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How to Format Blog Posts Effectively

Posted By Darren Rowse 1st of June 2011 Writing Content 0 Comments

Beyond writing good quality content, how can I format my posts so that they communicate more effectively?”

I was asked the above question by a reader earlier today on Twitter and shot them back a series of DMs with the following suggestions that I thought might interest others (I’ve expanded them here).

Image by Kailash Gyawali

Of course, as the question implies, the most powerful communication strategy for bloggers is quality of writing—but beyond that, here are a few things I’ve found helpful over the last nine years of blogging.

1. Your blog post titles are everything

Okay, they’re not everything, but they’re often the main thing people look at to decide whether they’ll read your post. So take time to hone them.

Use a title that grabs people’s interest, but also leads them into what you want to talk about. You don’t want to grab interest with a sensational post title that has little to do with what the post is actually about.

2. When writing longer titles…

I generally try to make my blog post titles reasonably short. They seem to have more impact, and they’re easier to share on the social web.

However, sometimes a longer title is necessary. If you’re using one of those, make the first words in the headline get straight to the point. The first words in a headline seem to be the ones that have the most punch—choose them wisely.

3. Use short, punchy paragraphs

One of the main edits that I do on guest posts submitted to dPS is to simply break up long paragraphs.

Large slabs of text are unattractive to those reading online, so break it down!

4. Use images liberally

Similarly, a whole page that is just text tends to be a turn off to many readers.

Adding a visually appealing image to the top of a post will grab attention and draw people in.

Using images throughout longer posts will also draw the eye of your readers down the page and keep them engaged.

Larger images are said to be good. One study I heard about recently found that bigger images draw people to look at them for longer—keeping people engaged.

5. Faces can also draw attention

Faces in images also tend to hold people’s gazes for longer.

As humans, we’re wired to connect with others’ faces, so using them in a post seems to grab attention, draw people in, and hold their attention a little longer.

I’ve particularly found this to be true on Digital Photography School, where we regularly feature portrait images.

You may not be able to use faces in every post you do, but keep the principle in mind and test it for yourself.

6. Break up posts with subheadings

Those viewing of your site will often scan your content when they arrive on your page to find out if it is relevant to them.

So if you have some main points, highlight them with sub headings.

Your sub headings should give a snapshot of what your post is about, but also draw people into reading it.

One effective technique with sub headings is to only say half a sentence or phrase in them. I’ve done this in points #3 and #7 in this post. By doing so, you signal what that section is about without giving away everything—you give people a reason to stop and read.

When looking at a design or theme for your blog, try to make sure that whoever designs it has good options for heading tags. I use h2 and h3 tags pretty regularly in my posts (it can also be advantageous for SEO).

7. Lists: we love to hate them, but…

Many bloggers are obsessed by list-type posts and, as a result, others look down at them.

However, they’re very very effective in terms of bringing in readers and communication effectiveness. You probably don’t want to use them in every post, but don’t write them off completely.

Further Reading: 8 Reasons why Lists are Good for Getting Traffic to your Blog.

8. Use formatting to your advantage

Make your blog posts a little more visual but breaking up your text visually with formatting changes.

You can go over the top with this but using basic formatting like bolding and italicising words can draw the eye to your key points effectively.

Similarly using blockquotes or some kind of call-out box for key sections of your article can draw people to important parts of what you’re communicating.

9. Call people to do something

If you want to be “effective” as a blogger, you must have some goal in mind for what you want your readers to do.

If this is the case, it is important to actually call your readers to do that in some way through your article.

The call to action might be anything—it could be to apply what you’re writing about in your own life, to go away and do a little homework, to react to the post in comments, to share the post with someone else… but the key is to actually invite your reader to do these things, rather than just assume that they will.

What would you add?

I’d love to hear your advice to a blogger wanting to improve the effectiveness of communication through the way that they format and design their blog posts.

  • What has worked for you?
  • Do you apply any of the above principles, or have you found other styles and approaches to work better for you?
  • Lastly, feel free to share a link to a blog post that you or someone else has written that you think is styled effectively.
About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
  • I like your point: 6. Break up posts with subheadings

    I mostly use subheading tags. I managed to use H3 tags for it so that CSS can be used easily without any DIV or span.

    I will try to implement your other tips as well.

    Thank you so much for the great tips.

    • I totally agree with you (FINALLY) on titles. I often write quirky titles and think OH AREN’T I CLEVER! and even though the post is completely AWESOME, no one reads it.

      I also agree that you have to get them to act. I have no idea HOW to do that, however. Seems like some blogs are comment magnets. Why?

    • Thanks. Good tips – many of which I’ll take on board to make my bligs more reader-friendly. I tend to get carried away with long sentences so will remember to shorten! What are h2 and h3 tags?

