15 Blog Formatting Tips to Increase Your Readers’ Time on Page
by Sarah Schock on 6/2/16
Reading has changed.
Gone are the days of poring over the newspaper at the breakfast table. Today, reading has moved online — and it’s not reading anymore; it’s skimming.
If you’re blogging for business, you need to understand how readers’ minds have changed to adapt to our new digital climate. That way, you’ll be able to write and format your posts with their needs in mind — and if you’re lucky, they might even read to the end (gasp!).
Read on to learn our 15 blog formatting tips to make your posts look good and read great.
How Blog Reading Is Different from “Regular” Reading
While newspapers are indeed an endangered species, bloggers can still learn a lot from journalism best practices.
Newspapers keep their content short and punchy. To get readers’ attention, they use intriguing headlines and eye-catching photos; to keep readers’ attention, they make their articles brief and easy to digest. In fact, newspapers maintain a very narrow column width so that readers’ eyes can easily jump from the end of one line to the beginning of the next.
Online, it’s even more important to make your content skimmable. People have far less patience on digital devices than they do with physical reading materials, and they have many more distractions.
Plus, since you can’t see the length of a blog post at a glance (as you can with print articles), readers typically scroll to the bottom of a post first to decide whether reading it is worth it. While they’re scrolling, they’ll scan the piece for anything that looks interesting, so it’s crucial to pepper your posts with striking content throughout.
Blog posts have another disadvantage: it’s harder to read things on screen than in print. While technology continues to improve screen legibility, reading things online still causes much more strain to your eyes.
Reading from a screen is rough on your eyes. Do what you can to protect your readers from the “blue light blues”!
But that doesn’t mean your posts need to be super short in order to be read. In fact, if your content is well written and engaging enough, your posts can be as long as they need to be.
All this means is that you need to stylize your posts so they look nice and approachable. Not sure how to do that? That’s where our 15 blog formatting best practices come in.
Consider us your blog stylist. Take a seat in our chair!
Top 15 Blog Formatting Best Practices
1. Write a Kick-Ass Headline
Your headline is your first (and possibly only) opportunity to get readers to notice you. Don’t waste it!
Write an engaging headline that describes your topic and includes your focus keyword for search engine optimization (SEO). Don’t get too clickbait-y — readers are becoming jaded by Buzzfeed‘s favorite tactic — but do make sure your post title is interesting enough to catch someone’s eye.
Technically, this is more of a writing technique than a formatting tip, but so important, we had to include it. Plus, the way you showcase your headline matters, too — you’ll want to make sure it’s featured prominently on the page.
2. Use Headings and Subheadings
Like headlines, headings and subheadings are key to helping your readers understand exactly what your post is about (and why they should read it). In fact, they’re probably the most essential blog formatting tool you have.
Don’t be shy when it comes to headings and subheadings. While you don’t want them to overwhelm the post, you want to use enough of them to break up any long chunks of text. At 9 Clouds, we like to use a minimum of three headings per post.
Feel free to use a variety of headings and subheadings in your posts. Higher-level concepts should be larger in size (we’re talking your H2 tags here), while subtopics should be smaller and placed underneath the bigger headlines (we’re talking H3, H4, and so on).
3. Choose Killer Images
That’s killer as an adjective, not a noun — although if you did have a photo of a killer, that would probably get you quite a few clicks. (A killer whale could work, too.)
Seriously, you need to include high-quality images in all your posts. With the wealth of free stock image sites out there (and the accessibility of your own smartphone camera), there’s really no excuse not to.
In addition to a fascinating featured image at the top of your post, sprinkle in some other relevant photos if they suit the post. That’s if they suit the post — you don’t want to include images just for the sake of including images. In fact, studies have shown that posts with pictures of “real people” have a 95% higher conversion rate than those with stock photos.
Bottom line: use awesome images that make sense for your post. If they don’t make sense, don’t bother.
4. Constrain Your Column Width
Remember what we said about newspaper articles — how they’re purposefully trimmed short so the eye can scan them easier? The same principle applies to blog posts.
The ideal column width for a blog post is anywhere between 55 and 100 characters (including spaces) per line, although most experts recommend 80 characters or fewer. Note that your lines will look longer or shorter depending on your font size and type, so adjust accordingly (see tip #6 for more details).
5. Break Up Your Paragraphs
Another simple way to make your content easier to skim is to break up your text into short paragraphs — think one to four sentences, max. But make sure not all your paragraphs are one sentence long, as that can make your post look (and read) choppy.
When in doubt, use your best judgment. If your post looks too text-heavy, press Enter a few more times between your sentences. If there’s too much white space, press Delete. It’s not rocket science.
6. Pick the Perfect Font (and Font Size)
You might love the font Papyrus, but your readers (and anyone with half an eye for typography) will not.
Aside from being hideous, fonts like Papyrus are loud and distracting, causing readers to focus more on the act of reading than on the actual content itself. For the best screen legibility, pick a nice sans-serif font (think Helvetica vs. Times New Roman). Whatever you choose, make sure that you’re consistent with your brand and that you maintain the same font for all blog posts.
Another important consideration is your font size. While you might prefer a smaller, more minimalist look, many readers will skip over an article with tiny type (yes, even if they can increase the font size manually). Plus, you’ll want to keep the needs of visually impaired readers in mind.
Of course, you don’t want your font size so big that it looks childish on the page. The size will look different depending on the font you’ve chosen, so play around with it until you’ve found one that looks just right (and fits the column width requirement we talked about in tip #4).
