This guest post is by Rhys Wynne of the Winwar Media Blog.
Last month, Google launched its new Google Reading Level feature. What this does is algorithmically work out the reading level of the search results, to help users more easily decide which search results to click on.
How is it worked out?
Like everything with Google, I’m not entirely sure how Reading Level is calculated. I do know that teachers were paid to grade web pages, and an algorithm was worked out using that data.
There’s been a bit of debate in cases where examples of queries (such as the trashy UK talent show “X Factor” having an “Advanced” readership) don’t necessarily mix with the content, but I think that the following factors determine whether a piece of copy is basic:
- short sentences and paragraphs
- common, non techincal words, acronyms, and phrases (using the phrase “http” rather than “Hypertext Transfer Protocol”, for example)
- possibly even page structure—the use of headers, bullet points, and so on.
Using more technical phrases, longer sentence structure, and creative writing techniques such as hyperbole may cause your writing to be ranked as more “Advanced.”
How can you access Google’s Reading Level for your blog?
To view your blog’s reading level, go to Google’s Advanced Search (the hyperlink is located next to the search box on Google’s home page). Type your search query in the first form box—the one annotated with “all these words”—and make sure that the Reading Level drop-down box shows “annotate results with reading levels”. You should see the results for my old blog’s home page below:
Reading Level is calculated on a page-by-page basis, so if I take the page for my WP Email Capture plugin (which caters to a more technical audience), its results show as follows:
Using Reading Level to improve your blog
The ways in which you can use Reading Level to improve your blog will depends on your blog itself. Generally speaking, you want to keep it as simple as possible to make it accessible as possible—be it creative writing, a how-to post, or a sales page. Having a high basic rating is generally a good thing, but obviously you don’t want to patronize your audience by speaking to them like they’re three years old.
Ironically, by maintaining a simple language form, you can actually end up complicating things. For example, if I was to explain my day job to the computer-illiterate in a way they would understand, I would describe it like this:
“My day job is that I’m somebody who spends time writing, sending emails, and working on websites in order to help push them up to the top of the first page of the search engines, hopefully leading to more people seeing the website.”
To you, I’d say this:
“I work as an SEO.”
Immediately you know what my day job is, as many bloggers know what an SEO does (or rather, should do). The previous education of your readers is important too, but how can you find that out? Well, you can find that out by using Google’s Reading Level feature again.
Attracting the right audience for your blog
Instead of searching for the reading level of your readers, instead search for the reading level of competing sites. Search for your competitors’ blogs and also for keywords that your blog’s associated with. Searching for the phrase “beginner blogging tips” shows this reading level as heavily basic. Problogger shows a more advanced reading level:
Therefore if Darren wanted to attract more new bloggers, he would write in a similar style to his Blogging Tips for Beginners page (which does rank in the top ten):
Ultimately, though, your readers are you best source of feedback. If you are constantly having to explain terms in post comments or over email, you should tone down the complexity of your writing, which will lower your Reading Level ranking. If, however, your readers respond with intelligent comments, you may be able to write in a more advanced style. Just ensure that not too many people are left scratching their heads when they visit your blog.
What’s your Reading Level? Are you happy with that, or do you think you need to tweak it?
Rhys Wynne is an eight-year blogger, four-year professional search engine optimizer, and occassional professional wrestler. He is the senior writer and editor on the Winwar Media Blog, where he shares his thoughts on SEO, social media, and WordPress tips. Subscribe to their free blogging newsletter today.