What is the ‘passive voice’ and why is it important in Search Engine optimisation?

If you’ve ever delved a little more deeply into search engine optimisation, you may have come across talk of the ‘passive voice’ in relation to page content. Or more specifically, why you should be avoiding using the ‘passive voice’ too much. For example, one of the most popular and widely used SEO plugins is Yoast which specifically warns against a use of the passive voice in more than 10% of the page text content. Therefore, we thought we’d take this opportunity to discuss exactly what the ‘passive voice’ is, and how to improve your page content for SEO. Don’t forget, Seven Creative is a very well established Sheffield SEO agency providing SEO services for many years. Give us a call if you would like help with your website optimisation 

Sheffield SEO company - an article all about the passive voice

What is the passive voice?

“The passive voice is used to show interest in the person or object that experiences an action rather than the person or object that performs the action. In other words, the most important thing or person becomes the subject of the sentence.” – ef.co.uk

The ‘passive voice’ is a grammatical construction which contrasts with the ‘active voice’ (the standard English sentence structure). A good way to explain this is therefore to contrast the two with examples.

Let’s start with the subject who does something (verb) to a thing (receiver) e.g. the man (actor) throws (direct verb) a ball at the wall (receiver). In the passive voice, the actor and receiver are switched making the receiver the grammatical subject. The meaning stays the same, just the word order changes e.g. the wall had a ball thrown at it by the man. You can even omit the actor completely and say ‘the wall had a ball thrown at it’ which is still perfectly understandable but simply omits some of the information

So why omit the passive voice?

Well, this is an SEO article so it would be rude to not also talk about Google who are the largest and most sophisticated search engine. I say they’re a search engine put actually Google is an ad agency who sell access to us, the consumers, to the advertisers. To keep us loyal they need to provide us with the highest quality content. In other words, out of a thousand potential websites, they need to show us the best quality (and most relevant) ones first (this is page 1 of Google search results). As we humans prefer the active voice, Google therefore uses this factor in its ranking decisions (algorithm) and discriminates against sites that use the passive voice too much

Firstly, the passive voice makes your sentence longer and wordier. Here is an excellent example from Yoast:

  1. The passive voice almost always makes your message less clear.

  2. Your message is almost always made less clear by using the passive voice.

Secondly, using the passive voice makes your sentences more complex and require the audience to use more ‘thinking’ to understand it. Complex sentences mean more thinking which means it’s less likely you’ll get your message across

So how do I swap to the ‘active’ voice?

Almost every example of the passive voice has an active voice alternative so it’s simply a case of spending a little bit more time thinking about what you’ve written and re-writing those sentences that are wordy or more complex than they could be.

When you rewrite your sentence to the active voice, not only will the verb form change, but also the actor and receiver will change places. Here are some examples:

This blog post was written by me > I wrote this blog post (past simple)

The website is being optimised by Seven Creative > Seven Creative are optimising the webpage (present simple continuous)

The page will have been optimised by us > we will have optimised the page (future perfect)

I could go on but I’m sure you get the gist!

Are there exceptions?

Not only is it sometimes just more logical to structure a sentence in the passive voice, but writing is an art, and you may simply prefer the passive voice.

In other words, don’t avoid the passive voice at all costs. Rather, consider your audience in relation to your sentence and decide if the active voice may be a better alternative. However, to properly optimise your content for SEO purposes, aim for no more than about 10% use of the passive voice. Remember, in most cases, the active voice is easier to understand and that’s ultimately the aim of the game.

A well search engine optimised website means better ranking and more leads

Here at Seven Creative we’ve been working on SEO and optimising website for many years. If you’d like a hand with your site, give us a call on 0114 383 0711 or visit our contact section to get in touch