  • My list to add:

    1. The font should be big enough and readable. I am using 14px font size. Also don’t choose something like a cursive font for the main body text.

    2. Along with this I think the line height should be big enough. I’m currently using 24px on my site and I think it is very readable.

    Great tips on this article!

  • I’ve long struggled with the art of title writing, Darren. I tend to have a desire to write creative titles that simply aren’t effective. I really need to get in to the habit of writing short, snappy, and most importantly useful titles.

    I’ve always tried to use graphical demonstrations in my blog posts. Graphs, screenshots, tables of results etc. They’re easier for readers to digest and understand, and much more fun to look at when compared to text.

    Jamie

  • good post.
    catchy title does my job after getting certain amount of traffic.

  • Lately I’ve been finding that videos are welcomed as long as they are on topic and even better if you produce it yourself. I think that it also helps with ranking of your content as well, but I’m testing that out now and don’t have concrete proof.

  • Great post with many tips that I use on a regular basis. :)

    My top two posts of all time are lists. One with 10 items and the other with 50. People love to post those over and over again on facebook and in various discussion forums to help back up their own points. My third most popular post is about letting young children go naked…I’ll let you figure out on your own why that one is so popular. :P

  • I run a celebrity website, so I make sure that all of my media (images and video) are centered and all the same size. Presentation is important. ;)

  • The theme itself is of utmost importance, of course. Many themes I see simply do not format headers well, which makes it very difficult for readers to skim the content. In my opinion the headers should jump out from the content so the reader can get the idea in just a few seconds.

  • Amy

    I wish I’d read this before submitting my guest post to FeelGooder. :)
    I struggle with sub-headings, but I think the suggestion of using part of a sentence or phrase might help me. I will try that.
    I also am not very good with call to action. I like the thought that you’re blogging because you want people to do something; I’m going to incorporate that, too.

    I like the way Tess Giles Marshall formats her posts at Pilgrim’s Moon. http://www.pilgrimsmoon.com/
    They are really clean, engaging and easy to read.

  • One of the advantages of having a custom blog design is the ability to make your post attractive out of the box. Even without adding an image.

    In most cases, short sentences are good. But the advice proves to be counter effective in some cases. I have seen writing where people shop the sentences too short.

    The call to action is good. But the problem is having too many call to action. Focus on one call to action at the end. Not a bunch of them.

  • I suppose it’s because I’m an artist first and writer/ blogger second that #3 and #4 are important to me. I always analyze the visual impact. In art odd numbers are always more appealing to the eye so I try to have 3 photos in my posts. Occasionally it’s only 1, and rarely 5, but I think it flows better that way.

    White space is truly my friend. At first I thought it might be my age that made reading all the cramped small print so difficult but it’s really back to design. It just flows better that way and the blogs I read regularly are designed this way.

    I often struggle with titles and don’t think I’m getting any better at it. I need to start doing sub-headings more frequently.

    Thanks for the great tips!
    b

  • A very good article Darren, I just like how you invited comments using the principles you just talked about in 6 and 9 :-D personally I like using punchy paragraphs, keyword rich sub-headings and list posts.

  • I like #s 6-8. They are very effective in grabbing my attention when reading other blogs. I hope to use them to the same effect for those reading my posts. Great post! Thx for sharing.

  • Great article!

    When you have only 5 seconds to grab someone’s attention, it’s vital to write a headline that will reel them in. The shorter and more concise, the better.

    I love using bullets and bold text in my posts because they also warrant attention and help draw the reader’s attention down the page.

    The post doesn’t have to end on the page though. Finishing your post with a catchy lead-in to your opt-in form is also very powerful. For example:

    “There’s much more value to offer on this subject in my free “report” that you sign up for on the home page.”

    Great post, thank you!

  • What do you think about links to other sites in your post? Do they take readers away from your blog or do they tend to bring subscribers and repeat readers to your blog because you are a good resource?

    I try to keep my posts from going too long, but am caught between not giving enough information and thus ensuring my post is valuable and posting a novella; putting my readers into a coma.

    If I do use links to other blogs and sites, I post comments on their blogs if possible to draw readers from their site back to my relevant post.

    Thank you for the great tips.

  • gin

    I love writing my posts in lists and have found they are more popular than my other posts. When posting images, do you recommend a left/right alignment or a center alignment? Another blogger referred to center alignment as amatuer and I was just curious to hear your thoughts.

  • Darren,

    We’ve not seen you for a while now!

    It’s great to read one of your posts.

    I think this is an excellent refresher even for more experienced bloggers because it’s so easy to forgot a lot of these important elements of creating the perfect blog post or in my case, video post!

    Krizia

  • Point number 3 is often overlooked. People don’t like reading long blocks of text.

