The Yoast Readability Tab: 6 Tips for a Perfect Score

Getting nothing but green lights in the Yoast Readability tab is completely doable.

“No!” you say. “Perfectly optimized content is a fool’s errand!”

Or is it? Although it may seem hard, it’s totally doable to write a post or a landing page and satisfy every single Yoast readability requirement.

This post will show you how, whether you have the free or the premium version of the Yoast SEO plugin. Below are my disclaimers, tips, and a real-life example to help you as you try to improve your writing.

Jump right to the tips. Happy optimizing!

green lights in yoast seo plugin, yoast readability

Disclaimers

Before we get started, I need to stress a few things. The following are disclaimers that hold no legal weight whatsoever but that should prevent confusion, despair, or anger from readers. (But man, if you can work all three emotions into a comment, then go for it!)

Disclaimer #1

I love Yoast and their plugin, but I’m not shilling for the company. I’m a user just like you are and I’m not getting any compensation for this post. No quid pro quos here, thanks very much!

I installed the plugin a few years ago and have found it to be invaluable for my company’s blogging efforts and landing page optimization.

Disclaimer #2

Writing just to get a perfect score in the Yoast Readability tab is the wrong approach. Your first priority is to the visitors to your site (readers, customers, etc.).

What’s most important is writing well, writing convincingly, and saying something unique or helpful. (Of course, several of Yoast’s criteria will help you do this.)

But don’t take my word for it—see what Marieke van de Rakt of Yoast has to say about the tempting green bullet.

Disclaimer #3

In The Shawshank Redemption, Morgan Freeman’s character Red tells us that “some birds aren’t meant to be caged.” (This isn’t really a disclaimer, I know, but it applies here.)

Just as you can’t fit a square peg into a round hole, not every post or page can be optimized. And that’s okay!

Sometimes the post doesn’t need to be optimized because it’s topical, or related to the news cycle. Or maybe you’re writing a response to another post. Or perhaps because you’re writing content for a life science publication, half of the words are 27 letters long and you can’t get the Flesch Reading Test light to turn green.

You have know when not to force it.

yoast readability, green lights in yoast seo

Apparently these birds have never seen The Shawshank Redemption.

Disclaimer #4 (The Most Important)

Even if you do get a perfect Yoast readability score, it’s not a guarantee that your page will perform well. There are many reasons why a page that gets high marks in Yoast’s plugin doesn’t go viral, quasi-viral, or even marginally viral.

For example, few backlinks or low-quality backlinks will hurt you. And so will too much competition, slow page load time, a “blah” title that leads to a low CTR, failure to promote the post, and poor or confusing page design.

Getting to Green in the Yoast Readability Tab

Note: I deal only with the Yoast Readability Analysis in this post for two reasons. First, I’m a language professional, so I’m writing about what I know. Second, a lot of the criteria in the Yoast’s SEO tab are self-explanatory.

I’ve worked in the language services industry since 2003. I majored in a foreign language in college, I trained as a copy editor in New York City, and I went to graduate school for translation.

What does any of that have to do with getting green lights in Yoast SEO? Half of the plugin’s metrics have to do with readability, and readability is what my team and I work on every day.

In my work as an editor, translator, and translation agency owner, I’m constantly looking at and analyzing words. (And yes, I proofread this post about 627 times before I hit “Publish.”)

The drawback to reading all the time is that, depending upon the text, things can get a bit boring.

On the plus side, though, I’ve gotten pretty good at a) telling the good writing from the bad and, in the case of the latter, b) fixing text that needs work.

So I hope that these tips help you in your optimization efforts. If they do, then this post has served its purpose.

green lights in yoast seo, yoast readability

Here I am after recently getting nothing but green lights in Yoast SEO. (Of course, I had to borrow another guy’s biceps for the photo shoot.)

Flesch Reading Ease Test

Shorter words and shorter sentences are—in general—easier to read and understand. The higher your Flesch score, the easier your text is to read.

Tip #1: Use short synonyms and break up long sentences.

Below are a few examples of what this looks like in practice. (Don’t use shortened forms everywhere! Instead, keep your word choice varied.)

  • technology (ok) vs. tech (better)
  • professional vs. pro
  • available vs. free
  • request vs. ask
  • thought-provoking vs. interesting
  • Spanish-language document vs. Spanish document
  • If you would like an estimate, please complete the form on this page vs. If you’d like a quote, fill out the form above.

Try out the above constructions yourself (or others like them) and watch your score go up.

Bonus tip: Avoid hyphenated words. (They’re generally long.)

The Flesch metric counts a hyphenated word as one long word, not two short words. If you rewrite constructions such as enterprise-level software (changing it to enterprise software), then your Flesch score will improve.

Note: Shorter isn’t always easier, and longer isn’t always more difficult.

You know the 8-letter word toboggan. But do you know what a pulk is? Relative to toboggan, pulk would help your Flesch score—but no one would have any idea what you’re talking about.

The reverse is also true: technology is a 10-letter word, which, in English, is very long. But your readers would have no problem understanding it.

Words Below Subheadings

Tip #2: Add a subheading instead of cutting content. It’s easier and quicker.

