monitorNo matter how good your content is, if it is not laid out in an easy to read format, you risk losing your readers, and sacrificing valuable exposure in search engines.

Ask yourself: does a quick scan down my page give a new reader irrefutable evidence of what the content is all about? You typically have one shot as a reader scans your post title and section headers which will quickly answer, “this blog post is about xxxxxx, I think I’ll stick around”.

While your loyal readers might slog through a dozen paragraphs of plain text, new readers will not invest the time and HOPE they like what you have to say. As you look down the page of your blog do you require the reader to labor through long sections of text and “mine” the subject matter for themselves? Do they have to read an entire post before finally discovering they may or may not have cared about what you were saying?

With the exponentially growing amount of free content, TIME is becoming the valuable and scarce commodity we are competing for. Readers make ongoing choices about whether or not your content is worth the investment of their time. Headlines, subheads, callouts, lists and emphasis can give the reader what they need to quickly determine “should I invest my time?”.

The same structure that allows the readers to quickly scan, also help search engines, researchers, casual visitors and new readers to digest the purpose and topics of your blog resulting in more exposure and a wider audience. Let’s take a look:

Headlines

Headlines are your first chance to grab the reader and search engine traffic. No matter who GREAT your content is, if your headline is weak, too cutesy or a gimmick, then you probably won’t hook anyone. For educational blog posts like this one, I choose to state simply and clearly what the post is about. Not glamorous, but effective. Here are some examples:

  • Boring: Headlines and Other Formatting
  • To cutesy: Lose’em Before you Git’em
  • Not specific enough: Formatting Your Posts
  • Gimmicky: Hook Every Reader, Guaranteed

Subheads

Subheads break up your content into manageable sections and allow the reader a quick scan down the page. They get to sample the buffet before filling up their plate. If you have to pick ONLY ONE of these formatting types (besides the headline), I think subheads are most important because they are the roadmap, the signage, the summary of your post.

If you have to pick only one of these beside your headline,
subheads are the most useful.

Callouts

A callout is something you… call out. It can be like what I just did above with “If you have to pick one….” or it can be a sidebar, a box, a formatted portion of text that sticks out as different. A callout is a portion of content you are obviously drawing attention to. Careful: the callout should typically be SHORT… you can’t “callout” six paragraphs effectively (in a typical blog post). That’s what subheads are for.  Used effectively, callouts will present interesting points that encourage the visitor to read the whole body of content.

Bullets & Lists

Bulleted or numbered lists serve to encapsulate and organize information. You see a bulleted list above in the “Headlines” sections.  A numbered list implies order or priority:

  1. Write your headline
  2. Write the subheads
  3. Now write the body copy to fit the subheads
  4. Use lists and callouts to draw attention to and organize important points

Emphasis

Emphasizing words or phrases helps the reader pull the most important thoughts from your content. A word of caution though… if you emphasize too much you emphasize nothing. I often get content like the next paragraph and have to just laugh about it:

Emphasizing words or phrases helps the reader pull the most important thoughts from your content. A word of caution thoughIF YOU EMPHASIZE TOO MUCH you emphasize nothing.

Seriously, I get entire emails and see whole blog posts formatted that way. I even have graphic design clients who insist on over-emphasizing almost everything on their ad or brochure. Again, if you emphasize too much, you emphasize nothing.  Use is sparingly and with caution.

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You’ve probably already noticed I used all these formatting suggestions in this post. Hopefully I’ve accomplished exactly what I’m trying to teach you: easy scanning by new readers, readability and highlighting enough interesting tidbits that you were compelled to read the entire post.

Did it work?

What are your questions about formatting your blog posts?

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