    I often try to keep each of my paragraphs between 1 and 4 lines if I can help it. Subheadings are also key to breaking up your text and making posts more readable.

    Other things like block quotes and bullets are awesome too for people to scan through your article.

    Thanks for the great post Darren! I always try and learn the most I can, appreciate the help you give!

    -Stephen

  • Good stuff Darren. The best change I made on my blogs was finding a picture or image for all of my posts. This helped keep the readers engaged and made what would of been plain text not so boring.

    I use sxc.hu or icon finder for free images, there’s always something I can use for my blog posts.

  • Great tips Darren! Subheadings makes sense for my lengthy posts. I want to keep readers engaged and not bore them with endless paragraphs :)

  • Hi Darren, good post.

    I think type faces and headline formatting specifically is super-important. I like big, in-your-face, web 2.0 headlines personally and have found them to be generally pretty effective. A lot of times, we’ll find blogs whose look-and-feel we like… and then have our design and dev team emulate them.

    Also including internal linking liberally with intuitive anchor text is really important in terms of getting people to engage w/ more content… not just read one post and dip.

    ProBlogger does a good job of this.

    As I post this, I see a bunch of links just below the comment box that have caught my attention and will probably be getting a click or two :)

    Good post, bro.

  • I like the idea of images… I already try to break up my posts in shorter paragraphs (but I have issues with the sentence-long paragraph, I don’t know, academic deformation…)

    What’s the etiquette around image use? I can’t just go and grab any photo from Google Images can I?

    • Anabelle, There are a number of sites where you can find free images without any legal hitches.

      Just do a search for ” Royalty free Stock Images”

      Many of your top search results will be LISTS!(Hey, did someone mention lists) Top 10, 15, 20 best Royalty free Stock image sites.

      Much of the licensing requirements revolve around whether your site is commercial or non commercial.
      I forget the actual licensing terminologies, though, the most liberal being that, as long as you add the source(Author, site etc) where you got the image from below the image, it’s perfectly fine(And free) to use on a commercial site.

      At the other end of the spectrum, the more legally binding sites(sources) forbid this outright, or require that you pay a particular fee(Possibly purchase a license to use the image(s)), or you must obtain direct permission(Written) from the author(Owner, site).

      There is a huge grey area that divides these two extremes.

      Daniel.

    • Deb

      You need to find out about copyright, most images are not free. Wikimedia commons (through Wikipedia) and Microsoft clipart are two simple sources. Microsoft clipart are free to use and if you click on images in Wikimedia commons it will show you the licence, most are free to use with attribution. Some Flickr images are also ok to use with attribution, they will show the licence, and many of the stock photo businesses have some free images.

  • Darren, I don’t know why, but I’ve recently forgotten to break up my posts and I can really see the benefit of doing it. I use sub headings, but just reading your article I realise that I need to have far more sub headings in my text to make it skimmable, even if it’s not read in it’s entirity.

  • Whoa ! Great tips, well written as always :)
    This is will be really helpful for me to turn my posts into little more attractive post.

  • This is true even in journalism :)

  • Hi Darren,

    there are two other things to consider:

    SEO – format text for the SERPs, eg bold the first keyword
    Humans – format text to make it easier to scan AND to increase the likelihood that the reader will read on

    Getting the balance right is tricky at times. Leo B does a good job at this, imho.

    Ivan

  • I highly agree with the fact that Images add life to the Posts and attracts users to view your posts.

  • Yeah! i have seen people today using flicker to get suitable picture for their blogspots and i guess its the best way to draw attention as picture can speak more then text.

  • Love these tips! A lot of these are things that are generally well-known (good headline, subheadings, short paragraphs), but others are tips I’ve seen vehemently argued AGAINST (using large photos, using bold/italics). I think that every last one of these can be used effectively to keep the reader engaged.

    One resource I’ve found particularly helpful when writing blog headlines is Sean D’Souza’s “Why Do Blog Headlines Fail?” PDF.

    http://www.psychotactics.com/psychoheadlines.pdf

    Great content is critical, but if we can’t snag a new reader by the title alone, we’ve closed the doorway to that amazing content.

    Thanks for compiling all these tips in one place!

    • That’s an excellent resource, Jana. I’ve been using it too and I’ve noticed a marked increase in the quality of my titles. I’m certainly not writing the best, but they’re better than they were.

      Jamie

      • I love it because it makes so much sense to me. I’ve read “research” on these kinds of psychology “tricks,” but that’s what they always seem like: tricks.

        I certainly don’t think anyone could use every single trigger in every single headline (although I’m sure now that I’ve said it, someone will point me to a resource where that’s true), but it does define some significant trigger concepts that can be incorporated into headline writing.

