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Google’s Reading Level Tool for Copywriters and Content Marketers

Many online marketers are unaware that Google offers an excellent tool for analyzing the reading level of online content. If you work in an agency or are entering a new industry, there’s a good chance you’re not intimately familiar with the writing styles appropriate for relevant digital content. While Google’s measurements of reading level won’t entirely solve that problem for you, they’re a good first step. Let’s start out doing a search for “sloths.” To determine the reading level of the results on this page, click “Search Tools,” “All Results” and then “Reading Level.” Maybe not surprisingly, a search for “sloths” returns results with a fairly low reading level: But something a bit more academic can show us the opposite: But how can this really be useful to us in the world of digital marketing? Well, let’s say you are a copywriter or content marketer who, either by working in an agency or getting hired in a new vertical, needs to write for an industry with which you are unfamiliar. Wouldn’t it be helpful to know the reading level of top-ranking content so you can emulate it? Chances are the top-ranking content is compelling and well-received, otherwise it would not likely attract backlinks, and probably wouldn’t have made it to the first page of Google. Personally, I’m unfamiliar with materials engineering, so let’s try that out as an example. A quick Google search revealed that “polymer engineering” is a subset of this, so let’s view that as a keyword we might want to write content around. Let’s consult Google to see the average reading level of top-ranking results for this term: Clearly, we’re going to want to write at a more advanced reading level for this one or hire writers who can do so appropriately. But what exactly does Google mean by higher reading level? Well, Google’s official documentationis only mildly helpful:

The reading level for a particular result is determined by a computer program. When the program was created, thousands of web documents were rated by teachers as basic, intermediate or advanced. These ratings helped the program understand what factors led results to being easier or more difficult to read. When new results appear, the program determines their appropriate reading level based on factors such as vocabulary, word length and grammatical complexity

Google employee Daniel Russell adds a bit more on his personal blog:

So the breakdown isn’t grade- or age-specific, but reflects the judgments of teachers as to overall level of difficulty. Roughly speaking, “Basic” is elementary level texts, while “Intermediate” is anything above that level up to technical and scholarly articles, a la the articles you’d find in [Google] Scholar.

In my opinion, your safest bet would be to take a page that both matches the overall distribution of reading levels for the first page and also ranks highly on the first page, and emulate the writing style. If you look closely at the gray text beneath the green URL for each result in the SERP, you’ll see the reading level of that page. In our case, we would want to pick the top-ranking result (preferably one whose offering matches our client’s) with an “advanced” reading level. Well, that should be enough to get you started. Please share your questions and concerns in the comments!

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About Taylor Caldron

Taylor Caldron is the SEO Manager at Pure Visibility, specializing in link-building and international SEO, and is experienced in B2B lead generation for industries ranging from industrial metals to foodservice. He began working for Pure Visibility in April 2012 after receiving his Master of Science degree from the University of Michigan. You can find him on Google+.