If you’re interested in blogging for a living, you already know that online opportunities are out there and that there are a lot of people trying. While someone without any print writing experience can still succeed, those with a little bit of experience, at least, have an advantage. Many new bloggers (and some that have been around for awhile) seem uncertain how to “format” their blog posts to make them more coherent to readers. So, what is otherwise acceptable writing in print just doesn’t cut it online.

The rule is simple: the more concepts you introduce in a blog post, the more it behooves you to add some visual structure. I have had a lot of experience in the print medium, including newspapers, magazines, and a book, and spent many years researching the elements of typesetting. Many of the ideas are not being carried over to the online world but really should be. Research and personal experience both seem to show that we have less patience for longer articles online than in print. To that end, here are some suggestions for making your blogging more readable.

  1. Use bullets.
    Titles offering “X Reasons” or “X Ways”, etc., should have a numbered bullet list. it’s courtesy and helps readers find each item. It also says you care enough about your readers to actually follow through. Even if you simply forgot or were distracted, etc., readers will likely think you’re just too lazy to bother.

  2. Deliver on your promises.
    If your article is called “5 Ways To Do Something Or Other”, you had better provide those ways, and clearly. Some bloggers only talk about the “ways” but don’t clearly list any of them. Imagine how few readers will come back again after you do that. You are not delivering what your title promised. Sometimes, all this requires is bolding the appropriate text for each item, even if you do not use a bullet list.

  3. Write articles, not just blog posts.
    Just offering blog post summaries of something someone else wrote will not get you regular readers. Web Usability and Design expert Jakob Nielsen of Nielsen Norman Group suggests business websites at the least write indepth articles, not blog posts. While I disagree with him that blog posts have no value, whether summaries or short articles, I do agree that you need original and indepth articles as well, especially if you are running a blog promoting your business.

  4. Use headings for articles/ longer posts.
    In HTML, there are hx heading tags from h1 and up to, I believe, h9. Try using h2, h3 or h4 headings to partition longer articles. What you use will depend on your blog theme’s CSS code. For example, on this site, I’ve tweaked my CSS code to display a full-width underline under each h3 heading. It gives an article a bit of visual breathing room, making content less dense-looking. Readers appreciate this, whether consciously or not. On other sites I write for, where I cannot access the templates, I may use h2 instead of h3 because of the way CSS is defined. If you don’t feel like tweaking CSS code, try each of h2-h4 and determine which one is most visually appealing. If that doesn’t work, try bolding your headings. [I’ll try to post a brief screencast in the near future on how to tweak your CSS to customize headings.]

  5. Make your writing accessible.
    Accessible blog writing entails not just spelling and grammar, but visual factors as well.

    • Is there enough “white space” in your articles? Tweak your CSS to provide enough vertical “leading” space between lines of text and paragraph blocks. If you’ve never written for print, this may be a new concept to you. It’s probably also the reason why so many younger bloggers think it’s okay to use “fluid” blog themes. It’s really not. Not if you want to offer longer articles. The human eye can only easily take in about 4-5 inches of text in width. Beyond that, and you start forcing head movement, causing neck stress and eye fatigue. Typesetters for print are trained in such things. In the blogosphere, your blog platform and theme together are your typesetter, and unfortunately, they sometimes fall short.
    • Do you use bullet lists instead of big blocks (where appropriate)? You can substitute standard circular bullets with a simple custom icon, if you prefer.
    • What about adding visual content such as images, diagrams, charts, and videos? Don’t discount the value of eye candy. We humans are very visual creatures, and adding a suitable though not necessarily complicated diagram, often helps drive home the point. Memory experts say that concepts are remembered more efficiently by either associating music and visual elements simultaneously. Imagine reading a very long article in print with no visual components. Do you think you’d remember everything? Maybe, maybe not.
    • Vary sentence and paragraph length. This offers both visual variety and allows readers to absorb concepts more efficiently.
    • Make sure your screen font isn’t too small, and that the font color contrasts well against the background. There are older eyes out there and while you may want to stick to Curt Cobain’s comment about not trusting anyone over thirty, you’ll be there someday, if you’re not already.
    • Write like you speak. It’s okay to introduce uncommon words, but if you start sounding academic in every sentence, probably only academic types will read you, if that.
  6. Link out.
    I am firmly of the blogging school of thought that linking out to other sites is ultimately a good thing. My feeling is that it says you trust your visitors enough to decide whether or not to come back to you for more great information and become regular readers. In a nutshell, it offers them either a different opinion or supplementary information. If they had to find those references on their own, they may not have bothered because there may be thousands or millions of false results to wade through in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). You’ve helped them by filtering information. (This is why I disagree with Jakob Nielsen that short blog posts can’t have value. You can offer much value this way.) What’s more, if you are linking to relevant pages on “quality neighborhoods” (i.e., high authority websites/ weblogs), some search engines will reward your page with a higher authority at some point in time.

  7. Link in.
    Deep-linking should be a crucial part of your blogging strategy. If you are not linking back to at least two relevant posts in your own archives, in each new post you write, you need to change that ASAP. You provide an opportunity for newer visitors to find further relevant content, and search engines reward your site for doing this. (I’m simplifying; there are other factors such as using suitable anchor text, which I’ll get into in a later post.)

By “following through” and adding a bit of structure to your blog posts, you’ll find that you do not need to write indepth articles all the time. You make the most of your content, offering readers an easy way to absorb the concepts you put forth. Not doing so exhibits laziness, no matter what your “real” reason may be, and turns off readers whether they realize it consciously or not.

Thoughts? Agree? Disagree? Do you have any other suggestions?

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