One of the things we discussed at the Writing for the Web course I attended recently was the readability of various media. I was surprised to learn the average reading age in the UK is 10 years. The reading ages of The Sun, The Guardian and The Financial Times are 8, 14 and undergraduate level respectively. Whilst many people sneer at The Sun's content, it's the only paper we looked at on the course which has a chance of being read and understood by the majority of the UK's population. This may help to explain why The Sun has relatively high sales.
We then turned our attention to our web writing and a simple tool available on Google Search which can be used to gauge the simplicity of the language we use. You'll see in the image above I've put my blog's address into Google. As usual various pages from my blog are returned together with some examples of where it's mentioned elsewhere on the web.
I've then gone down the various options in Google Search's left sidebar and clicked on Reading Level (circled)* and up pops a graph showing how much I'm using Basic, Intermediate and Advanced Language in percentage terms. As you can see (click to enlarge image if necessary) the bulk of my text is at the Basic level. I must have been using fancier language recently (or discussing more 'difficult' subjects) as I now have 1% in the Advanced range. There was none of that when I tried this search immediately after the course ;)
When I first started blogging, there was a popular sidebar quiz widget doing the rounds which showed blog readability**. I remember quite a few people congratulating themselves when it said College (aka University) level. That's probably fine if your blog's about e.g. quantum physics or aiming at a relatively sophisticated audience, but for the majority of us who just blog about general, everyday things it might mean we'd lose our readers pretty quickly. So in this instance a large dollop of Basic is good :)
Reading Level could be useful for some of your Google searches too. Next time you want to explain or understand something that's quite complicated, use it to put your search results in order of complexity. I might not be explaining quantum physics to you or expounding on matters philosophical, but it would have been a useful option when I wrote about open pollinated seed varieties a couple of years ago.
How readable is your blog? Why not have a go for yourself and tell me in the Comments below.
* = if it isn't showing on your sidebar, you should have a More Search Tools option showing under The Web heading towards the bottom of the sidebar. Click on this and a host of extra options should magically appear including the Reading Level one. My thanks to my lovely NAH for pointing out the option wasn't there when he looked for it :)
** = It's fallen out of favour now and it's not worth searching for. This link explains how the widget contained a backlink in its coding designed to up the Google page rank favourability of a dodgy looking loans website. One to be avoided and something to bear in mind if you're looking to add any kind of fun widget to your blog.