Yoast Tackles Readability to Help You Write Great Content

I had the privilege of attending a Meetup featuring the one and only Joost de Valk who along with his wife and partner Marieke van de Rakt gave a presentation on “Beyond SEO: Copywriting for Professionals with Yoast”.

Yoast aka Joost de Valk

Joost de Valk, creator of Yoast SEO

The talk covered Joost’s view of Holistic SEO and the increasing importance of Quality Content in SEO.

If you are not familiar with who Joost de Valk is, he is the creator of the very popular Yoast SEO WordPress plugin which just about handles all your WordPress SEO needs. Even though I haven’t gotten around to migrating this site to Yoast SEO, I have extensively used it on many client sites as well as some of my other sites and have watched it’s evolution over several years.

The latest version (3.3) of Yoast SEO has some new features which evaluates the readability of your page or post; Joost and Marieke covered the new readability analysis feature and gave us an inside look on it came about.

Those Tempting Green bullets

Traffic Light: Red, Green, YellowIf you use Yoast SEO on your WordPress site, you are well acquainted with the green, yellow and green bullets that evaluate various SEO factors for your page or post.

For example if your focus keyword is in your title tag (Yoast calls it the SEO title) you get a green bullet from Yoast if the keyword is at the front of the tag. If the keyword is not in the title tag at all, then you get a red bullet.

Bloggers can get really focused on making those bullets all turn green, perhaps TOO focused. It’s really OK to have a yellow or even red bullet occasionally.

As Pablo Picasso once said: “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

In fact during the talk, Marieke acknowledged the temptation to “gamify” the Yoast on page SEO analysis and even has a post on yoast.com urging us not to give in to the “temptation of the green bullet”.

Of course, still there is nothing so satisfying like seeing that nice column of green bullets on your new post.

Now, with Yoast SEO 3.3, you get the same colored bullets to help you improve the readability of your post. But before we talk about that, it’s important to understand why quality content matters for SEO.

Why Great Content is Critical for SEO

When Google released Hummingbird in August 2013, it was a significant step in the search engine giant’s evolution. With Hummingbird Google began to understand the meaning behind words and the relationships they had with each other.

Joost: “Google thinks in terms of topics rather than in words.”

Just adding keywords to your meta tags isn’t really enough to rank well in the Google search results anymore. Your content needs to be well structured and really explore the topic well. These days, it’s the 1500+ word blog posts that are ranking well, a superficial 400 word blog post likely won’t rank no matter how well optimized it is.

And it goes without saying you shouldn’t be writing for the search engines anyway. You should be writing for your audience. If you get this one thing right then you are one step closer to getting the organic traffic that you want, and more importantly, the engaged visitors that love what you have to say.

Here’s are some of the benefits that Joost outlined that come from having quality content:

  1. Your readers have an easier time understanding your message.
  2. Your site will enjoy a lower bounce rate.
  3. You will build trust with your audience.
  4. It will be easier to get attention on the social networks.

Hallmarks of Well Structured and Readable Content

Yoast SEO has provided the Flesch Reading Score for a while. The score is based on factors like sentence length and how many multi-syllable words you have. The higher the score the more readable your content is:

  • 90-100: 5th grade reading level
  • 70-90: 6th & 7th grade reading level
  • 60-70: 8th grade reading level
  • 30-50: Difficult to read
  • 10-30: Very difficult to read, best for university graduates

If you are writing for the general public, your content should get a Flesch Reading Score of 60 and above. However if you are writing for a highly educated audience it might be appropriate to have a lower reading score. I am working on a site aimed towards educators and the reading scores are very low.

But team Yoast wanted to do more. Joost was aware how important well structured content was for Google’s comprehension of your content, so he and his team came up with some additional measures of readability.

  • Transition Words: As your content flows from one idea to the next, you need to bridge with transition words. Theses words help the reader know when you are summarizing and comparing as well as help them understand the connection between sentences. Transition words are words such as “because”, “maybe” and “while”. Yoast SEO expects to see transition words in about 25% of your sentences.”
  • Length of paragraphs:: As I recently noted in my “Why I changed my font size” post, there is a trend towards shorter paragraphs among the top bloggers. One reason is that even short paragraphs are long on the small screen sizes that much content gets consumed on today.
  • Length of sentences: Yoast lets you know when more than 25% of your sentences have more than 20 words.
  • Subheadings: Content that is broken up with subheading is good for readability and good for SEO.
  • Passive voice: Content written in the passive voice is not very engaging, Yoast recommends that you have less than 10% of your sentences written in passive voice.

Here’s an example of the new Yoast SEO readability panel:

Yoast SEO readability panel

So what have we learned from the Yoast readability recommendations? This post is written for educators who have university degrees so the reading level score is a very low 39.4, but the reading score could probably be improved. There is too much passive voice, and sub headers should definitely be added.

Performance, Privacy and Language

As a geek, I found it interesting that all the analysis is performed within Javascript within your browser. There is no calls back to a server which is compliant with the strict European privacy laws.

Since the analysis is done in Javascript and not in PHP, there is no additional load on your web server. Joost mentioned that since Yoast has transitioned to performing all the SEO analysis in Javascript rather than PHP, Godaddy has noted a much lighter load on their servers.

The Yoast SEO readability analysis is also available in other languages, which must have made the implementation quite a bit more challenging. Joost mentioned that Dutch (and I assume German) needs more words in the sentence because their dictionaries are smaller than English. I do remember the concatenated words from my German language classes so this makes sense to me.

And this is a bit off topic, but Joost also mentioned that a mobile friendliness check will be coming soon. Surprisingly, 28% of new WordPress sites are not mobile friendly.

Team Yoast: Joost and Marieke

Team Yoast: Joost and Marieke

Joost and Marieke, along with their 4 adorable children, are in California for a month long vacation. They also plan to appear at a San Diego meetup. The WPSFO Meetup was well received and attended and I was very glad I went.

Since I have a keen interest in improving my writing, the new readability features might just be the kick in the pants I need to migrate this blog to Yoast SEO (along with a overdue new design). I’m finding that I’m quite curious on how well this post scores on the sentence length, and polysyllabic factors.

If you don’t yet have the latest Yoast SEO WordPress plugin, you can get a report on your page’s readability here. This post scored a 69.3.

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About the Author Kathy Alice

Kathy Alice Brown is a SEO expert specializing in Technical SEO and Content. In her spare time she loves to get outside.

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