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Are you guilty of using passive voice when writing articles, blog posts or other text content for your website? While high-quality content can lead to more traffic and higher search results, you should be conscious of your writing style.
Visitors and search engines respond well to content written in active voice. If you use passive voice, on the other hand, your website’s performance may suffer.
What Is Passive Voice?
Passive voice is an indirect style of writing in which the subject of a sentence receives an action from the corresponding verb.
Take the following active voice sentence, for instance: Team USA won the gold medal.
When written in passive voice, the sentence becomes: The gold medal was won by Team USA. While there’s nothing grammatically wrong with it, the sentence looks and sounds awkward.
In a passive voice sentence, the subject and object roles are reversed: The subject takes the role of the object by receiving the verb’s action, whereas the object takes the role of the subject by giving the verb’s action.
Active Voice vs Passive Voice
Active voice, conversely, is a more direct style of writing that focuses on the subject of a sentence. In an active voice sentence, the subject is placed at or near the beginning where it gives the verb’s action. The object trails the verb where it receives the verb’s action.
The difference between passive and active voice lies in the arrangement of these elements and how they are used. With active voice, the subject appears first, followed by the verb and then the object.
With passive voice, the object is moved to the beginning of the sentence and the subject is moved to the end of the sentence.
Examples of passive voice include:
• The legislation was passed by Congress.
• The boxes were neatly stacked in the corner of James’ room.
• Seventy units were sold by the company last week.
• The insightful article was shared on the company’s Facebook Page.
• Over 20 homes were damaged by the tornado.
Examples of active voice include:
• Congress passed the legislation.
• James neatly stacked the boxes in the corner of his room.
• The company sold 70 units last week.
• The company shared an insightful article on its Facebook Page.
• The tornado damaged over 20 homes.
Inflates Word Count
Sentences written in passive voice contain more words than those written in active voice.
A typical passive voice sentence may contain just one to three more words than its active voice version. For an article or blog post with 50 sentences, however, that translates into 50 to 150 unnecessary words.
Therefore, using passive voice will inflate the word count of your website’s content.
A high word count is typically good when creating website content. The more words used in a web page’s content, the more keywords for which the page can rank. The problem with passive voice is that it adds unnecessary words.
Converting a sentence from active to passive voice typically creates one or more prepositions. Unfortunately, these prepositions don’t offer any value.
In most cases, active voice sentences have the same meaning as their passive voice counterparts but without the added prepositions. For concise website content that’s not inflated with unnecessary words, you should use active voice.
Promotes Poor Readability
Passive voice also promotes poor readability. It shifts the sentence’s focus from the subject to the object, resulting in a less direct and more ambiguous meaning. The subject follows both the object and verb, so it takes visitors longer to identify who or what a passive voice sentence is about.
Most visitors can still comprehend the meaning of passive voice sentences; it just takes them a little longer because the subject is second to the object.
When a visitor comes across a passive voice sentence, he or she may pause briefly to process it. As a result, each passive voice sentence disrupts visitors’ reading activities.
Some visitors may even abandon your website if it contains too much passive voice, because it’s difficult to read.
Harms Search Rankings
This indirect writing style can directly harm your website’s search rankings. While no search engine has announced the use of passive voice as a ranking signal, digital marketing experts believe this indirect writing style can, in fact, influence search rankings.
Google and Bing scrutinize visitor engagement signals as part of their respective ranking methodology. They reward websites for strong visitor engagement and penalize websites for poor visitor engagement.
Because of its negative impact on readability, passive voice drives down visitor engagement. Visitors will spend less time browsing and engaging with your website if it features passive voice content. Search engines may then respond by penalizing your website with lower rankings.
Your blog may attract fewer inbound links if you use passive voice rather than active voice. Bloggers are cautious when choosing the websites to which they link.
Most will only link to websites with detailed content that’s easy to read. If you use passive voice, webmasters may not even take the time to read your site’s content, let alone link to it. With fewer inbound links, your website’s rankings may suffer.
How to Analyze Content for Passive Voice
How do you know if your website’s content contains passive voice? Thankfully, you don’t have to read each sentence published on your website to determine whether it contains passive voice.
There are several automated tools that can analyze your site’s content for passive voice on the fly.
The popular plugin, which you can download for free at the WordPress plugin repository, features a readability score for posts and pages. Once installed, it will analyze the readability of your website’s posts and pages.
To identify passive voice, click the “Readability” tab in the Yoast SEO box, followed by the small button to the right of “Passive voice.” The plugin will then highlight all sentences in the post or page that contain passive voice.
Several websites offer a free passive voice checker tool, some of which include analyzemywriting.com and datayze.com/passive-voice-detector.php. To use them, you must copy and paste your website’s text content into the detector box.
Grammarly is another tool you can use to analyze to check for passive voice on your website. Available for Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge and Safari, as well as Microsoft Word and Excel, it will highlight sentences written in passive voice.
This feature is only available in the premium version, so you’ll need to make a small monetary investment to analyze your website’s content for passive voice with Grammarly.
Don’t let passive voice dilute the quality of your website’s content. Use active voice to create content that’s more concise, easier to read and better for SEO.
You don’t have to eliminate passive voice altogether, but you should make a conscious effort to write sentences in active voice.