Readability: Making Your Website Content Easy To Read
The readability of your content affects how people who visit your website interact with it. Making your content readable is achieved in a variety of ways which we will cover.
It could affect things like:
- Bounce Rate
- Exit Rate
- CTAs (Calls to Action)
- Length of time on a page
Before we dive into how to make your website content more readable, there are three things to remember.
- Time Investment: When a visitor goes to a website page, they are determining if they want to invest their time to read it. According to Sumo only 20% of visitors will read your entire article.
- Is your content inviting: People have short attention spans. If the content doesn’t appear easy to digest, they will likely move on. Website’s aren’t books. When you buy a book, you are expected to sit there for hours. There is a different mindset for a website page.
- Literacy and comprehension: According to Neilson, when writing for the masses you should aim for an 8th grade reading level. If you are targeting college-educated people, you should aim at 12th grade (not that I don’t know plenty of college-educated people who still have yet to figure out “you’re”).
Now let’s dive in:
Headers are very important for making your content readable. They help the reader navigate and quickly see what a particular section is about. From the H2 header above, you know what to expect within this section.
Often times, you will have sections within a section. This is where your H3 and H4 headers come into play and so on.
Breaking up content within sections greatly improves comprehension. It allows the visitor to focus on a particular section at a time. Being someone who is dyslexic, if you throw 10 paragraphs at me in a row, I will have a hard time comprehending it. If you section it off, it will be much easier and inviting. This is true also for people who aren’t dyslexic.
Headers also help search engines like Google rank your content. It helps search engines figure out what your content is about and how it relates to search terms.
Respect the Hierarchy
Separate from maybe the home page, individual web pages (please note: when I use the term “web pages” this includes blog posts as they are pages as well) should start with an H1 header. There should only be one H1 header per page.
The H1 header starts the first section, so this is where I get a little liberal. The H2 starts the next section, so while we are still in the beginning section, I will skip to H3 and H4 if the content is within this section.
Starting with H2 for the next section:
H2 (section) H3 (section within a section. ”Respect the hierarchy” is an H3) H4 (section within a section within a section. “Starting with H2…” is an H4) H5 H6
It makes your content sectioned off and much easier to read. This isn’t just for websites. This can and should be applied to all content.
There are cases when you might skip the H3 or go to an H4 and so-forth if you are just highlighting something and/or it looks better. Try to limit though.
Paragraph and Sentence length
Long paragraphs make your content less inviting, less comprehensible with today’s ADD crowd. Take a breath and create more shorter paragraphs.
While I am guilty of writing long sentences because of my love for the comma, making sentences shorter will keep the visitor more focused.
Write to your audience
As I wrote earlier, know who you are writing to and the reading level that you should aim for.
I adore the long-winded, thesaurus-needing, New York Times op-ed articles by the Yale elitists who look down on us all as mere peasants undeserving of their words. They aren’t writing for everyone, they are writing for the people who enjoy that, who read the NYTs op-eds.
Right now I am writing for everyone. My goal is to teach you how to make your content more readable, not to show off my vocabulary. By using smaller words and shorter sentences, I am trying to make this article readable to people who graduated 9th grade to someone who has their Ph.D. I am trying to make it accessible.
Images and content breaks
Images and things like blockquotes help separate the content and make the content more interesting to read, and/or less cumbersome.
These things also make your content more visually appealing to engage. If you happen on a page where it’s 20 paragraphs with no other images, it can make the visitor feel that the article is too long. If the content includes things like images, it will break up the feeling that you have to read 2K words.
Also, there is that saying, images are worth a thousand words. Images can help the user better comprehend what you are trying to tell them.
Bullet points are a great way to highlight important lists and breakup the monotony of a sea of paragraphs.
Font usage and text size are important when making your content more readable. Visitors shouldn’t have to struggle to read your content. The easier you make it for the visitor to visually read the text, the more likely they will stay.
There is a caveat however. It doesn’t mean you should make the text size 100px. That will make the article appear too long and a large quantity of large text is hard to read.
Basic things to think about in order to make you typography more readable.
- Font: Try to avoid serif fonts for your content. Especially smaller content. This website uses Helvetica for our main content because it’s easy to read. For headers, we use a less readable font called Montserrat. This is okay because the headers are larger and easier to read. Often times sites will use serif fonts or fonts that are less easy to read when smaller because they are prettier and less boring.
- Size: Don’t make your users strain to see the copy. This site uses around 20px for the font-size. Not too big, not too small. I wouldn’t recommend going below 16px. Somewhere between 16px to 22px is a happy medium for your base content.
- Line-Height: Don’t group your lines too close or wide. It should be easy to read, and either way too much will make it harder for someone to read. I always find making the line-height between 6 to 10px larger than the font-size is a happy place.
- Color: The darker the font, the easier it is to read. Try to stick with black or very dark gray. If you want to be all “brandy” and highlight your colors, great, leave it in the headers and links, not the base content. Light text is harder to read. Headers are less important because like I said, they are larger and easier to read, so they are easy to compensate the readability of things like fonts and colors.
Passive vs. Active Content
Constructing a good sentence matters. An example of this, is someone who is “passive” aggressive. Something I’ve been called a lot in my life, although less frequently; which means I do it less or I am just really good at it now. But, I digress.
An example of this:
If I said to you: “That color looks horrible on you.” That is not something I would say, but if I did, that would be active. You would know right away what I meant. It’s upfront. It’s in your face. It’s easy to read.
Now, if I said something like “So, you’re wearing red? Interesting choice.” Now you have to think what I mean. There is more of a thought process which makes reading more difficult because now you have to read in-between the lines.
Being passive can work for books, but with web copy, you want to try to avoid it. Not to say that you can’t include it, but it should be more minimal.
An example of this in a normal copy scenario:
Active: Bob ate a piece of pizza.
Passive: This piece of pizza was eaten by Bob.
While this is easier to understand than my passive aggressive example, the active example is more to the point, it’s active and you know right away it was Bob.
*Note: I want pizza now.
Don’t write content to fill space
Don’t write content just to fill space. Your website is not a book. This isn’t the place to go on for two pages about how the fall leaves are changing colors with the wind and yada yada yada.
The more valuable the content is, the more likely your reader will end up reading all of it and more importantly, share it, go to other pages, subscribe, buy something or all of the above.
It’s better to write a 1K quality article that helps the visitor with their purpose of being on your page than a 2K article that is winded and doesn’t get to the point.
An example of this is food blogs. I don’t need 2K words about your inspiration for this avocado toast recipe. Sure it could be interesting, but it’s not the reason why I am here.
Write good content. Make it easy to read by separating it into sections using various headers. If you are writing for a general audience, keep the words, sentences and paragraphs short. Don’t make the visitor feel like this is going to be a gross undertaking to read the web page.
The more readable the article or web page is, the more likely a visitor will read more of the content, go to other pages, share and click on your CTA.