Aug 16 2007

How Easy is your Blog to Read?

Published by at 12:59 pm under blogging

Sometimes I struggle with writing “simply”. Many of my posts are long (over 1,000 words) which I think is probably deemed a “no-no” in blogging terms.

General consensus advice is that blog posts should be around 250 – 300 words, but less that 1,000 on average. Of course it depends on the purpose of the post.

I believe that people will persevere read a longer post if you pay close attention to the readability. Consider Craig Harper, for example. He’s got a terrific style, so easy to read. Despite the length of his posts, he has lots of short sentences, short words and not a hint of academic stuffiness. That’s effective communication.

How is readability determined?

What got me thinking about all this was a post by Colin about a bad writing competition that used to exist. Colin quoted the 1998 winner and it’s a shocker (go and have a look, I’ll wait). See what I mean?

Andrew expands on this saying that (bad spelling and grammar don’t impede effective communication nearly as much as multisyllabic words and multi-clause sentences) long words and sentences make reading harder than bad spelling and grammar.

There are a few readability indexes. The “Flesch-Kincaid Readability Tests” are packaged with Microsoft Word and I’ve outlined a couple more below. I used these a lot years ago, but confess I haven’t given it as much thought as I should lately.

Flech-Kincaid Readability Tests

The Reading Ease test calculates a score which indicates how easy a passage is to read. Unlike the Gunning Fog index below, the higher the score the better. I’d suggest aiming for a reading ease score of at least 50 (which roughly translates to a year 12 level), but preferably higher.

The Grade Level formula changes the Reading Ease score into a grade level, similar to the Gunning Fog Index (GFI).

The Gunning Fog Index

This index determines the number of years of formal education (based on US standards) that a person would need, in order to properly understand a piece of writing. It is suggested that an index of less that 12 is considered ideal for a wide audience. Without going into too much detail, the formula considers the length of sentences and the saturation number of words with three or more syllables.

There are a couple of online tools that will calculate the Gunning Fog Index.

Test Document Readability and Improve it (also offers suggestions as to which sentences should be revised and provides other index scores)

Calculate the Fog Index

Out of interest, I tested the quote from Colin’s post and the index was around 48. Forty eight years of formal education – I think not! Contrast that with a couple of Craig’s recent posts, which come in around 7. Which would you rather read at the end of a long day? Yep I thought so.

SMOG (Simple Measure of Gobbledygook)

Similar to the Gunning Fog Index, in that it calculates the number of years education required to understand a passage. Online SMOG Readability Calculator.

What are some practical suggestions for improving readability?

Some tips for making your blog easier to read

  • Keep sentences short. Break them up if they are too long.
  • Complex words might suffice to succinctly convey your message, but could effectively marginalise a foreign audience
  • Keep in mind that your visitors might not have English as a first language. You might need to use longer sentences with shorter words, when a few complex words would do.
  • Use short paragraphs
  • Break up text with headings, and images (note to self: use more images)
  • Using bullet points can be effective
  • Don’t use a font that is too small
  • Be careful when using a coloured background. Make sure there is enough contrast between text and background colour.
  • When you finish writing, do something else. Then come back and read it again with fresh eyes.

You’ll note that I included some of my editing in this post to illustrate prove my point. It changed the Gunning Fog Index for this post from 10.29 to 9.38. Sorry it looks so messy.

Do you have any tips for making blog posts easier to read?

22 responses so far

22 Responses to “How Easy is your Blog to Read?”

  1. swollenpickleson 16 Aug 2007 at 1:53 pm

    Personally I like reading things with a lot of subheadings. Breaks up the page and highlights important points. I find it helps me when I’m skimming through something.

  2. Megon 16 Aug 2007 at 1:57 pm

    I agree – I think a lot of people skim. (I must look at using a larger font for my subheadings).


  3. Roryon 16 Aug 2007 at 2:35 pm

    Good points for making a blog easier to read, Meg. I like the point about going away before publishing, and then coming back a re-reading it. Sometimes that can make a big difference.

    I find reading it out loud can be very effective, too.

