When I was in graduate school, I took a course called “Writing for the Web.” The core concept of that course was that writing content for the web is different than writing for print. Now, I can’t distill 18 weeks of coursework into one blog post, but I can share some tips on how to format blog posts for web readers. Follow these tips and you’ll improve the experience for your readers and for search engines.
Why is blog post formatting important?
In today’s world, people have short attention spans. So much content comes at us from all directions every day. It would be impossible to read and consume it all. So we scan things quickly and then decide if it is worth our time to read the article, watch the video, listen to the podcast, etc.
Blog post formatting should make it easy for readers to scan and quickly see what the post is about. Then, they will (hopefully) decide to read the full post. That’s what formatting for readers is all about. It doesn’t matter how great your content is. If it isn’t easy for people to read, then they won’t.
Formatting is also an important part of on-page SEO (search engine optimization). And it’s one of the easiest SEO tricks to learn, so it’s worth paying some attention to. Formatting ties your SEO strategy and your content marketing strategy together, so you get twice the impact for the same amount of work.
How to format blog posts for your readers
You want to start by formatting your blog posts for readers. Search engines are certainly important, but search traffic doesn’t matter if people don’t stick around to read your post.
Make it easy to scan the content
If you want readers to stick, then you must make it easy to scan the content. Headings and white space break up text, which makes it easier for your reader to scan the post and figure out if she wants to read more. Your headline and images are a big part of this, as well.
Guide your reader through the post with subheadings
Subheadings help your post flow and make it more manageable to read. Skimmers will be able to scroll down the post and identify which parts they want to read in more detail.
Break up blocks of text into lists
Break up tips, ideas, etc. into lists. Use bullets or numbers depending on the context of the list. If the series needs to be in a specific order, then use numbers; if not, then use bullets.
Lists are easy to read, quick to scan, and help readers consume your content.
Short paragraphs make your posts easier to read
Reading online is harder on our eyes than reading a paper book or newspaper. And since we are consuming so much content each day, our attention spans have decreased dramatically.
Make it easy for people to actually read your posts by writing short paragraphs. This is not high school or college, where you wrote long paragraphs to impress the teacher. One to three sentences per paragraph is usually all you want in an online text. I make it a rule to never have more than five lines in a paragraph.
You can also throw in the occasional single-sentence paragraph to emphasize a point and keep things interesting.
Use bold to emphasize important concepts
Highlight the most important concepts or keywords of your post by bolding them. Bolding is a visual clue that shows readers that this is an important point.
Use this technique sparingly or it will lose its impact.
Break up your text with graphics
Images can be used to break up large chunks of text and make your post more inviting for readers. If your topic doesn’t lend itself to photographs, then be creative. Screenshots are an alternative if you are writing a technical post. Click to Tweet graphics are a great way to break up text, as are block quotes and content boxes.
Fonts and text colors? Simple is better
Choose a font or fonts that are easy to read. Save the fancy calligraphy fonts for your logo or use them (sparingly) in your social media graphics. While they are pretty, they are too hard to read, especially in large blocks of text. And remember that bigger is better when it comes to font size.
Also, limit the use of text color. Most people prefer dark gray text on a white background for reading. Use your brand colors occasionally to emphasize a small piece of text (the same way you would use bold).
How to format blog posts for search engines
Now that your post is pretty and easily scannable by people, let’s talk about formatting for search engines.
We talked about using subheadings to improve readability. Heading tags (also known as H tags) are code that show search engines that you are using subheadings and lets them know that these words are important.
To format your subheadings with H tags in WordPress, highlight the text and then click the drop-down arrow from Paragraph in the menu bar. Then, select the type of heading that you want to use. Heading 1 (H1) should be used for the title of your blog post, with the other headings used to indicate different levels of subheadings within your post.
Think of H tags as an outline for your post.
If you aren’t sure which H tag to use, just think of the different levels of subheadings as the outline of your post. Heading 2 (H2) is the most important subheading, followed by Heading 3 (H3), Heading 4 (H4), etc.
As an example, here’s a partial outline of this blog post, with the H tags used for each item:
- Why is blog post formatting important? (H2)
- How to format blog posts for your readers (H2)
- Make it easy to scan the content (H3)
- Guide your reader through the post with subheadings (H4)
- Break up blocks of texts into lists (H4)
- Short paragraphs make your posts easier to read (H3)
- Make it easy to scan the content (H3)
Make your keywords bold
We talked above about using bold as a visual clue for readers. The code for bold is also a clue for search engines. Find the first time you used your main keyword (ideally this will be in your first paragraph) and make it bold. Search engines will read the code and know that this particular bit of text is important.
Add keyword-rich alt text to your images
As you add images to your blogging platform, also add text to the “alt text” field. This “alt text” should describe the image and also include your main keyword. As with other tags and formatting tips, this will help with search engine ranking.
Bonus tip: adding keyword-rich alt text is also an important step in optimizing your images for Pinterest.
Include your keywords throughout the post
Finally, scan over your post and look for your keywords. Have you used them several times throughout your post? It’s important to find a happy medium here. If you overdo it, that is considered “keyword stuffing,” which is frowned upon by the search engines. But do remember to include your keyword and variations a few times. Some places to include your keyword are:
- In the post title
- In the url
- High on the page, ideally in the first paragraph
- In one of your H2 subheadings
- Strategically sprinkled throughout the body of the post
Blog post formatting wrap-up & action step
When formatting your blog posts, there are two goals that you want to accomplish simultaneously.
- You want to format your posts to make them visually appealing and easy to read.
- You also want to format your posts so that search engines understand what your post is about.
Now it’s time to take action. Pick an old blog post that could use spiffing up. Revise it with these simple formatting tips and republish it. Even with the same content, you should see an increase in readership and search traffic.
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