Every marketer on the Internet claims “content is king.”
Well, content might be “king,” but on the Web, readability is “holy emperor.”
Your average website visitor spends less than 4 seconds scanning a page before deciding whether to keep reading or to click away looking the next “shiny thing.”
And let's say they do decide to keep reading, unfortunately the same research indicates they'll read less than 28% of the words on the page.
So even though I hate to be the bearer of bad news…
Most blogs—and the posts you spend hours upon hours writing—aren't being read by anyone!
And the overwhelming majority of the 5 million new posts published daily are just collecting dust, taking up ones and zeros, lost in the blogosphere, like tears in rain.
But there's no reason to despair or take it personally.
It's time to buck up, Sports fan!
I’m here to “save your bacon” – that is, your blog – from Internet obscurity.
Because here’s the deal…
Writing for the Web is Different
Sure, you’ve got to write clear, compelling, conversational web copy.
But don’t stop there.
Before you just slap a new post up onto your site, you’ve got to make sure it's easy on the eye.
Your words don’t do that all by themselves.
How they look on the page is what matters.
You’ve got to be aware of the “mechanics” of posting—the hidden structure that holds up every successful blog post and sucks readers in.
That structure includes “under the hood” elements like column width, font size and color, and attention-grabbing images; word, sentence, and paragraph length; and using white space, lists, and headings to make your post simple for your visitors to take in at a glance.
So if the average visitor scans your page for less than 4 seconds, your most important job as a blogger is this:
Make your post easy to scan, and then easy to read.
Here are 8 structural “secrets” that will help you do just that…
Dr. Jakob Nielsen, the guru of webpage visibility, conducted a series of “eye tracking” studies that revealed exactly how visitors look at a web page during that critical first 4 seconds.
People scan in an F-shaped pattern, as shown on the heat maps below:
So put your most important content in the red “hot spots” within that F pattern.
A relevant image, a great headline, and lots of bullets and text highlighting (more about that in a minute) should go there.
Narrow columns of text are easier to read than full-page-width text.
That’s why most newspapers traditionally lay out their text in columns of “an alphabet and a half,” or 39 characters wide.
But that’s way too narrow for online content.
Most bloggers agree that between 600-800 pixels is a good max width for desktop resolution, which is pretty standard in today's most-popular two-column layout.
If you're using a platform like WordPress with a modern theme, you're probably already covered and don't need to worry too much about the width of your columns or mobile responsiveness.
Instead you should concern yourself with the length of your paragraphs.
See how most paragraphs in this post are individual sentences?
That's because over half of this blog's readers are using a pocket-sized device, and you don't want giant blocks of text making reading a chore.
So when in doubt, optimize for mobile.
One reason most popular blogs include images every 300-or-so words is to increase readability.
Images are captivating and draw the eye.
They break up the monotony of the text and keep the reader on the page, scrolling.
Remember, most people are scanners, reading the headings and looking at the pictures (you know, just like we've all done with dozens of issues of National Geographic while waiting for the dentist).
But there’s another, less obvious reason for using images…
Half-width images, in particular, decreases the width of the text, making it much easier to see, to scan, and yes…to read.
If you’ve done more than a little Web surfing, you’ll notice that most web pages and blog posts use a font structure like this:
In this post, you'll note text-based subheads towards the top and image-based subheads for the points being covered in the listicle section.
The specifics aren't as important as using a clear, consistent structure with plenty of contrast to visually separate one section from another.
Again, you want to use a subhead or image or another break in the monotony of the text every 300-or-so words.
This has a massive impact on readability.
Using color in your images is great, but using color in your text is to be used sparingly.
Big, bold, red text makes your writing look more like an ad than an editorial.
And always keep this in mind:
Even though every piece of content you create is essentially a sales piece, you don't want your content to LOOK like a sales piece.
Instead you want to “disguise” your content by making it look identical to an editorial.
More on this technique later.
Also, be sure to use a “plain vanilla” font like, set at a minimum size of 14 pt., increase your odds when marketing on the Internet.
For the love of all things holy, don't do anything crazy with your fonts!
Don't use anything that looks cute or cursive!
Trust me, you'll turn people off quick.
Plus, just because you like a custom-designed heavy-metal blood-red font doesn’t mean your reader can even see it on his browser or device.
The headline is the “on switch” that begins your reader’s experience.
It’s the first thing they look at to decide whether your content is worth reading, and it’s more than 80% responsible for whether your reader stays or clicks merrily away.
Because readers are scanning, your headline has to grab their attention within the first 40-60 characters (or fewer than 11 words) and make sense on its own.
That’s why most professional copywriters spend agonizing amounts of time constructing the perfect headline.
Don't overthink it, though.
The most popular headline type is, and will always be, “how to,” which is super simple to write.
Think about it, I could have easily named this post…
“How to Structure Your Blog Posts for Maximum Readability”
Another winning formula is the listicle…
“8 Readability Tips to Ensure Your Content Gets Consumed”
Easy enough, right?
No matter what your 5th Grade English teacher told you about how to write, readability studies prove that beginning with an incomplete thought, sentence fragment, or question will dramatically improve the “sticking power” of your content and keep readers on your site.
A strong cliffhanger, standing naked at the beginning of your post, hooks readers like crazy—especially if the first two or three words are important and loaded with information.
Here are a couple of recent examples…
- Be honest…
- Let’s discuss a question you’ll inevitably get asked…
- Are you game for a controversial discussion?
- If you want to be successful in network marketing, you must answer this dead-serious question…
- The most poisonous advice for someone trying to grow their business?
And if you hook ‘em with the headline and that opening first sentence, they’re significantly more likely to read your (spectacularly-written) post right to the end.
The Internet is the poster child for “Short Attention Span Theater,” so you've got to make every word earn its place.
People just don’t have time to wade through the depths of your elegant prose looking for the “beef” they come to your website hoping to find.
With that said, there are two strategies for approaching a content strategy:
- Post frequent, shorter posts (500ish words, often daily)
- Craft longer, more authoritative posts (1800+ words) less frequently (usually weekly)
This really depends on your style.
More content is generally better, provided the content you're producing is high quality, delivering value, and solving your audience's problems.
Poor quality content will hurt your authority and brand, so find a rhythm you can consistently produce without sacrificing quality.
Now that you know your site visitors are scanning, break your copy up into easily seen and digestible “chunks” of information.
Remember that visual “F-shape?”
Break up your copy so that no paragraph is longer than about three lines (and remember, many readers are on mobile devices).
- Use subheadings.
- Highlight key text.
- Use bullet points or a numbered list.
And make sure there’s plenty of white space so your most important ideas stand out from the background.
Contrast is your friend.
If you’ve already posted on your blog, do yourself a big favor…
Go back and look at how you’ve structured them.
“Tweak” them to make sure they’re as readable as they can be.
It’s the best way to practice the strong structure I’m talking about here.
And if you haven’t got yourself started online yet, use these guidelines to create your online structure right from the get-go.
That way, whatever you publish online is easy for your visitors to read right from the start.
I’ll leave you with a classic thought experiment:
If a tree falls in a forest and there’s nobody there to hear it…
…does it make a sound?
Or better yet, if you launch a blog and it's improperly formatted so nobody wants to stick around and read it, will it help you achieve your business goals?
Probably not, right? ;-)
So always take the time to structure your posts so they're a breeze to read and enjoy!
Until next time,
Director of Content