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Make Your Posts Scannable – RSS Feeds that POP

RssI 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.

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.

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Comments

  1. I’ve recently found Gregarius – an RSS reader that is installed into your server.

    It handles images and videos really well, but has a slight problem when in comes to text formatting. I don’t know how these formatting issues can been overcome by any publisher.

    You can check out my installation here: http://www.47grades.com/aggregator

  2. Jen says:

    I agree – all of those are great. I use the “lists” idea with a stylized callout like on this “Top 10″ List:

    http://www.freelancetipster.com/2007/01/21/who-is-your-ideal-client/

    :) jen

  3. Ashish Mohta says:

    One more thing can attract is use of an small image, when you want to draw attention towards a specific point. Like when you give a download link, you can have an image which transmits the meaning of download.Its used in almost of the sites when u get to download stuff.

    Some of the themes have this css inbuilt like for information, alert.

    That can draw attention too.

    I am not able to use full feed due to wp 2.1 however and thats cause of more tag.Hope to find a solution soon.

  4. Evorgleb says:

    i agree with this. I always try to make my post as scannable as possible to catch the eyes of readers

  5. Rubén Calvo says:

    I agree. “I make post to readers”, this is very important to my blog. Visits, etc.

  6. Jeff says:

    When I’m scanning, I usually completely blow over the “partial feeds” because they’re so short. Unless the title grabs me it doesn’t even register. Full feeds I’m more likely to scan and see something I want to read.

    Further fodder for the partial vs. full feed debate.

    http://averageidea.com

  7. MJR/slef says:

    Good tips. I’ve just updated my work home page to be more scannable, but I’ve not really thought about how many of the above I do for my blog and where I could improve.

    For what it’s worth, I’m using a homebrew aggregator (with the horrendous name schycyrssmerge2) and it now handles html, but I view it without images, video or scripts – they can’t be trusted for feeds in general.

  8. I’m a big fan of Newsgator. I’ve used Bloglines and Google Reader but I think the Newsgator format and interface is much more user-friendly and lends itself to easier reading. Plus, I like the way that I can quickly scan posts and “tag” them to automatically be placed into “My Clippings” file that I can then go and read.

    I’m a big believer in providing links at the end of my blog posts and it’s very convenient to simply go through my Newsgator “My Clippings” folder and link to the more interesting items on my blog post.

  9. j. noronha says:

    I don’t think I’m the usual RSS reader, I use it just to keep up with what’s new and open the blog itself in a new tab. But one thing is certain: long blocks of text are exausting on screen. Short paragraphs help to keep the interest. I’ve always used this way of writing and even my long posts have a lot of comments.

  10. Avinio says:

    Nice point!
    I’m always seeing in my reader posts that…let’s say it seems
    they doing all to make run away from them ;)

    pity, cause imagine how many interesting things i could find,
    and the most important, maybe i wont delete it later.

    great article Darren!

  11. Jim Logan says:

    I use Netvibes…formatting is handled well, I haven’t noticed anything rendering improperly.

    Related to your post, how do you assess pictures used with posts? I’ve written for blog networks that require pictures with every post and others who are indifferent.

    In your experience, does a post with a picture “perform” better than the same post offered without one?

  12. alec says:

    I actually use Sage — a Firefox plugin that is clean and small. I think if I had a lot of sites I was pulling feeds from (I only do around 10 sites), I’d have to do a standalone program.

    Quick question: what WordPress plugin do people recommend for WordPress 2.0 or 2.1 for feeds? I’m just using FeedWordPress which doesn’t do a whole lot for me… thanks!

  13. Has anyone done a post comparing how different feed readers render content?

  14. Josh Puckett says:

    This is definitely true. Making text easy to scan is like one of the first lessons in Design 101. Being a designer, it makes me very happy to see blog’s (and indeed anything, be it packaging, magazines, etc.) that are designed with scanning in mind. Great post :)

  15. Maki says:

    I use and love Google reader.. it’s pretty clean and I like how easy it is to use. I occasionally use Netvibes also because it allows you read feeds at a much faster pace.. by looking at the headlines of several posts in multiple blogs at the same time.

    The predominance of feed reading just emphasizes the importance of having attention grabbing post titles ..

  16. Anthony C says:

    Great article, Darren!

    I Really can not wait to read the rest of the series

  17. Well, I am glad to hear that I am doing some of these tips already! Now I only have to adjust a few things!!

  18. this could definitely be of some help because it would make the rss feed seem more like a part of your website.

  19. Vyom says:

    I started using netvibes after you suggested it Darren and i have no regrets its just great. So far i have not experienced any kind of problem.

    I got one question for you which one is the best feed reader according to you ?

  20. Darren Rowse says:

    I’m a google reader user these days.

  21. I defiantly agree with short paragraphs are way more effective and readable by feeds. Also a great way to make feeds work even better is to interlink them all because some people think only static pages has to be interlinked. Keep interlinking those post and feeds will be more effective. Great insights

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  1. [...] 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. Source: Make Your Posts Scannable – RSS Feeds that POP [...]

  2. [...] Scannable Content [...]

  3. [...] RSS feeds that pop.  My blogging friends should know that I and others read your posts not on your page but through a feed-reader (at least at first).  This tip from Problogger will help you make them catch attention and invite clicks. [...]

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