    I just thought I would mention that there is a WordPress plugin that calculates all these figures you talk about. Word Statistics calculates the number of words, gives a Gunning-Fog, a Flesch-Kincaid, and a Flesch figure as well, for the blog post you are working on.

    Granted, the word count is a ball-park figure, but it gives a good indication.

  4. Megon 16 Aug 2007 at 2:45 pm

    Hey Rory

    Nice to see you :) Reading out loud is a great tip (provided you’re not in a crowded office)!

    Thanks for the link to the plugin – that sounds nifty, get it all in one place.

  5. jenon 16 Aug 2007 at 4:33 pm

    I agree about subheads and I don’t use nearly enough of them.

    I also agree about the font size. Too many websites use fonts that are too small. Grrr. It might have something to do with my declining eyesight also. And the background and font colour must contrast well although I prefer the light background with dark text.

    Lack of paragraphs will put me off no matter how interesting I think the article might be.
    So I’ve pretty much said exactly what you did.

  6. Megon 16 Aug 2007 at 4:40 pm

    Hi Jen

    I agree that I prefer a light background. Staring at a black background & then flipping to email causes my eyes to freak out!

  7. Peteron 16 Aug 2007 at 4:45 pm

    Hi Meg
    Interesting post yet again. Sometimes, and it all depends on the blog, a picture tells a thousand words. (Especially in my case). But its true, you (as in us bloggers) don’t want to bore people with long winded posts. Short and sweet wins any day.

    Just on another note, when does Google release their pagerank updates? Every quarter? I read somewhere the other day that Google continuously updates pr. Is it true? I’d love to hear your thought on this unless you have covered it already. (Must look through your archives…)
    Thanks again

    PS I hope you like my site redesign.

  8. Megon 16 Aug 2007 at 5:07 pm

    Thanks Peter

    I do like the design, even though it’s on a dark background it’s broken up with great pics :) I agree you couldn’t be without them (I’m so hungry).

    My problem with images is a copyright concern. I must look at options for free/low cost pics.

    Google PR update is technically a couple of weeks overdue. Yes, it’s supposed to be roughly every quarter. It’s causing much angst in the blogosphere ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I do firmly believe that PR is continually updated, and that the “update” merely reflects where a site is now at. I’ve noticed my own posts doing a lot better in the results pages, which would be pretty hard if my authority was viewed as a PR of 0 (which it currently is).

    For about 3 months, my back links were showing up as 0, but this was recently updated. People suggest this is a prelude to a PR update.

    Now there are conspiracy theories floating around that Google are doing away with PR altogether, but I don’t know if there’s any substance – could just be “linkbait”.

    Hope that helps!

  9. Colin Campbellon 16 Aug 2007 at 5:14 pm

    I think the length of post is definitely horses for courses. You often have long posts that are very helpful and useful and there is no problem with that. I think that if all your posts were that long, you would have to have a very specialised or devoted audience (which of course you have). Most importantly you should write in a manner that you are comfortable and always learn from other good writers, of which there are many out there.

  10. Peteron 16 Aug 2007 at 5:16 pm

    Thank you very much for your critique and the information about Google PR.

    In regards to images (and this is not a plug, just a resource) you can use istockphoto. Cheap and heaps to choose from.


  11. Megon 16 Aug 2007 at 5:32 pm

    Hi Colin

    Thanks for the inspiration for this post :)

    It’s hard to find a balance between post length, staying relatively on topic, and posting for the sake of it – if that makes any sense. I sometimes feel anxious if I haven’t done anything “meaty” (aka substantial) for a few days…

    Quite related to this topic was one on ProBlogger – 34 reasons why people unsubscribe from feeds. There was a mixture of responses from people – blog posts too long, too frequent, too infrequent, partial vs full feeds.

    Sigh! I think you’re right when you say you just have to find a style you’re comfortable with.

  12. Megon 16 Aug 2007 at 5:34 pm


    More a 45 second first impression than a critique ๐Ÿ˜‰ Thanks for that resource!

