When you hear content audit’ what comes to mind? Probably checks for URLs, title tags, meta descriptions, spreadsheets and keywords. Right? Well these posts would suggest that! 

But, are these types of audits really evaluating your content? Not quite.

Sure, they tell you what pages exist, keywords you’re missing and on-page SEO optimization opportunities. But is that really a content audit? Does it evaluate the quality of your content? Does it tell you how engaged your audience is? Not really.

Ranking Factors

(Visual backup from Moz’s Rank Fishkin.)

 To help identify the quality of our content and its engagement here are 3 simple metrics to add to the content audit mix:

  1. Sentence length
  2. Reading grade level & readability ease
  3. Use of passive language

1) Sentence Length

Readers find long sentences confusing and hard to comprehend. A favourite of the Learn Inbound Blog Neil Patel explains, ‘After a sentence crosses the 15-word line, readers tune out. Long sentences with lots of extra phrases are hard to digest. The most readable sentences have 10-15 words.’

When auditing content, highlight any sentences over 15 words. By splitting long sentences, you will lower the cognitive burden for your visitors. There will always be times when long sentences are appropriate, but keep them to a minimum for engaging copy.

If you’re auditing small sites and single pages, then Microsoft Word ‘Readability Statistics’ (example below) or the Hemmingway App will identify your average sentence length. If you want to audit multiple webpages the ClarityGrader tool is perfect. It provides a quick visual of long sentences on multiple pages. Plus it has a free trial.

Here’s ClarityGrader’s quick visual overview:

ClarityGrader’s quick visual overviewHere’s Word’s Readability statistics (Tip: Go to Tools > Spelling and Grammar> Readability Statistics)

Readability Statistics2) Reading Grade Level & Reading Ease

The National Adult Literacy Survey found the average US adult reads at a 9th grade level. (FYI 9th grade students are usually 14 or 15 years old.) What does this mean for content marketers? We need to identify how readable our content is for our audience.

The two most common measures of readability are:

– A grade level measure called the Flesch Kincaid Grade Level

– A complexity measure based on the Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease

Grade Level

The grade level measure tells us the grade level a reader is expected to have reached in order to understand the content. It’s based on this formula:

0.39 (total words/total sentences) + 11.8 (total syllables/total words) – 15.59

It looks complex, but in essence, it focuses on the average syllables per word and average sentence length. Most consumers will understand content with a score of 9th grade or under. Using short sentences and simple words will get you there.

Readability Ease

The reading ease score is another great readability metric. Similar to the above, reading ease will give our content a readability complexity score. It grades content on a scale between 0-100. Scores of 30 and below tend to be very complex (difficult to read), while 60 and above are pretty accessible. A score of 60 or higher is recommended for engaging content.

These metrics can be found in word readability statistics or the Hemmingway app too. However, again if you want to look at multiple pages the ClarityGrader tool will do this.

To give a taste, here’s MS Word Readability Statistics for a document.

MS Word Readability Statistics

Clarity Graders Visuals

Clarity Graders Visuals3) Passive Voice

Let me quickly define the passive voice. The technical definition is this:

Passive Voice is where the subject of the sentence is acted upon by the verb.

Here is an example of the passive voice:

 ‘The blog was read by Harry.’

In the above sentence, ‘the blog’ is the subject and ‘was read’ is the verb. Readers find these sentences tricky, as they are unsure who has completed an action.

Isla McKetta of Moz agrees. She recommends avoiding the passive voice and using the active voice instead. The active voice occurs in a sentence when the subject commits the action. The above example in the active voice is:

‘Harry read the blog.’

 The active voice makes it obvious who commits an action. It also reduces sentence length, which we now know is a good thing!

Content audits should find each instance of the passive voice. Once found, we can fix sentences by putting the subject before the verb. In some instances, we may use the passive voice for sentence variety and subject emphasis. However, we recommend keeping the use of the passive voice to below 5% of your text.

What tools identify the passive voice?

You guessed it! If you are looking to audit one page, MS Word or Hemmingway are great. But for multiple pages, you’ll need a solution like ClarityGrader, which gives a much better sitewide analysis.

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