Better Readability for Improving the Number of Site Viewers

Web content readability is an often underestimated aspect for a web site. There are design rules for designers to follow, and there are SEO tips and tricks for SEO experts to use. But this is not all. Though beautiful designs and search engine optimization are extremely important, there are also other issues that a web marketer needs to consider in order to run the site successfully. Readability is one of them.

Why Care About Readability When It Hardly Improve Search Engines Rank?

Unless you are an SEO company working for a client solely for page rank, search engine optimization is only one of the tasks you need to perform in order to make your site reach your clients. If you are an SEO company, you may or may not care that the actual result of your work may hurt your client in other ways. From the point of view of a poor SEO, getting page rank is what matters; if visitors do not return to the site, that is other peoples’ trouble. This one reason for companies to be selective when hiring an outsourced SEO. A good optimizer will pay attention to readability and site appearance; a bad optimizer will only pay attention to ranking methods, so always ask to see previous examples of an optimizers work before you consider them

It is a different story if you are responsible for the whole web presence of a company, or if you are dealing with your own site. Often, somebody in house does search engine optimization together with other tasks. In-house search optimization might prove a better solution to some, because it allows the company to control both ends of the process: design and optimization. Although a good SEO consulatant will do a great job, doing it in house allows a company to define their own balance between optimizing content for search engines and keeping it readable by humans.

Why? Because having a search engine optimized site has little to do with its readability. On the contrary, as you will see later, there are some readability rules that, if observed without taking specific into account, could lead to a drop in your search engine ranking. To be honest, there are a few exceptions, rules that lead both to better readability and to higher rating but they are a minority.

This is one of the intrinsic contradictions of search engine optimization; sites are optimized for spiders, but they will ultimately be used by humans. It is easy for spiders. They do not have to read what is on your site, while your visitors do. If your site is optimized for search engines, it is likely that you will get more unique visitors, which is great. But often a steady flow of visitors comes from loyal readers who return regularly. Such visitors tend to love readability.

Readability and Search Engine Ranking

There is not a determined correlation between a site’s readability and its ranking. However, as I already said, many readability rules either have no effect at all on a site’s ranking or might have a negative one. Readability is a more subtle category that does not lend itself to quantitative measurement, and therefore it is difficult for search engines to factor it in their ranking algorithms. This does not mean that there are no readability rules, and it does not hurt to know them.

Readability is a feature of the content on your site. While it is true that having a readable site does not lead to better positioning for key words, you should respect your visitors. These means making their stay on your site is a pleasant experience. From a marketing point of view, spending money on advertising and search engine optimization just to lose the customers when they come to your site is stupid at best. One of the big dilemmas in SEO is how to optimize a site, especially its content, without damaging its value to customers. Keyword stuffing is a typical example. In order to get higher ranks, some stuff their text with keywords of interest. This sometimes makes the text look as if it was generated by a narrow-mindedmachine, rather than written by a human.

The good news is that Google and the other search engines penalize such scams. If your keyword density is above the reasonable threshold, it is likely that your site is stuffed artificially and there are sanctions. So, there is at least one hurdle to unscrupulous search engine experts who don’t care for readability.

Readability Rules and Their Effect on Ranking

For designers, readability rules are more marketing stuff. For marketers, this is all a technical matter. In a sense, it looks like readability is no one’s land. And the truth is that they are neither a marketing bla-bla, nor ltra difficult technical stuff. Observing them in any case leads to greater user satisfaction.

Fonts and Colors

This category encompasses core readability rules, because fonts and colors are the main elements of a web page. Their proper use is vital for readability. Crawlers are more interested in text and hyperlinks, and are notably not concerned if your body is 6 points and pink with orange background, or the background is so strikingly bright or so deadly dark that your eyes start to cry. Of course, I’m exaggerating. While a spider may not like this eye straining site, I am saying it will not actually be penalized. In real life, the cases may not be this drastic, but a good SEO can help designers watch for these sorts of problems. It may not be as cut and dry as two colors that don’t stand out from each other enough; it might be a background image that takes over the page content and drowns it out.

