I read two interesting articles today, one on using jargon and the other on some new features in the WordPress SEO plugin. What jumped out at me on both of these is a focus on language and complexity. One of the new features of the WordPress SEO plugin is to rate your text on the Flesch Reading Ease scale. Basically it tells you if your word choices and sentence are overly complex. I was once told when writing for the general public to write at a grade 3 or perhaps it was a grade 4 level to make the text as accessible as possible.
In general I think this is good advice, because as a write it makes you think about clarity and getting to the essence of your message. As someone who focuses on SEO what sort of impact does this have however?
How important is word and sentence complexity to someone practicing SEO? The article on jargon makes great points about word selection not just from an SEO perspective but from an audience perspective as well. As an SEO I think that is often forgoten. Who is your audience? How do they speak? How complex is their vocabulary, and how complex are their searches? How do you determine this?
The challenge you have as an SEO is that you can not predict what you do not know. Meaning you can tell what kind of searches drive traffic to your site based on the content that is already there. If you have a site that uses very industry specific language most likely traffic to your site will circle around that set of words and word selection, not because your audience uses these words, but because you use them extensively on your site, and there for the engines direct people who also use similar language to your site. Conversely sites built around simple language will drive more simple language search quires. Granted there may be some anomalies resulting from inbound links to your site, but most likely you will attract the links of sites that speak a similar language complexity that you also use.
So the challenge is how do we test our audience? How do we find out how complex our audience is? To be honest I don’t think there is a single perfect test for this, but a quick way would be through surveys. Be it survey monkey or another service, surveys provide you the opportunity to see how your users express their selves, as well as their language complexity. As an analytic tool surveys are perhaps one of the most under valued web tools in place today. Not only can they provide you greater detail about what your users intent is on your site, but it can provide insight into how they speak. A simple question such as: “what where you trying to find on our site today?” can provide a great insight into how users speak, as well as what content they hope or expect find on your site. Do you speak in the same language as the majority of your end users?
A Possible Solution
Running a survey randomly can provided greater insights, being able to track what source originally lead the user to your site can be even better. You can then answer the question do search users use similar language on your site compared to users who come through the front door so to speak?
I don’t think there is any hard and fast rule that must be used when dealing with language complexity for any site, except to speak as your users speak. As the article on jargon explains not only do you appear to be an expert but you create the feeling of connection with your reader. As Google makes updates such as Panda to further improve results, the smart SEOs will realize that optimizing is not about improving rankings for specific words, but connecting with people who connect with your content. For a long time the engines have said to make relevant content, and the SEOs have looked for ways to “game” the systems. and while there are ways to game the systems, and it will continue to be a never ending pursuit, experience has shown me that content that is relevant in search that is written well, and connects delivers better engagement, and higher conversions. So my suggestion is find out how your customers, your users, your people talk, and speak as they do, speak to them, speak with them, but don’t speak at them.