What is Website Reading Level and Why Does it Matter?


Building great web sites is a passion of ours at Critics Rant.  There are so many TERRIBLE web sites out there.  We are starting off our site with a tech rant focused on web sites reading levels and readability.  Its important and its often forgotten and overlooked!

High quality, optimized and unique content are considered the most important pillars of an SEO strategy. But there is more to the equation, as it’s not just about what you say. How you say, it also matters a lot. You and your target audience need to speak the same language in order to get the message across. Commonly referred to as readability, grade-level content plays an important role in SEO efforts, just like a well-done homework assignment for your grade. This often seems like an impossible burden for students, but these days paying someone to do your homework is easy to find and will make your life as readable as your content much easier.

Proprietary search engines like Google use their own algorithmic systems to calculate website rankings. We don’t know for sure about the exact formula they use to rank different sites. However, we do know that optimized, unique, regularly updated and well-written content helps a lot in SEO. Readability is another variable in the equation that search engines have started weighing more lately.

A reading grade simply means how easily readable your content is. A lower score means even 5th graders should have no issue reading and understanding the text. Higher scores mean the target audience needs to be at a certain educational level to properly read and understand the content.

How Reading Level is Calculated?

While there are many readability indicators and tools that help determine the overall readability score, Flesch-Kincaid reading level is used the most. It’s also known by other similar names such as Flesch-Kincaid Scale, Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Score, Flesch-Kincaid Index and Readability Index. Here is the mathematical formula for calculating Flesch-Kincaid reading level:


Where ASL = Average Sentence Length = number of words / number of sentences

ASW = The average of syllables per word = number of syllables / number of words

A score around 5 indicates a grade-school level, while a score of 10 indicates that a tenth grader should have no trouble reading and understanding the content. For example, publishers such as Newsweek and Time use 10th grade level content, while websites dealing with technical stuff might score fairly high.

Online readability level calculation tools might also use other indicators, including Gunning Fog Score, Automated Readability Index, Coleman Liau Index and SMOG Index. Reading levels can broadly be classified into four different levels i.e.

  • Elementary
  • Inspectional
  • Analytical
  • Syntonical

The Importance of Readability

The readability level of average American adults ranges from 7-9 grade level. This means people might lose interest in your content if they find it difficult to read and understand. However, very low readability levels would likely make the readers think there is no value in the content. Both extremes can contribute to a high bounce rate and make readers switch to other sites.

That’s why we need to balance readability keeping the target audience in mind. The content should reflect the readability your target audience expects. You’d certainly not want your content to reflect a 4th-grade reading level if you are writing for an engineering publication. On the other hand, writing at a high-school grade level for 4th-grade students also won’t do any good.

What you say does not really matter if the target audience is unable to understand your message. That’s why it’s important to understand the target audience and the readability expectations they have. Failure to take them into account can be jarring and make your content lose its real value.

It might be difficult to change your writing style entirely and write consistently at certain grade levels. But it’s possible to fine-tune your content and make it demographically appropriate. Reading is considered a real art, but not all readers are artists. Practice is the key in achieving perfection (or coming closer to it) and you might want to take a closer look at what’s working for others.

This allows you to create content that’s more tailored to your audience, which is made easier by online readability scoring tools (mostly available for free).

Online Tools to Calculate Reading Level

Luckily, there are a ton of online resources to determine the readability level. Most of them are available for free, while some offer advanced features at a modest fee. Here are some of the most widely used and popular content reading level calculators:


WebpageFX offers a variety of tools (most of them are free), including the readability test tool. It makes it easier to quickly test content readability and allows testing directly by URLs, by direct input or by referrer. The tool uses a variety of indicators to calculate the overall score, including Flesch Kincaid Grade Level, SMOG Index and Gunning Fog Score.


Readable.io is geared towards professional users and offers advanced features and tools that are usually not available in free tests. Different pricing options are available for content creators, marketers and writers as well as eCommerce businesses and agencies.


ReadabilityFormulas allows pasting content and checks it based on seven different formulas.  These include Flesch Reading Ease formula, Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, the Fog Scale, the SMOG Index, the Coleman-Liau Index, Automated Readability Index and Linsear Write Formula. Users can also take advantage of other readability tools such as Raygor Estimate Graph, Fry Graph and New Dale-Chall Formula.

Who Should Use Readability Tools?

Anyone who has some ideas to write about should use readability tools, including copywriters, developers, marketers and SEO experts. Readability checking tools also help teachers, librarians and parents to easily determine the readability level of text books and more. These tools not only help streamline workflows, but also ensure that the target audience gets the right message and are able to understand it.


Websites and their content are mostly aimed at large masses. A simple and compelling writing style can produce better results than complex styles that might leave readers in the dark. Some understanding of the target audience, a little research and common sense can help a lot in creating content that’s easily readable and digestible. Availability of so many free online readability testing tools make the job a lot easier. They help content creators ensure they are getting the right message across in the right writing style.