Google’s New ‘Reader Level’

by Thomas Doane | Content-Manager at SmallBox Web Design

As of last week, Google’s Algorithm has developed a modicum of literary taste. Their new ‘Reading Levels’ feature grades the text of websites to filter search, according to whether the prose contained in the search results is ‘basic,’ ‘intermediate,’ or ‘advanced’.

In order to use the reading filter, click in to advanced search on Google’s Home Page.

After you’re in Advanced Search, open up the drop down about halfway down the page that’s labeled ‘Reading Level,’ which is the first option in the ‘Need more tools?’ column.

You can choose not to display your reading level, you can choose to annotate the results of your search with reading levels, or you can choose to filter your results so that only pages graded ‘advanced’(for example) will appear in your search results.

Google’s project manager, Nundu, explains the development as follows:

“The feature is based primarily on statistical models we built with the help of teachers. We paid teachers to classify pages for different reading levels, and then took their classifications to build a statistical model. With this model, we can compare the words on any webpage with the words in the model to classify reading levels. We also use data from Google Scholar, since most of the articles in Scholar are advanced.”

Google’s grading process is pretty steep, by the way. Only 5% of articles from the New Yorker–the chosen publication of the literati on this side of the Atlantic–were scored as ‘advanced.’    57% of their articles scored ‘intermediate,’ and 36% scored ‘beginner.’  My own favorite publication (which I thought would score higher than the New Yorker) scored even worse.

What demand is this new development responding to? Google explains the utility of this tool in their official blog. “This…new advanced search feature…categorizes results by reading level. For example, if you’re writing a college paper on [herbivores] you can refine search to see only advanced material, or if you’re a grade school teacher preparing for a class on [herbivores] you can refine to see only basic material.”

For years people have complained that the internet has been lowering the quality of public discourse. There has been some legitimate concern that since the internet drives the media, and the internet has not previously been able to refine search according to the quality or intelligence of discourse, the quality of news coverage has suffered.  (This is only one aspect of that whole line of thought.  A more important factor is how difficult it is to monetize news consumption online.)

So: up until now, Search Engines have been very literal-minded creatures. They have–if you will–been ‘philistines.’  This means that metrics for attracting audiences, up until this point, have not been able to measure how intelligent the copy on a particular site is.  With the introduction of the reading-level tool, the quality of prose on certain types of sites may see a come-back as one of the factors determining readership.   For example we see that the quality of prose on CNN’s news site outclasses Fox by a roughly 63% margin.

Fox News, in fact, is only faring slightly better than Disney’s site.

I would imagine that this tool will become more nuanced as time goes by.

Is this likely effect business websites? Well, of course, it depends on the website.  If you’re a locksmith or a pizza parlor, this is not going to effect the volume of your seach traffic.  If you’re a chemical engineering lab that has a blog about new developments in chemistry, Google Reading Level’s opinion of your prose may have some effect on your traffic.

Small Businesses on the Web (Part Two)

In the first part of this article we talked about the first steps to take when taking your small business online. We talked about how a website isn’t something to create and then ignore, but that it takes a lot of care and work to build a valuable website.

In Part Two I’m going to cut through the SEO clutter and explain in the simplest terms possible how to get your site ranking well.

How to Rank
So you’ve got your website and you’ve done some reading on SEO and you either don’t understand it or you’re overwhelmed. All the guides talk about so much and you just don’t know what to believe or what to focus on. So here’s the rub. There are a million different things that have a small affect on how well your site ranks but only a few of those things create big changes in the Search Engines.

The big factors are:
• Domain name – Try to fit a keyword into your domain name or URL. All other things being equal domains like Book.com or Shoes.com have a huge natural advantage over their competition. Keep your GenericBusinessName.com domain, but redirect it to RelevantKeyword.com. Unless you’re a powerful brand, having keywords in your domain will be more useful than having your business name in there.
• Title Tags – This one has a lot of power with Google but can be a bit harder for non-web developers to understand. Figure out how to edit the title tags for your pages and make sure they have some keywords sitting front and center.
• Content – Content is King. The more you have the better your site looks to the search engines.
• Links – Remember in part one when I said that the search engines want to provide the most authoritative results possible. The information on your site is a powerful factor for them to determine authority. Links (or backlinks) are the other.

Think of links like personal recommendations. The more links pointing at your site, the more recommendations you’re getting, the more convinced the search engines are to rank your site higher.

There are a lot of ways to get links, but I’m not going to dive into those methods because there are already a bunch of posts on SEO Desk detailing how to get backlinks. Just know that initially you want as many links as possible but very quickly you will want to start getting links from other relevant and qualified websites.

Hopefully the information I’ve given you is useful and helps simplify the complicated process that comes with owning and managing a website.

5 SEO Disasters (and How to Avoid Them)

Search engine optimization is not an easy undertaking, as anyone who is employed at it probably knows. Whether you’re focusing solely on Google or hitting multiple engines, there is a lot of information that must be compiled, sorted, and analyzed if you want to streamline your efforts and realize success. However, there are several ways that you can throw a wrench in the works if you’re just starting out (or trying to cut corners). Here are a few of the worst catastrophes you can encounter and how to stop them from happening in the first place.

  1. Getting booted from search engines. This is not a common occurrence (let’s face it: the web is huge and there are millions of new sites popping up every day – that’s a lot for search engines to police). However, it can and does happen to websites that are breaking the rules or simply operating negligently. To avoid getting booted, make sure you know the guidelines (generally provided in easily perusable PDF format by every search engine) and stick to them as much as possible. Also, avoid black hat tactics that bring you a lot of traffic but also raise red flags.
  2. Getting booted from forums and blogs. Nothing will get you ousted faster than spamming, so avoid it at all costs. If you want to get your name on the forums to try to bring in some targeted traffic, take the time to converse with and get to know other insiders in your field. They may be able to offer advice to help you in your endeavors (and vice versa) and they may even be willing to put in a good word for you with others. As for guest posting and commenting on blogs, make it relevant, follow their rules, and post your link only once if you want to keep playing in the sandbox. The goodwill you garner will get you a lot further than the annoying practice of posting your link repeatedly.
  3. Over-optimizing. Making a play for more visitors by attaching a ton of keywords to your pages won’t really help you to achieve your overarching goal of sustainable traffic. You will likely see bursts of visitors that will never return because you don’t actually have what they’re looking for. In addition, having too many of the same keywords can cause some confusion for the search engine and you may end up sending a lot of visitors to the wrong place, which can be frustrating enough to drive them away for good.
  4. Under-optimizing. Tempting as it is to streamline the process by using a finite amount of keywords, this practice can be just as deadly to your efforts as over-optimizing. You want to choose file names that are going to aptly describe your content so that it can be found by any and all who are interested. So make sure that your minimalist tendencies don’t get in the way of forward progress.
  5. Keyword inadequacies. Choosing the right keywords is practically an art form. While you can certainly capitalize on keywords that are “hot”, dragging in visitors who are looking for something you can’t deliver will only ensure that you lose traffic in the long run. Work on making your descriptors concise and relevant if you want to see maximum results from your efforts.

This is a guest post by Sarah Danielson, who writes for Adiamor Engagement Rings where you can find a large assortment of engagement ring settings, loose diamonds, and other fine diamond jewelry.