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Google Adds "Reading Level" Filter to Advanced Search

 12:55 am on Dec 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

This is something novel. Go to Google's Advanced Search page at http://www.google.com/advanced_search [google.com] and you'll see a new category you cab adjust - "Reading Level".

The reading levels include basic, intermediate and advanced. You can either have Google label or annotate the results with those labels, only show basic results, only show intermediate results or only show advanced results.


The fun came in for me this afternoon when I started using the site:operator and could see Google's assessment of an entire website's reading level.

[edited by: tedster at 5:34 am (utc) on Dec 12, 2010]



 1:01 am on Dec 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

I was thinking a bit more deeply on this - it's a decent amount of data for Google to generate and maintain. Seems to me it almost has to have a use as a ranking factor. Just combine the already known reading level for a bit of content and then mix in a bit of traffic shaping [webmasterworld.com] in a neat statistical test against query term taxonomies.

So what do you think? Is reading level one of the 200+ ranking factors?


 1:56 am on Dec 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

For general searches, if they somehow know the reading level of the searcher, for instance by analyzing their browsing history, then they could rank pages accordingly.

Anf even if they don't know the reading level of the searcher, they could give higher rankings to pages that match the average reading level of the general public.


 2:03 am on Dec 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

If they are using it as a ranking factor, they really screwed the pooch on it; reverse engineering how they determine advanced rankings took only a few minutes.


 2:14 am on Dec 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

It might be new on the surface but I've been aware of this for about 2 years. I suspect they take it into account. I take it into account when doing my writing. I know that the writing style has to appeal to the targeted audience. Which, reinforces the notion that it is important to know your audience. Their algorithm probably uses evaluation methods such as; Gunning-Fog index, Flesch Reading Ease, or Flesch-Kincaid grade level, or some variation modified for their own purpose.


 5:33 am on Dec 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

I've just been playing around with Reading Levels truned on and doing site:twitter.com searches. Fascinating to see the variations in reading level for different keywords, topics, companies etc.

I also learned that Google seems to support the hash tag character in Twitter site searches. And so far, reading levels are significantly higher for tweets that use a hash tag than those that use the same word without a hash tag.

I feel there's some good value for webmasters here. At a minimum, you can see if your site's reading level is close to your market's. But I think there's probably a lot more. At least it's fun to be doing something a bit different for a while, and blue sky brainstorm in a new realm.


 6:32 am on Dec 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

I take it into account when doing my writing. I know that the writing style has to appeal to the targeted audience.

When I outsource writing, I specify nothing higher than 9th grade. Only exception is technical writing, but even then it's often do-able. It's interesting for me to see how Google rates various websites I've been involved with.

Even deep concepts can be conveyed powerfully - even more powerfully in most cases - at an "intermediate" reading level rather than "advanced". It just takes a highly skilled writer to do it. I'm thinking that Google has given us a tool that can help move web writing to a new level.


 11:47 am on Dec 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

45/45/10 - Is that good or bad for a product site? :-)


 5:00 pm on Dec 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

From the digging I've done so far, those numbers seem OK, Sarge. But they *might* be better if it were 65/35/<1 - depending on the product and its target market, of course.

Answering that kind of question is the reason I'm doing the Twitter research: What reading levels do you see the target market using when they discuss the products involved? for instance, doing searches such as [site:twitter.com "product related kw"]?

I have one client whose website shows 0/21/79 - and I was already worried about their site's reading level before I did this quick bit of research. Their marketplace discussion is 19/79/<1 ...and now I have something beyond my opinion to offer them, something quantified.

For some markets, it is a challenge for me to find the right keywords. The obvious ones are too ambiguous. It's the same challenge that many social media listening tools run into, even before they attempt to measure sentiment.


 10:33 pm on Dec 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

My fireworks site is 88/11/0. That's probably good, but it's hard not to feel mildly insulted.


 10:39 pm on Dec 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

Netmeg, I'd say it's not good - it's awesome. It's not easy to communicate well at a basic reading level, it's an achievement. I'm sure your visitors appreciate it.


