Content is King when it comes to managing a successful blog. In order to engage your readers, you first have to pique their interest and maintain it through out the article by keeping it intriguing and meaningful.
That said, a great article might never get the readership it deserves if the article looks a mess and is difficult to read. Just like good design, the reader needs visual organization and cues to help them take in your content more easily.
Following the tips outlined below and making use of your formatting bar will help you to create content that is both engaging and easy to follow.
1. Use Numbers to Measure Progress
Whether you like or hate numbered and list-styled posts (such as this post), the fact is that these types of articles are very successful at engaging the majority of readers. Trust us, there’s been studies done to prove this. Readers just love them and here’s why.
- Built-in progress meter. Readers receive visual cues on what they’ve read and what’s left to read.
- Clean organization provides for easier reading and quicker reference of specific information.
- Step-by-step approach. Users can follow tips and instructions in a structured linear way.
- Readers can consume and absorb the article in pieces.
2. Web-size Your Paragraphs into Bit-sized Mini-Paragraphs
In standard writing, a paragraph consists of an opening sentence, the paragraph body and a closing sentence. This writing style works well in books however it is not well suited for blogs.
When writing a blog article, paragraphs should be kept between 1 – 3 sentences long when possible. Each paragraph should speak to one topic only. If another topic is introduced or if the paragraph is reaching 4 or 5 sentences, it’s time to make use of the enter key on your keyboard.
On the flip side, you don’t want to limit paragraphs to just 1 to 3 sentences all of the time otherwise your article will be littered with stripes, which can actually make it even more difficult to read. Discretion is key. Your articles should flow naturally both in language and form.
3. Break Some Rules
Bold, Italic and Underline formatting have very specific uses in formal writing. If we were all judged on our proper use (or over use) of these formatting options, we’d likely fail! Fortunately we’re not writing for formal publication so go ahead and break some rules!
Using bold, italic and underline formatting can help to break up the dullness of standard text and emphasize key points in your article. Here are some tips on how to use them effectively.
Use bold to highlight the first sentence in a paragraph in order to introduce an important concept. The reader will receive a visual cue of it’s importance but in a way that is more subtle than a header or sub-header. It also helps to break up the text on the page.
Italics work best when you want to emphasize or add different shades to the meaning of a word or phrase. This will give your articles your voice and will help readers to identify with you. Just don’t go overboard à la Chandler Bing from Friends … could he be anymore annoying?
Our personal feeling on underlined text is to limit your use of them or don’t use them at all. Underlined text can often be confused for links so if you need to use them save them for book titles, movie titles or similar.
Above all else, use discretion when formatting your text. Too much of a good thing can become really annoying!
4. Let Readers Know What’s Important
This next tip is perhaps the easiest and often most overlooked formatting tool at a blog writer’s disposal.
Sub headers are like sign posts that let’s your reader know what’s important and helps to maintain organization. They also have another purpose however. Many readers like to skim articles before they read them so it’s equally important to entice your reader with your sub headers as well.
Sub headers in many ways are just as important as main headers. A main header grabs the users attention and a sub header keeps it … at least long enough to convert skimmers into a readers.
5. Bullets (and Numbered Lists) Are Cool!
Don’t believe me!? Bullets can do a lot more than listing concepts in an easy to digest format. In fact, bullets are one of the most powerful and versatile formatting and writing tools available to a blogger. To illustrate how a bullet-list can be used effectively, let’s create a list about bullets!
- Bullets can be used on landing pages and in sales copy to highlight features and prompt a call-to-action.
- Bullets can summarize an article and entice readers to continue reading an article they’ve just begun.
- Bullets can be used to break up an otherwise long sentence or paragraph in to easy-to-read concepts.
- Bullets can be used to drive home data and ideas.
- Bullets can be used to list qualifications, details and features.
You get the idea. Used correctly, bullets can turn a run-of-the-mill article into something much more interesting and informative.
6. Highlight and Emphasize With Style
Block quotes are often used to emphasize famous quotes but can also be used to highlight a key sentence, phrase or concept in an article.
Much like an image, readers eyes are just drawn to them and better still, you just can’t help but to read what’s inside. Block quotes are to readers as light is to a moth.
A word of caution, don’t over use them! Stick to one or two block quotes per article at most.
7. Use Drop Caps For a Little More Added Style
This by no means is a must have but drop caps can add a very nice and subtle touch to the overall appearance of an article. A drop cap adds special formatting to the first letter of a paragraph which in turn changes its appearance and denotes the start of the paragraph. Take a look at the start of this article for an example.
We prefer to use only one drop cap to open each article we write while others like to use several to open each major section or paragraph in an article. In either case I’m sure all would agree that using drop caps on each and ever paragraph in an article is going a little overboard.
8. Don’t Forget About Links and Images
This should go without saying. Images provide valuable eye-candy to articles that will help your readers to stay engaged. A well placed image can also help promote a reader’s understanding of the material.
Links on the other hand can help to promote reader engagement as well. At first glance this might seem counter-intuitive. Why provide a link that your reader can click on to jump to another article or website? It’s simple. If you provide a link that helps to support your article and provide your reader with additional information at the same time, it’s a win-win.
There are a few rules of thumb you should follow when using links. Admittedly this may be a little technical for some. When linking to other articles on your website make sure the links are dofollow links. This will allow Google and other search engines to follow these links when indexing your website.
When linking to external articles or other websites, make sure your links are nofollow links. This will ensure that Google and other search engines don’t take page value from your website and pass it on to others, unless that’s your intention of course. In addition, always have external links open in a new page or tab.
9. Start and End With a Bang!
Anyone who’s put together a portfolio can relate to this. Graphic artists and illustrators in particular are familiar with the process of putting together a portfolio to highlight the work they’ve done. The trick is not to put all of your best work first and leave nothing for the end. You want to start strong and end strong!
Posts should be organized in much the same way. The first heading and paragraph of an article should pique the readers interest and entice them to continue reading. Likewise, the end of an article should continue to stimulate and encourage readers to take action, such as:
- Invite readers to analyze what they’ve read and to put it to good use.
- Encourage readers to leave comments or start a debate.
- Prompt readers to make a purchase or fill out a lead capture form.
Following this process will ensure that readers are satisfied from beginning to end and will prompt users to complete the goal you’ve set forth.
The Formatting Bar is a Writers Best Friend
Most of the formatting options described above are readily available on most content management systems including WordPress.
Simply adding some of these tips to your article can greatly increases your articles readability and retention by over 124%! Isn’t that reason enough to take some time to format each article properly?
Remember to use your natural voice and to keep paragraphs short and concise. If you find yourself running low on energy towards the end of an article, stop writing and come back to it later! You want to finish strong, not squeak to the finish line.