You only get one chance to make a first impression. That’s as true for your blog as for so many other things in life. It’s also true for both things that, it’s not the value of what’s inside or the deep insight that makes that first impression, but the superficial surface stuff. Unfortunately, on a subconscious level at least, we’re all superficial so-and-sos who like to judge books by their covers and blogs by their layouts.
That means a lot of the decisions about whether to read and engage with your blog will be made based on its visual layout. In general, an attractively laid-out blog will get read much more than a poorly formatted one. That’s as true for the masterpieces as for the 30-minute quick-and-easy ones.
Here are some tips on laying out a blog that gets noticed and digested. All these pointers have one idea in common, which is worth remembering:
Format like a magazine, not like a school report.
1. Illustrate with great pictures
The images that compliment your blog aren’t an afterthought. They may be the last thing you think about when uploading it, but they’re one of the first things your reader will consider.
Going back to our magazine theme, there’s an old saying in the field that goes ‘Magazines trade based on their content, but they sell based on their cover image’. That’s true for blogs –good images will ‘sell’ it to the potential reader, and that goes doubly for the ‘featured image’, which is essentially the blog’s cover image. Take extra time when considering this.
Things to aim for when choosing images:
- Originality – No boring or generic images.
- Eye-catching ability
- Brand synchronicity – Does it fit with your company’s ‘look’?
Learn more about the art of adding pictures to blogs in my article on the subject.
2. KISS everything (Keep it short and simple)
When I say KISS everything, I mean keep everything short and simple on every level:
- Words – Don’t use long, complex words where short, simple ones will do. It’s not big or clever!
- Sentences – Keep sentences under 25 words (20 ideally) and break them up with full stops wherever it makes sense.
- Paragraphs – Keep paragraphs as short as possible to promote easy reading. Five sentences is a good guideline maximum.
- Sections – Keep under 300 words. More below.
Keeping it short and simple is a good approach to the way you write, too. Get straight to the point and give important information without fluff.
3. Break the blog up into headed sections
Headers help readers to scan your article, navigate to the relevant section and break their reading up. All three of these things make it more likely that your blog will get read and absorbed.
Use the Heading 2 format for section headings, as this helps Google ‘read’ your document. You can even use Heading 3 to break your sections up into sub-sections.
How to add headings in WordPress
Select the text you want to use as a heading and click the dropdown box at the top left of your blog edit screen that reads ‘Paragraph’ by default. Then pick your heading number for the list.
The people behind the Yoast blogging tool recommend that your sections should be less than 300 words long before you add in another heading. Obviously, it depends on what you’re talking about and how it breaks up, but this is a good guideline.
On which note:
3.1 Use the Yoast and Hemingway tools
Get real time content analysis with Yoast , a WordPress plugin that tells you how well laid out and readable your blog is, as well as giving guidance on search engine optimisation. When installed into your site, it will add a report to the bottom of your blogs with a traffic light score and suggestions for improvement. The basic tool is free with a paid premium option. Yoast also has a content analysis tool which highlights particular areas within the blog to add in content
Hemmingway is a website where you can paste any length of text and get guidance on making it more succinct and to-the point, as well as easier to read. This helps you to shrink down those long and unattractive tracts of text. Click this link to go direct to the text editor where you can paste in your text and get it reviewed for free.
4. Make your info attractive and easy to absorb with lists and other easy-read items
When I say we’re staying away from school reports with our formatting, I’m thinking of long, white and black lengths of text. These are unattractive and hard to extract important info from.
Lists are one of the most effective ways to break up the spiel of austere text. They interrupt the dull format and help readers consume information. Add a little subheader or bold line explaining the list to make it even easier to consume and use numbered lists for sequences or items you may want to reference later.
Lists aren’t the only easy-read tool at your disposal though. Here are a few more:
“A quotation in a speech, article or book is like a rifle in the hands of an infantryman. It speaks with authority.” — Brendan Behan
As well as varying the format, these can add authority, colour and perspective to your blogs.
Bitesize, bold-headed sections
Simple bold-headed and indented sections can help to explain a simple concept or make a short point in one or two sentences.
Links are great ways of offering people a path to more information, tools or anything else. They can also help you provide the option for readers to access huge amounts of extra information without clogging up your article.
5. Have a highlight colour or two
Breaking up the black and white colour of your blog with coloured highlights is a simple but powerful formatting tactic that makes your blog more attractive and approachable.
Using one of your brand colours to highlight headers, bold sections, emphasised quotes and other important sections of your text can transform the look of your blog easily. You can choose between just highlighting headers and highlighting everything.
You can even double down by having a heading colour and a second highlight colour for an ultra-visual blog. Make sure all colours are readable and mutually complementary.
6. Consider adding context with by-lines and dates
By-lines and publication dates are options with very particular uses.
A byline tells the reader who wrote a particular blog. If you have more than one named author or voice in your blog, adding bylines can help readers to know who’s who and who is saying what. Most blogging platforms make it easy to opt-in or out of bylines in the text. In WordPress, most themes either have them as a default or an option that you can toggle on and off.
How to change authors in WordPress
Go to all posts, find the post in question and click on the ‘quick edit’ link under the title. You can then pick from the author menu.
You could even take it to the next level by adding a picture and/or a brief bio for each author like I do, although this is a bit more complex.
The importance of publication dates depends on the type of blog you’re creating. Journals and news blogs need dates, while informative and educational blogs like this one, which are less time-critical, might not.
An informative blog may need dating if it focuses on a topic where the specifics change frequently and getting them right is important. Law and accounting are good examples of such topics. If your blogs aren’t dated, make note of the date when mentioning something that is time salient.
Attractive and easily consumable formatting is important to a blog. Achieve this by:
- Using great pictures
- Keeping everything short and simple
- Breaking it up into short, headed sections
- Using lists, quotes, links and other easy-read format items.
- Having a highlight colour or two
- Considering by-lines and publication dates for context
- (Bonus) – Add a summary at the bottom and/or top.
Do all this and everyone who drops by your blog will be drawn to read the pearls of wisdom inside.