How to Get Green in Yoast’s Readability Score

We all like getting a green smiley face. But besides that, why would you want to get a green score on Yoast SEO’s readability rating?

Some people feel hesitant about simplifying their writing. After all, it’s not always easy to write simply on purpose. You might worry that you’re “dumbing it down” or patronizing readers.

But simple writing has its merits.

“You’re not dumbing down, you’re opening up”

Sarah Richards from Yoast

Good readability means that more people can read your content. Teens, people with disabilities like dyslexia, and tired or distracted people might want to read your site. If it’s too complicated, then people might decide to leave.

And just because someone can read complicated writing doesn’t mean they want to. We don’t always feel like wading through words to find the point. Give your readers a break.

Readability also makes a difference for search engines. Search engines like Google are trying to process language the way that humans do. They’re also looking for content to share using voice search. That means looking for sentences that sound good when read out loud.

Flesch Reading Ease

Yoast readability uses math to help. The Flesch Reading Ease score looks at the sentence and word length. Long words and sentences lower your score.

It uses a simple formula.

RE = 206.835 – (1.015 x ASL) – (84.6 x ASW)

  • RE = reading ease
  • ASL = average sentence length
  • ASW = average syllables per word

Here’s what your scores mean:

ScoreReading easeWho can usually read it easily
90+Very easy11-year-olds
80-90EasyYoung preteens
70-80Fairly easyOlder preteens
60-70ModerateYoung teens
50-60Fairly difficultOlder teens
30-50DifficultCollege students
30 or lessVery difficultCollege graduates

Of course, the Flesch Reading Ease score doesn’t account for everything. Words like “amazing” and “intelligent” score worse than words like “lest” and “praxis.” Changing the word “decrease” to “lower” doesn’t change your score, even though it’s an easier word.

Still, see how well you can do. Yoast recommends trying to get into the 60-70 range.

Help from Hemingway

Sometimes it’s frustrating to try to find ways to improve your score. The Yoast readability checker doesn’t always offer specific help. I like to use the Hemingway Editor for that.

The Hemingway Editor looks for ways to simplify your writing. It finds long sentences, passive voice, and adverbs.

Try pasting your content in there.

Example

Tables are fun, but examples are even better. Let me show you what these scores can look like.

Before

Sometimes I am irritated by the loquaciousness of writers on the internet. It’s astonishing how frequently they select sesquipedalian words when pedestrian ones would suffice. Meandering sentences, esoteric language, and a dearth of critical editing skills can lead to overwhelming sentences; therefore readers become frustrated and left with feelings of linguistic inferiority. Cumbersome sentences of Dickensian length require careful reflection and analysis in order for the beleaguered reader to decipher them. Truly, the tragedy of this common and preventable problem is that sophisticated ideas and brilliant websites remain unexplored by dissatisfied readers.

Look at that paragraph. I must be pretty smart, right? I sound like I ate a whole dictionary.

…And did you bother to read the whole thing?

The Flesch Reading Ease score here is 19.

Hemingway Editor calls the reading level grade 15 (junior year in college).

I got my sister, a young woman with Down syndrome, to read it out loud. Before long, she was whispering to herself, telling herself to keep going. She made it all the way to the words “esoteric language” before she started laughing and said, “You should correct your sentences!” And she quit there.

After

So I corrected my sentences. Here’s how it looks now:

It bothers me how many writers use long words. So many of them use complex words instead of simple ones. Long sentences become overwhelming. Readers might quit because they get frustrated or bored. Sadly, this means that good ideas and good websites get ignored. No one can read them, so everyone leaves.

Would you read this? Sure, it may not show off my brains, but it’s clear. My sister could read it. So could a sleepy subway rider, a bored receptionist, or another ordinary internet user.

This gets a Flesch score of 78.

The Hemingway Editor app calls this grade 6.

My sister read it smoothly. I asked her what it was about and she said “It’s about too many long words. It’s okay to get bored and frustrated.” Now she understood.

People read clear articles. When an article is too complicated, they might quit. (Honestly, I’m surprised my sister lasted so long with the first one.)

If readers can tell what you’re trying to say, they’ll probably keep reading. They might even decide to see more of your writing.

Transition Words

Transition words include words and phrases like

  • Besides
  • Most importantly
  • Because
  • Thus
  • Therefore

These words help your sentences flow. They highlight the important parts and help make sure that readers don’t get lost.

I like to think I’m a good writer. However, I still struggle with transition words. I’d like to point out, since it’s not always easy to use them, that WPJunction created a list of them all. Therefore, you can visit the site and use more transition words as a result.

To demonstrate, I bolded some transition words so it can help you. Then maybe Yoast will give me green because of it!

However, transition words lengthen your sentences. This drags down your Flesch Reading Ease score. So try to find a balance.

No More Text Blocks

Have you ever looked at a textbook filled with oceans of long paragraphs and felt your eyes glaze over? It’s a common feeling. It’s easy to get lost or tired looking at all that.

The Yoast readability checker offers several tools to help you notice big text blocks forming. You’ll get notices about:

  • Headings: Yoast’s readability checker will tell you how many sections have more than 300 words. Make more subheadings to organize text.
  • Paragraph length: Long paragraphs can hide your main points. Yoast will tell you if your paragraphs are getting long.
  • Sentence length: Readers can get lost in long sentences. Yoast calculates how many sentences have 20 or more words. That way, you can break them up.

