Content Tips 5 min read

How Passive and Active Voice Affect SEO

passive active word scramble

In SEO, it can be hard to know when to use the passive and active voice. ¦ Shutterstock

Let’s all go back to grammar class. Remember how the teacher rambled on about passive and active voice? You never thought you’d use that info, did you?

image that reads "the active voice is usually more direct and vigorous than the passive."
Image from Readable

With active voice, the subject acts. Conversely, with passive voice, the subject receives the action.

You may have learned that the passive voice is weak and incorrect, but it isn’t that simple. When used correctly and in moderation, the passive voice is fine.

For example, “the content writer typed an article” is an active passage.

In a sentence composed of the passive voice, the subject is acted upon. For example, “The article was typed by the content writer” is a passive sentence. In most cases, it’s more difficult to read and not as clear.

As Grammarly notes, you don’t need to abandon the passive voice entirely. But limiting its use it will improve your writing and help your website’s SEO.

Why the Passive Voice is Bad for SEO

Google rewards websites that answer the searcher’s question. It’s really that simple. The websites that do this with a high degree of readability rank higher.

McDonald"s logo with their catch phrase crossed out "I"m lovin" it."
Image from Ragan Communications

Readability is the ease in which your target audience is able to digest written text. As with the example above, the passive voice is more difficult to read.

It affects the site’s readability. I have to remember that we’re talking about the article but at the end of the sentence I find out who actually wrote it. Confusing, isn’t it?

Part of readability is the proper use of grammar. A site that has typos, poor punctuation and misuse of words will give a bad impression of the author.

A site that is lacking in readability will not be deemed an authority on the subject matter. You want your target audience to have confidence in your response to their question asked.

Put yourself in their shoes. Do you want to try to power through typos or bad grammar to find your answer? Of course, not. No one does. The searcher exits without their answer and clicks on another link.

Google looks for this. It will punish the site by ranking it lower. Keep in mind that this will happen even if the information is presented by an expert on the subject.

There’s a Tool That Can Help

This is a lot to keep in mind when writing. Fortunately, I’m involved in the creation of INK, an app that will do all the work for you.

INK analyzes competing content with your keyword or key phrase and optimizes your readability for the highest SEO ranking.

You focus on writing with authority, and INK analyzes the competition, giving you real-time data. It determines the Flesch-Kincaid reading level and the number of words of your competition and compares it with your article.

INK also takes into account the indirect factors of readability. It indicates sentences that are too complex for your target reading level. This ensures a consistent flow of information without readers exiting too soon. With this knowledge, you can tailor your content to compete with the top sites.

Always remember that sentences need to be short and concise.

INK shows the word count of the competition and too complex sentences.
INK shows the word count of the competition and too complex sentences.

INK performs a number of other tasks that improve your site’s readability. It checks for grammatical errors, misspelled words, complicated sentence structure, and overuse of adverbs.

INK shows that the word "checks" is misspelled. It gives like word choices.
INK shows that the word “checks” is misspelled. It gives like word choices.

INK also notes if there is an overuse of passive voice. This is important in readability. Remember that you want to be an authority on the subject.

Screenshot from INK showing the overuse of passive voice in this article.
INK tells me that I have overused the passive voice in this article. I need to aim for 14 uses or fewer to optimize my SEO ranking.

As you can see above, INK is telling me I need to follow my own advice and do a bit of editing. INK is entirely free to use, so it’s simple to give it a try yourself.

There is a Place for Passive Voice

As the screenshot from INK demonstrates, there is a place and time for passive voice. In fact, after analyzing my competition, I’m able to use passive voice less than 15 times in this article. Here’s why. In some cases, it does a better job of presenting an idea.

Example One:

“My home was broken into yesterday.”

We don’t know who broke into your home. The use of passive voice focuses on the home being broken in to.

Example Two:

“The dog was put in the pet carrier.”

Does it really matter who put the dog in the carrier? Probably not. What’s important is that the dog has been secured in the carrier for whatever reason.

Example Three:

“The defendant swore to tell the truth in court.”

It doesn’t matter who swore in the defendant. What matters is that he or she swore to tell the truth.

In examples above, it’s the person or thing receiving the action that is relevant. That means the person who performed the action can be absent from the sentence.

Before you go…

Readability is key in your organic search engine ranking. It’s logical. If no one can read what you wrote, they will not hang out on your page.

Over-use of passive voice is part of readability. Use it sparingly. Aim for active voice.

INK can help you decide how to pepper passive voice throughout your content without it affecting your ranking. This tool is free to download and can really help you improve your writing.

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Alexander De Ridder

Co-Founder of INK, Alexander crafts magical tools for web marketing. He is a smart creative, a builder of amazing things. He loves to study “how” and “why” humans and AI make decisions.

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