There’s not much to say here other than that there’s an easy way and a hard way to do this.

  • The hard way: cutting copy (while still keeping your message intact) until you get below the magic number of words, which is 300.
  • The easy way: add an extra subhead. This section is a perfect example. The big subhead is Getting to Green: Readability, but if I hadn’t put small subheads in, I’d have gotten a red light in Yoast SEO for this section.

Bonus tip: Make sure that your smaller subheads fit logically underneath the “umbrella” of your larger subhead.

If you’ve styled Breeds of Dogs as an H2, then PoodleBulldog, and Golden Retriever go underneath (H3, for example)—not at the same level or higher in the hierarchy. For more on levels of meanings, read about hypernyms and hyponyms (just big words for how linguists classify words).

Paragraph Length

The next time you pick up a novel, check out how the type is set. You probably won’t find any breaks (white space) between paragraphs. It also won’t bother you to read text that’s set that way.

But reading online is different.

In a 2013 study, researchers divided a group of Norwegian students into two smaller groups. The first group read a text on paper, while the second group read the same text on a computer screen in PDF format.

The students who read on paper scored significantly higher in reading comprehension than the students who read from a screen. (You can read about this study and a follow-up study here.)

So help your readers out: add white space between paragraphs to make your post or landing page easier to read and understand.

Tip #3: Cut up your paragraphs and be merciless about it!

Your English teacher probably told you that a paragraph has to have a topic sentence and then a few sentences that include details or expansion on that topic.

But your English teacher wasn’t writing online.

Check out anything written by Neil Patel or Brian Dean—they basically treat sentences as paragraphs:

green lights in yoast seo, yoast readability

Percentage of Sentences with 20+ Words

Yoast SEO sets the threshold for green at 25%, which I think is reasonable.

A long sentence here or there is fine. In fact, long sentences can add variety to your writing. But don’t overdo it.

Tip #4: Split your long sentences into two smaller sentences by looking for 1) a conjunction (a “joining word” such as and, sobut, however, etc.) or 2) pronouns such as which, that, or who. That’s where you make the split.

Long sentence: All of the employees at Jimmy’s Payday Lending have gone through an extensive background check, so we’re confident that they won’t pocket any bills while cashing your check. (28 words)

Two shorter sentences: All of the employees at Jimmy’s Payday Lending have gone through an extensive background check. So we’re confident that they won’t pocket any bills while cashing your check. (15 words and 13 words)

Long sentence: Here at Used Dishwashers Unlimited, we stock, sell, and service a wide range of gently used appliances, which we carefully check and tune up before they hit the showroom floor. (30 words)

Two shorter sentences: Here at Used Dishwashers Unlimited, we stock, sell, and service a wide range of gently used appliances. We carefully check and tune up all units before they hit the showroom floor. (17 words and 14 words)

Percentage of Sentences with Transition Words

When it comes to getting a perfect score in the Yoast Readability tab, this one can be tricky. (At least for me, it is.)

Since using the plugin, I’ve learned a lot about my own writing. One thing I’ve learned, for example, is that 30% or more of my sentences don’t naturally contain SEO transition words or phrases.

So I just sprinkle them back in—but only in logical places! (If you start every other sentence with In fact, you’re going to have some annoyed readers…)

Tip #5: Look for places in your content that involve 1) a change of “direction,” 2) a consequence, 3) cause and effect, 4) details, or 5) elaboration.

With a change of direction, the meaning behind one idea (or sentence) is different than or opposite to the idea (sentence) that comes before or after.

For example, take the following:

Without transition word: Here at Samsung, we pride ourselves on safety. We acknowledge that the Note 7 occasionally bursts into flames.

Do you see how the second idea (bad) acts in opposition to the first idea (good)? These two sentences are crying out for a transition word such as but, however, still, etc.:

With transition word: Here at Samsung, we pride ourselves on safety. Still, we acknowledge that the Note 7 occasionally bursts into flames.

(Note to Samsung’s legal counsel: I didn’t find the above sentences on your website. I made them up.)

  • For change of direction, use but, however, yet, instead, etc.
  • If you notice a consequence, then use so, therefore, thus, etc.
  • For cause and effect, use because.
  • If you have details, then use for example, in fact, etc.
  • For elaboration, use also, in addition, etc.

Percentage of Sentences Containing the Passive Voice

To get all green lights in Yoast, you’ll need to write (mostly) in the active voice. And that’s as it should be.

The active voice strengthens your writing. Need a quick primer? Then see our post on how and why to use the active voice.

Tip #6: Take the person/thing that comes after [VERB + by] and put it first in the sentence.

Passive voice: The pizza was eaten by Lisa.

See the eaten by Lisa part? Move it to the front instead:

Active voice: Lisa ate the pizza.

Of course, the passive voice is fine when you use it at the right time. Check out the 4 times when it’s okay to use the passive voice.

(Interesting side note: the post that I wrote on the passive voice included examples of the passive voice, so there was no way that I was going to get green. Could I have improved my percentage? Yes, but including examples in the post was more important than getting green here.)

green lights in yoast seo, yoast readability

How to Get All Green Lights in the Yoast Readability Tab

So does any of this actually work in practice? Yes.