 12:38 am on Dec 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

I don't know about the Google version in particular but of the one I've used I don't trust the results much. My reason is because when I've experimented with it in the past I discovered that it cannot be relied on too much to produce a truly accurate assessment. I base that on the fact that you can take an identical page of text and by simply omitting periods "." -- it will evaluate the document as advanced when in fact it may only be basic or intermediate. Pages with large bullet lists which often do not have periods will often fall into that category. Another aspect that will skew results is run on sentences. If a writer has a habit of combining 2 thoughts into one sentence, usually spotted by excessive use of words like "and, or, as well as, but..." it will also produce an inaccurate result. I think what these evaluation methods are better at spotting are documents that are difficult to read because of their structure rather than because of the subject matter being presented.

Tedster, if you really thrive on mind-stuff, dual layer text composition may appeal to you. To paint a picture think of it sort of in terms of dual layer DVD burning where information can be presented in various depths. I'm not sure if it's even a known skill or not (yet). Very few writers are capable of accomplishing it and even fewer are capable of recognizing concepts presented within concepts. The extreme beautiful creative aspect of it, from a writer's perspective, is that one written document can seamlessly cater to the visitor and the search engine algorithm all in the same visible text while maintaining a different focus for each -- no cloaking needed. Pure information architecture.


 1:06 am on Dec 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

omitting periods "." -- it will evaluate the document as advanced

Right - sentence length is a major factor in most reading level assessment programs. I also find that insider business jargon can inflate the reading level,but maybe that's OK. I don't like web page content that is stuffed with insider language.

dual layer text composition

I never heard it called that, but it sounds like something I am using for some pages. The motivated person can "click for more" and previously hidden text is revealed. But the page as it orioginally displays reads quite well and does the job for most visitors.


 1:27 am on Dec 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

The motivated person can "click for more" and previously hidden text is revealed.

No. I'm trying to think of a way to explain it...

For example, it's a way of composing a fourth sentence by combining a few words from each of the previous three sentences but without separating them into four sentences. The fourth sentence actually floats in the previous three and is held together by density and prominence. You're telling one story to the reader but a different one to the computer program -- one it "understands" better than written words.

I'm not even sure I can explain it. It's just something I experimented with and it works very well at bringing pages to the first page of SERP's without hardly any backlinks even.


 1:36 am on Dec 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

I think I understand - there is an approach to cryptography that works on a principle something like that. But it also sounds like a lot of work, right?


 1:37 am on Dec 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

Oh I just thought of a better example! Have you ever seen one of those pictures in a shop where if you stare at the centre long enough without blinking a separate image comes into focus out of the background? Sort of like that but this is digitally geared and is composed of words instead.


 1:40 am on Dec 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

Yes it's an extreme amount of work but only if trying to get 35 separate pages feeding back to the homepage. I have to use a spreadsheet to keep track of about the 25 most important aspects of it.


 2:25 am on Dec 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

I noticed this addition in the weekend and played with a few sites. The only site to give a 33% score for Advanced was google.com. I could not find another with such a high score. I take that back. ieee.org - yikes!


 3:57 am on Dec 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

Anallawalla, you'll get a solid understanding of what they're doing by trying sites like dictionaries and encyclopedias. Big words and synonyms; gotta love co-occurrance factors.


 2:33 pm on Dec 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

I played around with this a bit over the weekend and I'm still at a bit of a loss as to what it's utility is to the average searcher. Or maybe it's not for the average searcher. Or maybe I'm just not coming up with terms that illustrate the utility. Still a bit lost on this.

But a couple of thoughts anyway.

I doubt that any of this would be used directly in a ranking algorithm. Not sure how basic, intermediate or advanced reading level would indicate "quality."

That said, I can somehow see -- though there is still a bit of a forest to peer through -- that this can be used in another level of query segmentation. Coupled with the usual signals of user intent (informational, transactional, navigational), it might help Google more quickly drill down and return those "never underestimate the importance of being fast" SERPs.

That blue sky stuff aside, I think this definitely shows Google's confidence in its block analysis capabilities; it knows how to differentiate that editorial well and evaluate it separately from the overhead.

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