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Is It A Google Ranking Factor?

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Is It A Google Ranking Factor?


Out of all the ranking factors, reading level is one plagued with misconceptions from those within the SEO community (and those outside of it, too).

Many tools integrate readability into their grading system, such as the Yoast’s SEO WordPress plugin:

Screenshot from Yoast SEO, February 2022

It’s becoming increasingly important to address these myths.

How important is it that you edit and write to perfection to get into the green?

When it comes to reading levels, how much of this is essential to pay attention to?

Can a better readability score actually help boost your rankings?

In this article, we’ll answer whether readability is a Google ranking factor.

The Claim: Reading Level Is A Ranking Factor

Those new to SEO and writing can quickly become borderline-obsessed with getting their readability score into the green with Yoast.

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And they’re often when they don’t notice a change in rankings overnight.

But the truth is, reading level is not about rankings, and eliminating passive voice won’t propel you to the top organic position on Page 1.

Neither will writing your content at a Grade 6 level vs. Grade 11.

Really, what’s important when writing and optimizing your content is that you need to understand the intent behind the words you use and make sure it’s right for your target audience.

The Evidence

Let’s start with the first question: Is reading level a ranking factor?

No.

Reading level is not a ranking factor.

On January 23, 2018, in a Google Webmaster Office Hours, Google’s Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller, confirmed that reading level is not a ranking factor.

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He was asked about the readability and how Google looks at this.

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Mueller responded stating:

“From an SEO point of view, it’s probably not something that you need to focus on. In the sense that, as far as I know, we don’t have the kind of these basic algorithms that just count words and try to figure out what the reading level is based on these existing algorithms.

But it is something that you should figure out for your audience.”

You can watch Mueller’s response below in the Google Webmaster Hangout.

​​Portent ran a study analyzing the reading grade level of 756,297 pieces of content for 30,000 desktop search queries. The study determined there is no correlation between ranking on Google and the reading level of a page.

So, should you care about reading level when it comes to SEO?

Yes! In the same Google Webmaster Hangout, Mueller connected the dots between reading level and search intent:

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“So that’s something where I see a lot of issues come up in that a website will be kind of talking past their audience.

So… a common example is a medical site. You want to provide medical information for the general public because you know they’re worried about this. And all of your articles use these medical words that are 20 characters long. Technically, it’s all correct.

You could calculate the reading level score of that content. You come up with a number.

But it’s not a matter of Google using that reading level score and saying, this is good or bad. But rather, does it match what the people are searching for? And, if nobody’s searching for those long words, then nobody’s going to find your content. Or, if they do find your content, they’re going to be like… I don’t know what this means.”

Google has also released a few hints to point toward the idea that reading level is incorporated into the search algorithms.

In December 2010, Google released the “Reading Level” advanced search filter but later removed the reading level filter in May 2015.

More recently, Google has been developing machine learning models like BERT and MUM that aim to understand language and content quality.

But, again, there is no evidence to confirm that reading level is a ranking factor.

Reading level is about understanding your audience and writing for them.

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It’s not about the “perfect score.”

Keep an easy-to-read flow using short sentences.

For example, I aim to keep my reading level between grades 6-8 as a guide using the Hemingway App.

Reading Level As A Ranking Signal: Our Verdict

Reading Level: Is It A Google Ranking Factor?

Writing content for your audience requires time, a little TLC, and patience.

But forcing your writing to adapt to a specific reading level isn’t necessary to rank better.

There are many theories floating around about whether reading level is a ranking factor.

You heard it directly from Mueller himself – reading level is not part of the algorithms.


Featured Image: Robin Biong/Search Engine Journal

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SEO

Reach Success With The Future Of Ad Exchanges [Podcast]

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Reach Success With The Future Of Ad Exchanges [Podcast]

Constantly looking for ways to optimize your ad spend? Dreaming of a high-ROI paid advertising future? We’ve got great news — The future is now.

Big changes are on the horizon, and we know how to amplify your ad potential into high-quality leads.

John Lee, Microsoft Ads’ Head of Evangelism at Microsoft, joined me on the SEJ Show to talk about the future of ad exchanges and their ability to supercharge your potential to thrive with high-performance, low-resource programmatic advertising.

People do hop, skip and jump around, so there are all kinds of opportunities to target consumers throughout their decision journey, and Microsoft advertising is a significant piece.–John Lee, 11:25

When people think Microsoft, a big chunk of the time, people assume enterprise business, B2B, and that’s the tried and true. While that’s still a significant portion of the bottom line for Microsoft, the consumer matters greatly, whether that’s gaming or devices.–John Lee, 22:46

There’s this shift in behavior online. We’re seeing effectively a new persona emerge. –John Lee, 46:05

[00:00] – A little about John Lee.
[05:35] – How does the Microsoft advertising ecosystem look like?
[07:25] – Where to find traditional advertising beyond Bing?
[09:38] – What you can find in the display component of Microsoft.
[12:02] – Targeting in LinkedIn with Microsoft advertising.
[17:13] – Are Microsoft advertising ads shown within the X-box experience?
[23:52] – Important & growing vertical industries that Microsoft has focused on.
[31:22] – Are people still scrolling down and clicking on organic links in the SERPS?
[37:45] – How important are images in search advertising?
[45:26] – The new emerging personas.

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Resources mentioned:
Viva Goals – https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/viva/goals/intro-to-ms-viva-goals
Microsoft Game Pass – https://www.xbox.com/en-us/games/store/pc-game-pass/cfq7ttc0kgq8?icid=CNavAllPCGamePass
Bing Webmaster Tools – https://www.bing.com/webmasters/about
Shutterstock – https://www.shutterstock.com/

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All of these other developments, these feed-based elements are new flavors and additional flavors to make an amazing user experience. Whether you’re talking SEO or paid ads, all of it is working together to create an on-point user experience on the server, whether that’s Google, whether that’s Bing.–John Lee, 34:28

There’s a lot happening in the verticals space, and that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. –John Lee, 28:22

Just as a reminder to all of you out there that are SEOs and are running websites. All of your sites do have a feed. It’s called an XML sitemap. Make sure it’s updated. Google is able to fetch it and not serve errors. All of these engines work off of feeds. Also, don’t be afraid to submit your RSS feeds for your blog categories into the search console as well. Mimic that within Webmaster Tools on the Bing side too. Search engines have gone very feed friendly. This is the way to go. It’s also the way to go from an advertising perspective.–Loren Baker, 33:08

For more content like this, subscribe to our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/searchenginejournal

Connect with John Lee:

John Lee’s enthusiasm for digital marketing is infectious, and he has the knowledge to match. He’s been at it for years, and he knows how to get results—both as an entrepreneur himself with Clix Marketing (which he co-founded) or in his current role as Head of Evangelism at Microsoft Advertising.

He has a great deal of experience with search engine marketing, display advertising, and social media marketing–Content creator, speaker, trainer, and fan of all things digital (marketing and technology).

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Connect with John on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/thejohnalee/
Follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/John_A_Lee

See also  Google Combines Hreflang Signals from HTML & Sitemaps

Connect with Loren Baker, Founder of Search Engine Journal:

Follow him on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/lorenbaker
Connect with him on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lorenbaker

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