Google: Our Search Algorithms Don’t Try To Figure Out Reading Levels

I’ll be honest, John Mueller of Google has confused me on this one… In a hangout from the other day at the 30:41 mark into the video, someone asked John about how Google grades or calculates the quality of the content around things like reading level. In John’s answer, he kind of flipped flopped back and forth and danced around the concept of scoring reading levels and how it impacts the rankings of web pages.

What I think he is saying, and I’ll post the video and transcript below, is that sometimes having a super high reading level is not always the best thing for your content. This is because if you have super scientific or technical terms and the average reader has no clue what it means, how is that going to help you rank for what the average user is searching for. On the most basic level, if someone wants their site to rank better in Google but never heard of SEO, maybe you want to have a page about ranking higher in Google and try to rank for that phrase over the term SEO. But obviously with academic terms or medical terms it gets more relevant.

Here is the video embed:

Here is the transcript:

Question:

How Google calculates the quality of a content piece of content? So what is the importance of the some metrics like fresh reading, like the length of paragraphs, the paragraphs after headings and the basic voice tone? Or for example how difficult is the text written and something like this and this in this direction?

Answer:

So from from an SEO point of view, it’s probably not something that you need to focus on, in the sense that, as far as I know, we don’t have kind of these basic algorithms that just count words and try to figure out what the reading level is based on these existing algorithms.

But it is something that you should figure out for your audience. Snd so that’s something where I see a lot of issues come up in that the website will be kind of talking past their audience. So maybe you’re making, like common example is a medical site you want to provide some medical information for the general public because you know they’re worried about this and all of your article is used like these medical words or twenty characters long. Technically it’s all correct and you could calculate like the reading level score of that content you come up with a number. But it’s not a matter of Google kind of using that reading level score and saying this is good or bad but rather does it match what the people are searching for. And if nobody’s searching for those long words then nobody’s going to find your content. Or if they do find your content they’re gonna be like I don’t know what this means, like does anyone have an English translation for this this long word that I don’t understand and they go somewhere else to either convert or to read more or to find more information.

Question:

So you don’t have any specific algorithms which calculates these metrics?

Answer:

At least we don’t have anything public that we say this is what we do and this is what happens there. It’s something that I know the team is still working on. This so it’s not like a one-time algorithm thing and we figured it out and now it’s working forever. I know that people here in Zurich that are still working a lot trying to understand the quality of pages better and to figure out where where pages are good and what pages are bad and when to show them where they are relevant.

Here is how Glenn Gabe summarized it:

I should add that Google 100% had a reading level score and even at one point showed those details in the search results.

Forum discussion at Twitter.

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