The headline hooked me. The opening line perked up my ears. Insightful. Inspiring. Helpful. This blog post sliced right into the meat of the topic at the get-go and intrigued me with each passing sentence.
Then, I clicked the X.
No more. My eyes were bugging and I couldn’t keep track of what line I was on in the wall of black and white unformatted text. The blog post was UGLY and difficult to consume.
Are you presenting well-written content that’s visually terrible? Formatting may be the step you’re missing in your editing process to make those carefully crafted words more scannable, readable and enjoyable.
Remember, a little white space allows your reader to pause and process their thoughts on your topic.
In this post, I’m chatting about the importance of formatting your writing, whether it’s for a content marketing client, your personal blog or another online outlet. We stare at screens a good part of the day for work and personal enjoyment. So, let’s make it a better experience for readers.
- Formatting: What Your Client Wants
- 6 Ways to Improve Your Blog Post Formatting
- How Formatting Affects Search Engine Results
- 3 Examples of Easy to Read Online Content
Formatting: What Your Client Wants
If you’re writing something that’s been commissioned, always follow the client’s editorial guidelines. They are paying you to produce what they want, and if they request long paragraphs and no subheadings, so be it. But, that’s likely not the case if they understand anything about user experience. (Check out the Content Marketing Institute’s guide on editorial planning if you’re creating editorial guidelines for writers.)
Take a peek at the client’s current website for guidance if there’s no mention of formatting in the editorial guidelines or assignment brief. Do they have published posts on the blog you can review? Are there landing pages similar to what you’re creating to study? Emulate what you see if your content will be added to the mix of previously published pages on their current platform.
When the client requests content for a new website launch, you’ll need to ask specific questions about style. Sometimes when I’m creating seed content, they’ll share URLs from content that has inspired them, and I’ll use that as a guide for my formatting and tone.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and advertisements. I earn a small commission if you shop through them, which helps fund this website so I can continue to bring you amazing content. Thank you! ~Angela
6 Ways to Improve Your Blog Post Formatting
OK, so what might a client be asking for as far as formatting? And what can you do to format your own posts to keep readers on the page? So much, my friend! So much! Here are six common webpage formatting features.
- Use subheadings. These are mini headlines within the body of the text that help move a reader through the content. Subheadings are generally published with a larger and bolder font and help group similar information in sections. They make the text easier to scan so readers can jump to the topic they’re most interested in learning about.
- Vary paragraph and sentence length. When all of your sentences are super long and run on and on forever, the information gets tedious to read. Ditto for short sentences. Creating a mixture of long, medium and short sentences in a paragraph makes the text flow more naturally. And, it’s more enjoyable to read.
- Balance your sections. Speaking of subheadings and paragraphs, be sure they have a good rhythm on the page. If each section has three paragraphs, great. If you ebb and flow between two to four paragraphs per section, that looks nice too. However, if you have one section with ten paragraphs and another with two, the longer section may bog down your reader unless there’s some additional formatting, such as a list structure. Speaking of…
- Make scannable lists. Instead of creating a long sentence with lots of commas to separate items on a list, create a vertical list with one item per line. This is usually formatted with bulletpoints, numbers, checkmarks or even emojis to add a little more visual flair to light-hearted posts.
- Highlight a phrase. When I worked in the newspaper industry, we often created pull quotes to break up the long text of a feature story. A pull quote is when you literally pull a quote attributed to a source in the story and print it with a larger font, sometimes in italics, set apart from the body text of the post. An intriguing statistic or definition can also be formatted this way. This style of formatting makes the sentiments stand out to readers and add visual interest to the page.
- Change the font. Simple bolding, italicizing or increasing the size of the text can also help a reader better maneuver the content. For example, the bolded first sentences on this list make the text easy to scan for quick ideas if the reader doesn’t have time to dive into each explanation.
How Formatting Affects Search Engine Results
Readers aren’t the only ones scanning your text. Why hello there, Google. Search engines are constantly crawling web pages to gather data and decide how to rank the content in their results pages.
Yoast, the makers of a SEO optimization plug-in for WordPress users, explains that Google evaluates text structure for related words and how close they are to one another in the text, whether or not subheadings contain keywords and the use of synonyms related to your keywords.
Clear structure and language usage has a positive effect on webpage rankings, leads to lower bounce rates and higher social media sharing and engagement, per Yoast. To get on a search engine’s good list, they recommend presenting a strong lead that defines your article’s topic within the first paragraph, using descriptive subheadings (hello, formatting!) and being sure the first sentence of each paragraph has substance, and possibly a keyword.
Dylan at Search Engine Journal backs this up, explaining that what you write “above the fold” (love that old newspaper talk!) is important. Sharing the most important information at the start of the text keeps readers engaged. He says having a subheading, bulletpoint list and call-to-action (could be done as a pull quote) before people have to scroll down the page is an effective format for blog posts that keep readers’ eyes engaged.
3 Examples of Easy to Read Online Content
Let’s put all this together and review a few blog posts with visually pleasing formatting. The following posts use a variety of formatting elements discussed in this article, as well as additional visuals such as photographs, graphics and decorative buttons. Now, get inspired!
This article breaks up the text with the use of subheadings in a larger font than the body text, photographs, a numbered list, a checkmark list and italic font. The text overall is broken into paragraphs to transition the reader from one idea to the next easily.
This article uses subheadings, bulleted lists, a numbered list, photographs and bold text to make the article easier to read. A mixture of paragraph sizes and list items with just a few sentences gives the reader some time to pause and breathe as they read.
This long-form content was published both as a blog post and ebook in PDF format. A mix of varying paragraph lengths, subheadings, illustrations, pull quotes, bold text, clickable Tweets, numbered lists, use of bulletpoints and stylized clickable buttons make this post easily digestible despite its longer length.
Writing well isn’t enough when you’re trying to reduce bounce rates and keep readers moving through your content. Taking a moment to be mindful about your formatting will not only please your readers, but also make search engine bots happy too.
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