Readability Versus Flow – Which Matters More for SEO?

At Savy Agency, we believe in writing for an audience, not just an algorithm. For instance, as a business in Santa Barbara you might search for SEO Santa Barbara, when an agency would more naturally write with the phrase “Santa Barbara SEO company.” But you don’t have to abandon one to appease the other. In fact, your readability score for SEO can even help improve your flow for your human readers—it’s all about balance.

Readability is essential for both Google and your readers. Readability in SEO terms includes a checklist of things you can do to improve your score, from sentence length to word choice. But where does that leave flow? After all, following a checklist task by task doesn’t promise that your piece is an enjoyable read.

What Does an SEO Readability Test Check?

Readability tests for SEO often check for the following:

  • Frequent transition words – Because, as a result, and above all are common transition words that add structure to your writing and help readers follow your ideas.
  • Flesch reading ease – Writing with a high Flesch reading ease score (around 100) is very easy to read. These pieces have short sentences and no words with over two syllables.
  • Short paragraph length – Long paragraphs feel overwhelming to the eye, making your writing look daunting.
  • Short sentence length – If your sentences are long, readers might lose track of your message.
  • Little passive voicePassive voice makes your writing appear distant and your message less clear. Active voice keeps sentences clear and concise.
  • Sentence beginnings – If consecutive sentences start with the same word, you could cause frustrating repetition for your reader.

So, where is it safe to bend (or break) these rules?

Natural Variation in Sentence Structure

Adding variation in sentence structure gives prose rhythm. If you use too many sentences with the same structure and length, you’ll bore your readers. Varying sentence style and structure reduces repetition and adds emphasis. Long sentences work well for incorporating a lot of information, while short sentences make important points pop.

Here’s an example:
Simple sentences add emphasis. They don’t give room for much information. These will start to feel repetitive. You will be lulled to sleep. Short sentences feel too abrupt when stacked.

Compare that to this:
Simple sentences add emphasis, but they don’t give room for much information. As a result, they will start to feel repetitive and you will be lulled to sleep. Short sentences feel too abrupt when stacked.

The second example livens up the paragraph and emphasizes the final simple sentence. While many readability tests check sentence length and Flesch reading ease, varying your structure gives your writing life. Just be reasonable about it.

The Two Syllable Rule

You already know to keep words to a two syllables to achieve the highest Flesch reading ease score possible. But that excludes quite a bit of the English language. So, where do you draw the line?

According to Yoast, writers should keep their Flesch reading ease score around 60 to 70 for web copy. In fact, that’s one of the reasons that Reader’s Digest and Time magazine are so successful. Reader’s Digest has a readability score of roughly 65 and even Time magazine scores 52. The 60 to 70 score translates to a readability level easily understood by 13 to 15-year-olds. That’s not surprising, given that the average American citizen reads at a seventh to eighth-grade level.

While that may seem low in terms of academic achievement, many studies also show that even highly educated readers disengage rather than waste mental energy to decipher dense, complicated articles. In fact, the Harvard Business Review conducted research showing that 81% of surveyed businesspeople feel that poorly written material wastes much of their time. The majority said that what they read is often ineffective since it’s too long, poorly organized, unclear, filled with jargon, or imprecise.

Ultimately, writers should focus less on the number of syllables in a word and more on the flow. If you’re spending an hour trying to find the perfect synonym to “disestablishmentarianism,” you might save yourself a headache by just rephrasing the idea. You could also leave this one and ensure that your other words and sentences are as to-the-point as possible. It’s simplicity, not hacking a rulebook, that keeps your score high and your readers happy.

Simplify Your Syntax; Don’t Dumb Down Your Ideas.

Back in 2010, Barack Obama signed the Plain Language Act to make U.S. government-created content less dense and confusing for all parties. As a result, federal agencies must now use plain language to communicate more clearly with citizens. This wasn’t for Google. This was to help the average American understand important concepts that were overcomplicated yet affected their lives.

It’s been said that SEO readability exists to “dumb down” your writing. As an “SEO Santa Barbara” and Bend agency, we disagree. By simplifying content, you’re improving its flow and helping more people understand your message. And what’s dumb about that?

Savy Agency SEO | Santa Barbara and Bend

Getting people to change their writing habits is hard, especially when they’ve been writing their whole lives. Organizations using numerous freelancers or internal contributors face serious challenges with consistency and clarity when writing for SEO. That’s where an agency can help.

So if you do find yourself searching for “SEO Santa Barbara,” Savy Agency has the experience you need to balance your readability and flow to make your message heard.

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Readability Versus Flow - Which Matters More for SEO?
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Readability Versus Flow - Which Matters More for SEO?
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We believe in writing for an audience, not just an algorithm. But you don’t have to abandon one to appease the other. In fact, your readability score for SEO can even help improve your flow for your human readers—it’s all about balance.
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