices making long texts readable again.

In the eyes of Google, the texts on your website are basic, intermediate or advanced. That is, the reading level of them. Yeah, Google actually tries to understand your texts and then categorize them under basic, intermediate and advanced labels.

This is a natural evolvement as Google wants to rank the most relevant content in the top of the search engine.

If a user cannot understand the content Google serves, the search result will be less relevant than one that the user actually gets.

Write for the level of your audience

But hold on. Traffic is really just one aspect of SEO. Don’t rush out and rewrite all of your texts just yet. Traffic might be lower as a result of getting only people with an advanced reading record to your website, but  perhaps it doesn’t make your website less relevant for these users who actually end up there. I guess the thing here is to know your preferred/converting visitor demographics/sociographics and write for them.

Consider a camera retailer. You are selling cameras and you hire the photographer nerd of a lifetime to write your copy. The person will write about the camera knowing all the right jargon. Have a look at this camera description from Amazon below. (click on image to get to site)

The standard camera buyer might not know all the widgets, gadgets, settings and data that needs to be in place for the perfect shot. They might be searching for terms such as cool cameras. As on many camera websites, the only info you get about the camera is this info. I would say it is advanced, and so would probably Gooogle. Thus, although it is long tail, it will probably have a difficult time ranking on its own if there is a page with both this information and less difficult info to grasp. Ie.

  • Two pages with the same technical description mumbo jumbo
  • The one with the jibber-jabber, extra text with simplification will get more traffic, even for searches of the tech terms

Amazon realizes that it doesn’t have the resources to rewrite all product descriptions in its database and thus it allows for user reviews where the product usage and likability can be discussed. Naturally, the more common the language, the tougher the competition (hopefully) and the more potential traffic. By using both you are covered in the advanced long tail as well as in the common peak.

Now consider poker affiliate, a perhaps more clear example.

  • Who is the user that will convert into a regular player?
  • Is it the experienced player or is it the person who have watched high stakes poker on GSN on a weekly basis?
  • What will they search for when they want to convert into a regular player?
  • What is their terminology and what level of understanding do they have of the content you offer?
  • Do they really understand the meaning of shove, felted, three bet or position?

Perhaps they are on the level of flop, turn and perhaps river.

When hiring an experienced poker player you might get the attention of the loyal poker elite, but you might not get the attention of the beginner. They might on the contrary be scared by your advanced level and think that it is not for him or her. The reading level of your content thus becomes significant not only for the kind of traffic you get to your website but also what kind of conversion you get out of that traffic.

Does this “REALLY” matter for rankings in the search engine?

So, does reading level have anything to do with SEO and the results in the search engine? Google’s latest update called Panda seemingly punished those who use complicated or more advanced texts and premiered those who used easier language.

The job of an SEO has traditionally been to collect links, and it will probably be the core of the work duties for quite some time on from now. However, since the Panda update I have several tutorials that rank the living shit out of websites that have four or ten times as many links as I do. Perhaps not because the level of the tutorial, but more likely because of their length.

I believe, as I have often argued, that many SEO’s need to update the way they target themselves. From traffic, to conversion rates. Conversion rates are the true measure of content quality and should thus be used as the main metric for relevance. I think that if we shift into measuring conversion rates in front of traffic increases, the content quality – reading level, will improve as a result.

How to find the reading level of your website

In order to find out the reading level of your texts you should write site:yourdomain.com in the search field of a Google search engine. This will list all the pages of your website that Google have indexed.

To get the above percentages you also need click the reading level link which can be found in the left hand navigation of the new search GUI.

//Jesper

 

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