I recently watched two fellow bloggers work through their news aggregators (one was using Google Reader, the other Bloglines). In both instances the method that they used was to quickly scan content – only briefly stopping to read a sentence or two here and there – and occasionally opening up a post in a new tab of their browser.
People scan websites at the best of times – but I suspect that when it comes to news aggregators the scanning of content goes to a whole new level.
As a result it becomes particularly important for bloggers wanting to grab the attention of RSS readers to do whatever they can to make their content scannable.
Techniques for scannable RSS feeds are not dissimilar to those for scannable websites of any type and include:
- Use Lists – using bullet points draws the eye and makes your content more digestible
- Headings – headings scattered throughout your posts stand out on the page and give your readers visual cues that lead them down into your post. They also quickly communicate where you’re heading (no pun intended) with your post and can intrigue readers enough to get them fully reading what you have to say.
- Formatting – using different text formatting (bold, italics, font sizes and even colors) can also draw the eye of your readers to different parts of your posts. Be careful about going too over the top though.
- Blockquotes – highlight quotes or other key parts of your posts with blockquotes that indent text – again this draws the eye and adds variety into your feed.
- Short Paragraphs - News aggregators are heavily laden with text at the best of times – but add to it with large unbroken slabs of text and you’ll end up turning off many readers.
Once again – the benefits of using these techniques will not just make your RSS feeds Pop – they’ll make the posts on your actual site pop too!
Of course to use the above tips you’ll need to have a full feed with html formatting enabled in your posts. Don’t worry for those of you using excerpts – tomorrows tip will be something more useful for you.
I should also mention that from my experience of using a variety of news aggregators – most seem to be moving towards handling this type of formatting. I can’t guarantee that all do however. I’m a Google Reader user and find that it reproduces formatting pretty well – Bloglines seems to also (although I rarely use it these days). I’d love to hear from readers as to what feed readers they use and how well they handle formatting, images, video etc.