Why Content Marketers Must Test Readability To Measure Content Quality

Fergal McGovern

CEO & Founder

3 min read
A person typing on a laptop with a plant, pencils, glasses and mobile phone next to her.

Content marketing is no longer the new thing. It is now widely adopted. The masses are now scaling their content efforts. The below image from Google trends indicates its rapidly increasing adoption and popularity.

Google Trends graph for the search term "content marketing".

The content marketing secret is well and truly out of the bag.

Combine this with research that shows we write 2 million blogs each day and we can agree increased content production is widespread.

With this mass scaling how do we ensure quality? The answer is readability. To ensure we are on the same page let me define readability.

“Readability describes the ease at which a text can be read.” (Plain Language)

Understanding how difficult or easy our audience reads our text is key in identifying and benchmarking our content’s quality.

Why content marketers need to test readability?

Research shows the average US citizen reads at 7th grade level. If we write content more complex than this we alienate our audience. If our reader base is the average American we need to write text that will be easily understandable by a 7th grader/11 year old.

Readers Prefer Clear English

Research by Christopher Trudeau at the Thomas M Cooley Law School in Michigan found two things about writing.

  • 80% of readers prefer sentences written in clear English – and the more complex the issue, the greater that preference
  • The more educated the person and the more specialist their knowledge, the greater their preference for plain English.

As your audience prefers easy to read text make sure they get it!

Busy People Don’t Read Complex Text

Often the argument behind writing complicated text is that “my audience has the required expertise”. This may be true. It doesn’t necessarily mean they want or have the time to read it though. Mark Morris Head of Clear English at the department of health explains;

“Those with the highest literacy levels and the greatest expertise tend to have the most to read.  They just don’t have the time to wade through reams of dry, complicated prose.”

With the advent of content marketing the above point is even more prevalent. No longer are experts the only ones inundated with text to read the average reader is too.

Clarity Converts

Landing page conversion experts Unbounce explain

“Clarity almost always converts better then cleverness.”

Testing and then improving your content’s readability is one way to improve your content’s clarity. (Here are 29 more ways to improve clarity!)

Benchmark Quality

By testing readability and setting benchmarks we set a standard for our content. This gives guidelines to our writers and editors when creating content. It also makes it easier for new hires to join content teams and understand writing standards immediately.

What Readability Tests Exist?

There are many ways to test readability. The most common and our preferred tests are the Flesch-Kincaid readability score and Flesch Kincaid Grade Level. We have outlined these and other tests below. If you want to jump right in you can test the readability of your content here.

Flesch Reading Ease

Peter Kincaid and his team developed the Flesch Reading Ease test for the US Navy. The test scores text for its reading difficulty. A higher score indicates text that is easier to read and a lower score indicates a text that is more difficult to read. The test uses the below formula to calculate a score.

Flesch Reading Ease formula

Recommended Score

The average reader will easily understand a text that scores 60 or higher.

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level

Instead of presenting a score, Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level presents the required US Grade Level needed to read a text. It is calculated with the below formula.

Flesch Kincaid Grade-Level

Recommended Score

As noted above, the average American reads at a 7th grade level. Content should score 7th grade or below.

Gunning Fog Index

The Gunning Fog Index uses the below formula to calculate a score.

Gunning Fog Index

Complex words refer to words with over 3 or more syllables.The index also omits proper nouns, familiar jargon, and compound words.

Recommended Score

The ideal score in the index for easily read material is between 7 and 8.

Coleman Liau Index

The Coleman Liau index calculates readability based on the number of characters per word as oppose to syllables per word for its calculation. It returns the required US grade level to read a text.

Recommended Score

The recommend scores is 7th grade or below.

Smog Index

The smog index calculates the estimated amount of years of education you need to understand a text.The Smog index uses the below formula.


Why We Use Flesch-Kincaid reading ease and grade level

Internationally these tests are the most commonly used for readability benchmarking. The US navy, Department of Defense, IBM and Microsoft use Flesch-Kincaid. Using these tests ensures consistent and widely accepted benchmarks for readability.

Test Your Readability

If you want to score your site’s readability simply use VT Writer. It will grade your site’s readability in a matter of minutes. Good luck!


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