This helps your content look less like a boring textbook and more like a fun article.

Passive Voice

Passive voice is not always easily recognized. Recognizing passive voice can be hard. Thus, I like to use the eye button to help.

Back Up. Passive Voice?

What is passive voice? Unless you’re an English nerd like me, you might not remember.

Passive voice describes how your words are arranged. Passive voice describes how you arrange your words. To identify passive voice, pay attention to your verbs.

Think of the actor and recipient. Who or what does the verb? Who or what is on the receiving end?

I wrote an article.

Commenters love my blog.

In the first sentence, I (actor) am doing the writing. The article (recipient) gets written.

In the second sentence, Commenters (actors) are doing the loving. The blog (recipient) gets loved. (At least, hopefully, it does.)

Active voice happens when you write actor-verb-recipient. Passive voice happens when you write recipient-verbed-actor.

The article was written by me.

The blog was loved by commenters.

Sometimes passive voice cuts out the actor altogether.

The article was written.

The blog is loved.

Check for words like “is,” “was,” and “were.” Sometimes those can help you find passive voice. (They’re boring words, anyway. I try not to use them often.)

Anyway, I’d better stop writing examples before I bring my score down. Yoast has a few more examples. So does Your Dictionary.

Why Care?

Too much passive voice muddles your writing. Active voice makes your point clearer.

Passive voice also makes your sentences longer. Switching to active voice can bring up your Flesch Reading Ease score.

To be clear, passive voice isn’t a crime. Using it occasionally doesn’t hurt. Sometimes you might want to emphasize the recipient instead of the actor. That’s okay.

Just try to be mostly active overall. Yoast recommends limiting passive voice for readability.

screenshot of Yoast readability highlighting the eye button accompanying the "passive voice" bullet
Click the eye icon to the right of the passive voice bullet.

Finding Passive Voice

Still, it’s not always easy to find passive voice. I recommend using tools to help.

Use the eye button to find passive voice. Then see if you can rewrite the same sentence a little better.

Keep in mind that the Yoast readability checker isn’t perfect. Sometimes, it gives false positives. That can be frustrating, but I try to think of it as a challenge. Now I need to work even harder to write well.

The Hemingway Writer highlights passive voice more carefully. I find it helpful too. However, it doesn’t catch every example. (It missed a few here.)

Writing Well with Yoast Readability

Scoring Well

The green smiley face uses a point system. There are 6 bullets in your list. A red bullet is 3 points and an orange bullet is 2 points.

A green face means 4 or fewer points. A red face means 7 or more points.

It’s okay if you don’t get every bullet green. Just aim for a green smiley face overall.

My personal blog doesn’t use a paid plan, so I don’t get Yoast on it. Thus, I sneaked onto my company’s website and pasted in this article. Here are my stats:

Flesch reading ease: 78.1

Bullet points: all green, except transition words (sigh)

I also tried Hemingway Editor’s check. Grade 4, my friends!

Doing Your Best

You’re never going to be a perfect writer. I know this because I’ve written so many stories that I went from the fifth grade’s slowest typist (yes, really) to a 90+-words-per-minute speed demon. And I still have room to improve. Fifty years from now, I’ll probably say the same.

Life isn’t about perfection. It’s about trying and seeing if you can do a little better. Try playing around and see how green you can get. Anyone can write a tangled mess, but not everyone can write something simple and clear.

It’s challenging, but in my opinion, it’s worth it. A better score means that more people can enjoy your writing.

Still need help? Hire me! I need money I’m happy to help you.

14 thoughts on “How to Get Green in Yoast’s Readability Score”

      1. I just tried to install the Hemingway app but it requires a more up to date operating system than I have at home. Pity they don’t offer an older version for poorer people like myself who can’t keep up with tech consumption. Frustrating.. will look up Yoast now..

  1. Thank you for this post. I learn about SEO only a couple of months back. Such fun going back and editing old blog posts! This was really informative.

      1. SEO is so important for blogs and all things marketing! I’ve learnt most of my knowledge through blog posts like this xx

  2. I work as an editor and translator (science papers not poetry though) and still found this post engaging and read the whole thing. Since I actually came on here to read about disability but got sidetracked – I think that means you practice what you preach pretty well by making even this kind of topic easy and interesting to read about. Taking away some thoughts and inspirations regarding accessibility, as I didn’t know any of the tools you present. Thx!

    1. Thank you! I’m glad my writing can be interesting. I really love the way that the Hemingway Editor highlights sentences I need to work on.

      I’m not 100% sure what my blog’s niche is going to be. I’m leaning towards disability and mental health practices, but it’s nice to know that my writing tips help a little too!

      I enjoy getting comments from you.

      1. From what I see I really like your approach to writing and websites. I have been thinking for a while about finding someone to help me improve structure / SEO / social media aspects of my current site and another small neurodiversity-related project (that got stuck because of my lack of skills / patience in these areas).

        I’m not promising some huge well-paying job, but if you might be interested in some small collaboration drop me a line via the contact e-mail on my blog (also I take absolutely no offence if not interested).

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