True story: I wanted to optimize a particular landing page on my company’s site. (RedLine is a language services company, so the bulk of our work is document translation—more than 80%, in fact).

The page in question was about translation services into Dutch, so I decided to optimize the page for the key phrase Dutch translation services. (I know—it was a stroke of creative genius!)

green lights in yoast seo, yoast readability, dutch translation services

 

The process that I use to write a post or a landing page is pretty simple:

  1. Write the content without obsessing over green lights.
  2. Revise the content if there are places to make easy improvements.

Write First and Don’t Worry about Green Lights

Before I begin to write, I make notes about things that I want to include or have to include. For example (in no particular order):

  • an intro or background
  • the right amount of information
  • examples or case studies
  • links to related content
  • a strong or obvious call to action
  • attractive or clear images
  • the title (wording)
  • the subheadings (what they are and their wording)

And then I write. My goal is not to get all green lights on the first go-around.

And as I mentioned earlier in the post, maybe getting all green lights in the Yoast Readability tab shouldn’t even be your goal. But if you’re going to “go for green,” then wait until the revision process.

Otherwise your creative juices may not flow as well and your writing will suffer.

When I finished my draft of the landing page, I was pleasantly surprised to see that my Yoast Readability score was almost perfect (almost all green lights).

Here’s a screenshot of Yoast’s Keyword Analysis:

green lights in yoast seo, yoast readability

 

And here’s a shot of the Readability Analysis:

green lights in yoast seo, yoast readability

Look for Places to Make Easy Improvements

Now, a Flesch score of 59.9 is practically begging to be improved upon! I knew that just a few tweaks would get me into green territory.

Instead of Dutch-speaking, I used Dutch, and I changed professional to top-notch. That’s it!

Then I saw that I had a score of 27.4% for SEO transition words. It was orange (not red), so I wasn’t losing any sleep over it.

But c’mon! While mere mortals are getting red lights left and right, I can take five minutes and get the satisfaction that only comes from answering the siren call of a gamified plugin.

So I added the phrase in short to one sentence and for example to another, and like that, the page had a perfect Yoast readability score. (My kids remain unimpressed.)

Check it out:

green lights in yoast seo, yoast readability

 

I’m sure there are still improvements that I could make, but here’s what it looks like when a page has nothing but green lights in Yoast SEO.

The Takeaways

Takeaway #1

Writing content to get all green lights in the Yoast Readability tab only means that your post or page is better than it was with a bunch of orange and red lights.  It still may not resonate with customers or motivate them to buy. In addition, readers may not share your super-optimized post on social media and you might have a really low CTR from organic search. (Man, that’s all very depressing. Sorry.)

So if on-page SEO can only get you so far, why bother?

Because you want to give yourself every chance that you can. It’s up to you to determine whether the time investment is worth it or not.

On our site, for example, it’s definitely worth it for certain landing pages and blog posts. But I will be the first to admit that I don’t optimize every single page on our site. (Contact page, I’m looking at you.)

Takeaway #2

Know where to spend your efforts. If it takes you 8 hours to get your readability score from a 57.5 to a 60.1 in Yoast SEO, then it’s time to start rethinking your life.

You’ve got other stuff to do! Send an email to a past client. Promote an old post on social media. Or rewrite your snippet titles to improve your CTR. (This post also includes a great infographic from Larry Kim and Brian Dean.)

In general, I don’t freak out about a couple of orange lights in Yoast’s plugin, but I try to never leave a red light.

getting all green lights in yoast seo is hard, yoast readability

The manual labor equivalent of trying to get your Flesch readability score to 90.0.

Takeaway #3

Achieving a perfect Yoast readability score is completely doable. But decide first whether it’s going to make a difference for the organic search performance of your page.

If “going green” still only lands you on the 9th page of SERPs, then it’s probably not a wise investment of your time.

But if you’ve decided that it makes sense to knock the optimization ball out of the park, come back to this post and use the tips!

Acknowledgments

I couldn’t write a post like this without a nod to the creators of Yoast SEO, which is a fantastic plugin. Joost de Valk and his team have put together a plugin that helps you improve your pages by orders of magnitude.

I highly recommend Yoast’s ebooks, especially Content SEO and UX & Conversion. If you want to improve your site, then check them out.

I also would like to acknowledge the contributions of guys like Neil Patel, Brian Dean, and Larry Kim. (They don’t know me from Adam, but I know them, or at least I know who they are.)

All three of them have written tons of great content that has helped improve our site. Thanks, gents!

Here are a few of their articles to get you started:

The citation for the study on paper reading vs. screen reading is as follows:

Myrberg, C. & Wiberg, N., (2015). Screen vs. paper: what is the difference for reading and learning?. Insights. 28(2), pp. 49–54. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1629/uksg.236

If these tips help your Yoast readability score, then let me know in the comments below or send me a message.

Thanks for reading, and share this post if you like it!

2 Comments

  1. Christopher Wright October 21, 2016
    • Matthew Kushinka October 22, 2016