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Your website will not retain people for very long if your pages are typical. On average, around half the people who visit a website disappear immediately the page opens – they “bounce” out. And even if they do stay on your web page for any reasonable length of time, research shows that the average amount of each web page that is read by visitors is a mere 20%. Even at the “high end” only 28% of a web page is read.

Online, people scan. They rarely read every word. We look at headlines, sub-headings and visual clues as to what the page contains. We skim read. And therein lies a problem.

Skim reading means we only truly understand things if they are written at a very low level. Even if you have a Ph.D. in rocket science, the chances are when you skim read something you can only understand it if it has a reading age of around 10 years old. In other words, if your website is not aimed at primary school children, most of your readers simply will not understand your material.

And now there is another problem – Google. The search giant is now assessing reading age of web pages and using that to help make ranking decisions. At the moment, Google is merely presenting search results according to readability using the “advanced search” option.

Google now checks website readability
It presents the results as “Basic”, “Intermediate” or “Advanced”. Check several typical search terms and you find that most websites are in the two higher levels – making much of the web apparent nonsense when we skim read. Indeed, several studies have shown that significant slices of the web are written for people who have graduate level English. And that’s before we take into account the fact that many people reading websites will be doing so in their second, or third tongue.

In other words, vast swathes of the web are useless. Full of stuff that is brilliantly written for brilliant minds, or confusingly written by confused ones…!

Here’s what to do. Check your web readability and make sure it is at primary (elementary) school level. Firstly, that’s the best way people can engage with your content, given that only 20% of the page will be read and that most of your readers will be skimming.

But, there’s also the Google benefit. By taking into account the readability of web pages Google will be able to obtain data which helps rank sites. Expect highly readable, low reading age material to get higher rankings than anything “advanced”. You have been warned…!