  13. Andrew Boydon 16 Aug 2007 at 11:05 pm

    Hi Meg,

    thanks for the link – good article, and why didn’t I mention readability indexes? :)

    And thanks to Rory for the link to the Word Statistics Plugin – I should write a post about how well (or badly?) my writing shows up!

    Best regards, Andrew

  14. Megon 16 Aug 2007 at 11:15 pm

    Hi Andrew

    Thanks, your & Colin’s posts triggered the readability flag from my Uni days & got me thinking. I haven’t got the the plug in yet, but as long as it doesn’t break anything, it’s a keeper.

    Congrats on making the top 100 with Fabicus. One down….

  15. Tor Lรธvskogenon 16 Aug 2007 at 11:36 pm

    Optimal reading lenght for a line of text is 12 words or around 60 letters.

  16. Adam Thompsonon 17 Aug 2007 at 1:04 am

    One thing to keep in mind is that if you are doing how-to posts, long, meaty posts with pictures are great….in my experience, they often get lots of comments, etc.


  17. Craig Harperon 17 Aug 2007 at 10:02 am

    Hey Meg,
    Great Post!
    As you mentioned I do struggle to keep my posts under 1,000 words.
    My tip is to keep your writing style ‘conversational’ so that readers find it easier to read.
    You will find that readers come back just because they like your style of writing regardless of what you’re writing about.
    Keep up the great writing Meg.

  18. Megon 17 Aug 2007 at 10:22 am

    @ Tor – thanks, that’s good to know. I think I go a bit wider than that (less scrolling)

    @ Adam – yep. Screen shots – that’s one thing I can do!

    @ Craig – thanks!

    You’re very right, and you’ve developed that style to a “T”. It’s almost as if you ARE talking, which is perfect for your subject matter. Very effective. And reading 1,000 words of your writing would probably be equivalent to struggling through a 300 word post of someone else :)

    Thanks for stopping by!

  19. Darleneon 18 Aug 2007 at 1:35 am

    This is a great post. Very helpful and an excellent reminder of some basic stuff. Thanks!

  20. Matt Keeganon 19 Aug 2007 at 6:52 am

    Long articles are certainly fine as long as they are easy to read, instructive, and broken up with headers. Add in bullets or numbered lists as appropriate and that can make for an easy read.

    Shorter articles may be helpful, but they tend to get tossed to Google’s supplemental index. Yes, I read somewhere that this index is no more, but my thinking is that the longer articles are better indexed, perhaps because they are likely to receive more comments too.

    Conversational style is very appropriate for blogs while AP (or media) style works best for media.

  21. Katieon 19 Aug 2007 at 1:55 pm

    Great post and so true because first impressions can mean the difference between a regular visitor and someone who sees the post, loses interest and leaves. If I visit a new blog and can’t get through the latest post on their site, there’s a good chance I won’t be back to try again. (Not sure if that’s actually a loss or a gain for them though! ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

    Things I like:
    1. Images. A big block of text can be a little hard to get through, so images breaking it up is good because it draws the eye to something.

    2. Spaces between paragraphs. Very important that there are big spaces between paragraphs or you can go cross-eyed trying to read it!

    3. Small paragraphs. Once again, it’s easier to skim-read if there are smaller paragraphs. I might not read every single word, so it’s easier to read smaller paragraphs rather than big chunks.

    That’s all I can think of and I’m hungry, but I just wanted to leave some love. :)

  22. Megon 19 Aug 2007 at 2:13 pm

    @ Darlene – thanks :)

    @ Matt – yes, as they say content is king. More words=more content=more chance of being found in the SERPs, but not much point if no one stick around to read it!

    @ Katie – I’ve got a couple of blogs like that in my Feed Reader. I persevere because it’s a very niche subject, but have to say I do find it frustrating.

    It’s funny you mention the white space between paragraphs. The theme I’m using came with quite a small gap, so (as I was writing this post) I thought it best to practice what I was “preaching”…. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Hope you had a nice lunch – that’s what I was doing when you stopped by (hot chicken roll yum)

    Thanks for your comments :)