Readability and Website Performance

If your website was easier to read, would you get more sales?

Everyone wants more business from their website. To get more leads, you need visitors to comprehend what you are offering. What if we took a fresh look at your website and worked on making it easier to read? This is the science of Readability.

What is Readability?

Readability refers to how easy is it for a reader to understand your text. I first encountered this idea back in graduate school. We were beginning to use readability as a measurement of good web design.

Here is the concept:

  1. A website that is easy to read seems like its easy to use.
  2. If the website is easy to use, a user will stay longer.
  3. When they stay longer, they have more time to get what you do.
  4. Once they get it, they want it and they will contact you.

Why does Better Readability work?

Part of this comes from how we are all taught to read. Typically we are first taught to read on paper. We use those skills to help understand what’s on the screen. When a web page reads more like how we read offline, the impression given is the website is easy to read and easy to use. You may not even realize these things matter, but they do to readability. Things like:

  • High contrast between text and the page. Most books have white pages with black text. That’s the biggest contrast you can get between text and background. When you start to mess with your text colors too much, you move away from that contrast.
  • Smooth left edge with a jagged right edge. If you read English or other Latin languages, you read down the left hand side of the page. The jagged edge on the right helps your eye find the end of the line. It also defines where paragraphs begin and end. When you do things like center text or justify text (make the left and right edge smooth), you take those clues away. Now readers think your site as a lot of text to wade through.
  • Sentence case and Title Case. The variation of capital letters with lowercase letters helps your eye move faster. It’s easier to identify where text begins and ends. When you do things like use all caps, you slow people down. You also run the risk of creating a big block of shapes that people will ignore and look for the easy to read text.
  • Gutters. Did you notice that pages in a book have a large white space on the left and another on the right? They are Gutters. Turns out, not only do they help when binding the book together, but that extra space helps focus your eyes. Web pages need gutters or white space too. Putting extra space around important helps to highlight key pieces of information.

This will likely change over time. As more learning happens online and students use more tablets then books. The behavior of the human brain may evolve past these habits. But for now, we still count these things as best practices.

Do you have a Readability Problem?

You can start to investigate readability issues with some free tools. Here are a few suggestions.

Yoast SEO Plugin – If you have a WordPress site, you are likely using the Yoast plugin to help with SEO data. This plugin also has Readability scoring features.

Using an Editor – Do you write your web text offline first? Use an editor to help check readability. Microsoft Word has a Readability checker. I use the Hemingway Editor on my Mac.

Online tool – Try Readability Test Tool. This works page by page. It will score your page based on common scienctific indexes. It may take a little research to figure out the results, but they are instant.

Google Search Console – Look at the Page Experience report and the Core Web Vitals report. Not everything here is related to Readability, but they will help.

Is your web design the problem?

Readability issues can come from many sources. Your language may be too technical. Bad grammar. Lack of focus in your content. But the big issue is design and how you format your content. Check out the recording of our webinar: Professional Website Content Styling. We will discuss text formatting issues that effect website performance.