Why SEO is bad for your writing

I was writing the piece on Shantala, the Hoysala queen, a lyrical post which talks about her life, what she achieved and how she did it through the art she knew, dancing. I was about to post it on my WordPress when my Yoast SEO plugin suggested this:

The copy scores 56.8 in the Flesch Reading Ease test, which is considered fairly difficult to read. Try to make shorter sentences to improve readability.

What is Flesch score anyway?

Now Flesch score  measures textual difficulty of a reading passage in English. The lower the score, the more difficult the text is. The Flesch readability score uses the sentence length (number of words per sentence) and the number of syllables per word in an equation to calculate the reading ease. Texts with a very high Flesch reading Ease score (about 100) are very easy to read, have short sentences and no words of more than two syllables. Usually, a reading ease of 60-70 is believed to be acceptable/ normal for web texts.

source: Wikipedia.com
Score Notes
90 – 100 easily understood by an average 11-year old student
60 – 70 easily understood by 13-15 year old students
0 – 30 best understood by university graduates

So for a higher SEO, the text should be simple, easily understood by an average 11-year old. Now there’s nothing wrong with 11-year-olds. They’re fabulously inquisitive and love to delve into twisted logics. But as I child, your vocabulary is limited. The aim of constant reading and writing and reading and understanding is to add in a few more words into it. Writers should aim at not simplifying but expressing, as poetically in sentences long and short. In words that’re made of more syllables.

The algorithms, the bots and the search index, making writing in English (and increasingly any language), a matter of logic. When it should be a matter of heart. Of art. Of love and labour. Of things you want to say. Things which are difficult to express. Things you feel, but can’t think of simpler ways to see. Simplicity has its own charm. Ask Hemingway. But sometimes, language and search should not be measured by simplicity and tag words alone. Sometimes, you need to new words, or a string of phrases that haven’t been used together before. Like ‘chocolate’ and ‘index’. (Versus ‘chocolate sex’). As a writer, you would want to be discovered, but think on it. Do you want to discover the inarticulate in yourself, or write for SEO Engines so a few more readers come your way?

(Yoast informs me that this blog scores 70.2 in the Flesch Reading Ease test, which is considered fairly easy to read. Good for the 11-year-olds reading it.)

  • Mary Martin

    Or for technical/business reports…. 0-30 your colleagues can understand it. 30-70 your boss will probably understand it if they are not in a hurry and above 70, that’s ok you can give it to the board to read.

  • I’ve never used a SEO plugin but it sounds like its very intruding. How would a bot or a bot designer know the real emotion behind a text. This is similar to the spell check, I can replace a “know” with “No” in a sentence and it would just pass the spell check. Guess we don’t need approval when we write and definitely not from a bot

    • Well said Ravish. I couldn’t agree more. My editor in my first job ever warned me never ever to trust a SpellCheck and that lesson’s remained with me since then.