The Bigger, The Better

It is a known fact that headings have a weight in calculating relevancy. It is not only because they are enclosed in a <h> tags, but also because generally larger font sizes are used for headings. Words and sentences in larger font sizes (or in bold/italic) throughout the text are also more “visible” both to your readers and to search engine spiders. So, if you occasionally use larger font size to emphasize a word or two in the text, this is good both for readability (since the words stands out from the crowd) and for search engine ranking, provided you emphasise good phrases. But do not misuse this on too many words or use ifferent colors for emphasis; it looks ugly and gets annoying to read. You cannot be sure that search engines will pay attention to each one with all the other emphasised words on your pages.

Hiding in the Shadows

Guess what is worse than pink letters on orange background? Pink letters on pink background or orange letters on orange background. And not only that, using text font color that is the same (or similar) to the color of the background is an absolute “No-no” both for readability and for ranking. For readability it is clear; one will hardly be able to read invisible text or text that merges with the background.

While this looks like a symbol of ignorance and your readers will laught at you (at best), this is undoubtedly a search engine suicide. Why? Because one of the biggest crimes you can commit is to use hidden text. And when the font colors and the background color are the same (or very close to each other), you may soon notice how quickly search engines can ban your site.

Even if you hide your fonts in an external CSS, this is no use. Google and the other search engines might not index CSS files, but they still read them. And even if Google does not spot it, you can bet that your competitors will not miss it, and you will be reported to Google.

Long Lines and Paragraphs

Reading on the web is very different from reading on paper. Even if the monitor is good, reading on-screen is much more tiresome than reading on paper. As a consequence of that, readers loses concentration more quickly. So the form in which a piece of text is presented is very important.

For instance, long lines and long paragraphs are killers for web content. Lines more than 80 characters are extremely difficult to read, especially if the paragraphs are long. It is a basic rule that users do not read on the web, they scan the text. If the line is long, or worse, needs horizontal scrolling, it is a good bet that this page will be skipped by the user.

Due to the same reasons, long paragraphs are also a bad choice. Keeping the paragraphs short, or using bullets (which is a preferred layout) makes it more difficult to use keywords intensively without repeating them too often, while still keeping the text meaningful. This fact does pose a difficulty to search engine optimization.

But it is different with the page title and the headings. Both for search engine optimization and for readability, use more headings (especially keyword-rich). A descriptive page title is always better. Well, just do not go to extremes, like having a heading for every other paragraph.

While horizontal scrolling is absolutely unacceptable, vertical scrolling is more tolerable. But if the text is too long and readers need to scroll down several screens, you will want to make it more readable. You can obviously accomplish this by dividing it into pages. More pages is good not only for readability, but for search optimization and ad-generating page turns.

Hyperlinks

After you have divided longer texts into separate pages, hyperlink them. Besides that you have more pages with content, you will have more sitewide hyperlinks, which again is good both for readability and for search optimization.

For longer articles, you may want to include a “Print” link, which will allow people to see and print the whole text on one screen without page breaks. But be careful! For search engines, the “Print” link might look like duplicate content, which is one of the deadly sins in SEO. Therefore, to avoid trouble, add a line in the robots.txt file that tells search engines not to index the directory where the print version of the pages is.

While more hyperlinks are better for SEO, for readability there is an upper limit over which the text becomes more difficult to follow (especially for users who have the habit of clicking on all links that catch their eye). The position of hyperlinks matters for readability. If you disperse hyperlinks all over the page, for search engines this is fine, but it is very confusing for your readers.

User-friendly URLs that are easy to remember are more important for readability, although search engines also do not like dynamically generated pages with cryptic URLs.

Images

Images are for pictures, which is a trivial but obviously often forgotten principle. When you have some special text, that needs either a fancy font or special treatment which web languages cannot provide, the first that comes to one’s mind is to turn it into a picture. But this is bad both for search engines and for readability.

If you do not provide a meaningful description in the <alt> tag, the existence of the image will simply be ignored, and in any case, only the text in the <alt> tag, rather than the whole text in the image, will be indexed.

As far as readability is concerned, using images for text is also bad, because generally fonts look smudged when converted into text and are therefore more difficult to read on-screen. Also, text in images does not scale, so if your visitors choose to use a screen resolution different from the one you made the site for, images will not scale together with the rest of the text.

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