  • I always have a picture at the top of my posts.
    I’m gonna start putting in more pictures through the post.
    I also think readers love to hear personal storys.

  • Just a few thoughts. I’ve used polls in my posts. I’m not so sure that has so much to do w formatting as w being an attention grabber, but it works. Videos work for me also. So do photos that I have taken personally. When placed correctly, they are aesthetically pleasing, and interestng. And finally listing names of readers in my blog, in strategic locations — either by their personal name, or their blogs name, seems to please readers and draw them in.

    I agree w you, Darren — lists are great. I’ve read blogs in which the posts consisted of one large paragraph. Needless to say I never visited the blogs again, as I became very stressed and fatigued in reading! I’m not talking about short posts, but posts that lasted thousands of words long!

    Thanks for a great post, Darren, and for the great ideas! :)

  • Thanks for sharing these important tips but often overlooked. The crafting of a post can be likened to a piece of wood that turns into a beautiful object in the hands of a talented wood worker. It needs lot of chiseling, polishing etc. to achieve its beauty. The time and care provided to a post is directly proportional to the popularity it gains.

  • Great list to follow, combine that with on and off page SEO and a good writing style, you’ve got yourself a great blog.

  • In a nutshell, people don’t read, they skim. Make it easy for people to get the jist of what you’re saying without necessarily having to read every word. If you use images, make the images relevant and give them captions that sum up the paragraph around it.

    I’m a huge fan of mixing subheadings and lists. It allows people to get a lot of information quickly and easily without having to read tons of text.

    Thanks for the excellent information!

  • Beside it is easy to understand, using lists are also easy to compose especially for me as English is my second language..

  • Hey Darren,
    I just added guest posting to my blog. One of the criteria was no titles that stated’ “The Top Ten Ways To Do Something.” Just a pet peeve of mine but you are right about not dismissing them completely.

    You nailed it here so I don’t have anything else to add.

  • Not only a great Blog, but some useful comments as well!

  • Also, be sure to use as many exclamation points as possible!

  • Yep, agree with them all.

    Sub headings in particular make the post a lot easier to read.

    Personally I liked top lists. They’re short (for each point) and concise and let me know what’s popular. I do agree it gets a bit cliche though.

  • Great post. I still need to work on writing shorter paragraphs. It’s a work in progress.

    I like lists/numbers.

  • I think I use Step 6 throughout my blog and I think since doing so readers are more likely to spend around 85% to 90% more time on a post before moving on to another.

    I should really format my posts more according to Step 8. Great tips otherwise Darren!

  • Deb

    I admit to struggling with titles, I’m a pretty boringly factual person. Something I use to jazz them up a bit is little poetry tricks like alliteration and assonance. ‘Blowing Beautiful Bubbles’ works much better than ‘Making Bubblemix’ and is relatively simple.

  • Not strictly a formatting issue, but adding tags to your posts and using them effectively can help people to navigate your blog, especially if there are a few different topics that you cover.

  • As always; the tips and advice found here are great.
    When I see a long drawn out post I get put off it instantly – seriously, they say people have the attention spans of goldfish at times… I think I’m included. So short and well-written is key.

  • Yes, titles really makes difference. Second is H1 tags

  • Darren… one area that can be effectively used in a blog post is the use of color. Color on a sub head, color on a bullet list, or color in a box behind text… you just have to use it very sparingly and only on the one or two spots you want people to absolutely read.

    Color pulls the readers attention directly to the spot!

  • I think the first point on short and long title depends pretty much on your niche…I have a celebrity/gossip blog and personal development + blogging tips blog, with the former, long post titles does the magic. People jump to post with titles which say more about that content in that niche while with the former, the short title pulls curiosity, people dive in to read to get to know more as to what the title is saying….

  • This is great Darren. And, certainly something we are all challenged by on occasion.

    As a longtime reporter, I am all too familiar with the impact of a strong — but not misleading — headline. here is a recent example on my blog — after I found another woman’s underwear in my bedroom…

    http://www.parmfarm.com/blog1/i-found-another-womans-underwear-in-my-bedroom/

    Thx for the opportunity.

    Amy Parmenter
    The ParmFarm

  • Terrific post. I’m still new to blogging, so I’ve been playing around with formats and have been all over the place with it. I’m just trying to find that sweet spot, the format that works for my readers.

    Thanks so much for this. It’s given me some great ideas.

  • Of the nine items you have posted, I like the “Use visual images liberally.” If content is king, images are the court jesters. They provide the entertainment and visual appeal.
    Another item I would add is multiple choice surveys. They allow the reader to become involved with the blog and often provide immediate feedback about how other readers feel about similar issues. It’s another of those community building aspects of blogging.
    I try to have at least one survey per month on my blog, and I’m thinking of adding more.