Discover the reading level of your website. (Maybe).

In April, Google added a feature where you can find (and filter by) reading difficulty level (https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/1095407?hl=en)

While their instructions work on the assumption that you’re looking for a particular search term by reading level, it is also possible to combine it with the ‘site’ operator.  Does this get a thumb-in-the-air approximation for the reading difficulty level of a website? Probably, but Google’s not saying. Its certainly worth giving it a go.

Why might this be useful? You probably have in mind who you would like your audience to be – who you write for.  The ‘pass/fail’ result you get will depend on the abilities of your intended audience.  If the least able members of that audience struggle to comprehend what you’ve written, then you’ve failed.  On the other hand, if your target audience is highly educated and specialised then the advanced reading level is a way to filter out the entry-level content. Ability can be affected by a range of things – your audience may be still at school or may have a low reading age, may have problems concentrating (that could be a cognitive disability, or it could be environmental like a noisy office or screaming kids in the garden), may be new to your subject or may have a different first language with only an intermediate level of fluency in your chosen language.

How-to

Instead of a regular search term, type site:mydomain.com. Once on your search results page, look for the ‘Search tools’ button at the top, click it to show the extra tools and then choose ‘Reading level’ from the list opened by clicking ‘All results’

Example results

For my own site, I’d consider the most basic level of my intended audience to be new-ish to the topics I cover, so I’m fine with this split.

Reading difficulty results for this website shows 14% basic, 86% intermediate and 0% advanced reading difficulty level

News / journalism

BBC News.  Here’s the conundrum for them – while ‘dumbing down’ is broadly undesirable, license fee payers cover the whole spectrum of intelligence.  How do you avoid someone being under-served by a service for which they contribute financially on the grounds that they’re not the sharpest knife in the drawer?

BBC news reading difficulty is on average higher than the BBC as a whole

Compare with the BBC as a whole:

Reading difficulty results for bbc.co.uk show 38% basic, 60% intermediate and 1% advanced

No surprises for the Sun

Sun newspaper has very little advanced reading difficulty content

If you are not British you won’t understand why the image below is amusing. Sorry about that.

The Daily mail is almost entirely basic level reading

The Guardian is fairly consistent in its style.

The Guardian is predominantly intermediate reading difficulty, but has little advanced level content

Learning and education

The world wide web consortium.  Subjects that fall under advanced are SMIL, Voice Browser Working Group, Internationalization, QA and a few other bits and pieces. Would they benefit from a rewrite to something with a lower cognitive barrier to entry?

W3.org content has a comparitively large amount of advanced level reading

html5 doctor

Key Stage 1 – kids aged between 5 and 7

KS1 has easy reading levels

GCSE revision help – exams sat typically at 16 years old in England and Wales

GCSE has a mixed range of reading levels

Nature.com content is mostly academic and highly specific post-graduate level material. Today’s homepage includes links to articles such as “Helicity dependent directional surface plasmon polariton excitation using a metasurface with interfacial phase discontinuity” and “Proof mooted for quantum uncertainty”.

Difficulty reading levels for nature.com, with less than 1% basic, 3% intermediate and 97% advanced

Government

Hansard is the publisher of the UK Parliamentary proceedings – i.e. all the debates and written questions get transcribed and put onto the internet

Paliamentary debates in the uk commons are almost entirely intermediate level

Kildare street is the Irish equivalent

kildare street has a similar profile to hansard

Legislation.gov.uk is where all the UK legislation is published.  Unsurprisingly, very little of it is easy reading though there is less ‘advanced’ level content than I’d expected.

uk legislation has 18% advanced level

Gov.uk is the site where the government puts all its guidance and services, ranging from how to renew your car tax to detailed guidance on depleted uranium policy.

gov.uk has a wide range of reading levels

Blogging

The new hotness

Medium.com content is mostly basic and intermediate, with a few advanced articles

The old hotness

blogger reading level is similar to medium

WordPress seems to have attracted more academic bloggers. E.g. the first result under advanced is “Indigenous Peoples and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation & Degradation”

wordpress blogs have more advanced level content at 14%

Nature blogs have a significantly different profile to nature.com

Screen Shot 2013-06-26 at 15.58.04

You’re not going to get much complexity in 140 characters

Twitter mostly basic reading level

However, I’m wondering why this is falls under ‘advanced reading’. Is the correct usage of apostrophe but cavalier disregard for question marks the cause?

Supposedly advanaced level reading tweet reads 'Why does Kia feel the need to snapchat me on the toilet can't she leave me alone for 5 seconds'

 

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