7. Offer a “Table of Contents”
Most readers like to know what to expect before diving into a piece (hence the scrolling-to-the-bottom thing we mentioned earlier).
Make things easy on your readers by using a logical layout for your blog posts. Each post should have a clear beginning, middle, and end, with plenty of headings and subheadings guiding readers along the way. Numbered lists are great because they automatically indicate how much of the article is left to read.
One way to ease readers’ minds is by offering a “table of contents” at the beginning of a post. That way, readers can jump to whatever sections they’re interested in and skip over the ones they’re not (instead of skipping over the entire post altogether).
You can even make a table of contents “sticky,” so it stays on the side of the screen as you scroll down the page. We use sticky TOCs for all our free eBooks at 9 Clouds.
8. Embrace White Space
That’s white space — not blue space, black space, or any other color you feel like splashing onto your site’s background.
While a bright background might make your website stand out, it does nothing for your visitors’ eyes. Most colored backgrounds are difficult to digest, even if the text is put in a contrasting color. White is a good default for your site background, although other light hues can also work.
Whatever your background color, make sure there’s enough of it. You don’t want your website crowded with text, images, ads, or other content, or your readers will run — fast. Give your blog plenty of breathing room, so their eyes can be drawn to what really matters: your amazing content.
9. Nix the Sidebar
One way to embrace white space? Get rid of your sidebar.
Blasphemy, right? But although sidebars are a standard feature for most blogs, they’re not a requirement — in fact, they could be damaging your conversion rate.
Sidebars are distracting, especially to new site visitors. Unless your sidebar content is truly compelling, it’s probably being passed over by most people who aren’t ready to convert.
So consider doing away with yours altogether. One company actually increased its lead volume by 71% simply by removing its sidebar and placing the sidebar content at the bottom of the post instead.
But don’t take that at face value. To find out whether a sidebar helps or harms your content, run an A/B test to see whether having one increases your visitors’ time on page.
10. Use Lists
Here’s an easy fix for your blog formatting: use more lists.
Numbered or bulleted lists are awesome for a few reasons:
- They attract the eye.
- They help break up long chunks of text.
- They help readers comprehend similar concepts.
If you have a quantifiable set of ideas, use a numbered list — readers love numbered lists. But you can get creative with bulleted lists, too. Creating custom bullet points is one way to differentiate your blog from others and attract the reader’s attention.
11. Add Emphasis (the Right Way)
There are so many ways to add emphasis to words or phrases you’d like to highlight, but the best is bolded text.
You definitely don’t want to overuse it, but bolded text is an essential blog formatting tip; it helps skimmers find your most important points quickly and easily.
While italics can also emphasize ideas, they are harder to read, especially over long phrases or sentences. Only use them when you need to highlight a specific word or two.
CAPITAL LETTERS ARE ALSO LOUD AND ANNOYING. AVOID THEM UNLESS YOU REALLY, REALLY WANT TO SCREAM SOMETHING.
Oh, and never use underline on the web if you’re not linking to something. People have come to associate underlined text with hyperlinks, so they’ll probably try to click on it — and be pretty miffed if nothing happens.
Speaking of which, hyperlinks can be another creative way to add some pizzazz to your text. Because our hyperlinks for the 9 Clouds blog are colored orange, they stand out.
12. Include a Block Quote or Two
Another way to (appropriately) emphasize text is to use a block quote.
Of course, block quotes are intended for actual quotes said by actual people, but many bloggers have started to use them as a way to highlight key concepts or provocative thoughts. Again, you don’t want to overuse this tactic. But if you have a particularly important point you’d like to make, feel free to draw attention to it by using a block quote.
Quoting reputable sources like Neil Patel of Quick Sprout is a good idea for a few reasons:
In addition to breaking up text, quotes add credibility to your article.
See what we mean?
13. Find Other Ways to Draw Attention
When it comes to capturing readers’ attention, get creative! Of course headings and images are key, but they’re so common. To really turn heads, consider using content like:
- Charts and graphs
- Embedded social media (e.g. “Click to Tweet” buttons)
All these are excellent ways to get your readers to not only read, but also engage.
14. Caption Your Images
Here’s a blog formatting tip that few bloggers are doing regularly but that all of us should be doing more: use image captions.
Think about it. When you’re scrolling through a post and notice an interesting image, do you linger on it? If it had a short little blurb written underneath, would you read it?
We would. And we bet you would too. Take advantage of this easy yet little-known technique, and you just might gain more readers.
15. Keep It Simple
We know, we know — we just gave you 14 ways to stylize your blog posts, and they’re not exactly “simple.”
But if you’ve noticed a trend throughout this article, it’s that you want to make sure you’re using these formatting tips sparingly. Only use them when they noticeably improve the look and feel of your blog. If you use them too much, your posts will look cluttered. That’s just as bad as a long, unbroken body of text.
In the end, rely on your inner graphic designer to determine the best formatting for your blog. Be consistent with your brand image, and keep playing around with it — you never know what your readers will gravitate toward.
Ready for More Blogging Tips?
Formatting is just one component of blogging for business. There are so many other elements that go into a great business blog — like proper setup, remarkable content, good SEO, widespread distribution, and careful analysis.
Fortunately, you don’t have to figure it out all on your own. We’ve written extensively on blogging for business (using, coincidentally, our own business blog).
First, learn why business blogging is important and how to do it effectively using our step-by-step guide. Next, discover how to distribute your blog content across all the relevant channels.
Put together, those two pieces will prepare you for the best business blog ever. So go read them!
Originally published at 9clouds.com on June 2, 2016.