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How to Polish Posts: Individual Blog Post Design

Much is written about how to ‘design blogs’ (as a whole) but another element of ‘blog design’ that I think is just as important, yet not written about much, is the design of individual blog posts.

How blog posts ‘look’ is so important. I’ve seen the power of ‘polishing’ posts time and time again.

Polish-Blog-PostsImage by Darwin Bell

I still remember the time that I took one of my early posts on my Digital Photography blog and polished it up. The original version of the post was largely text. It had one image in it but it was fairly bland and was more there to illustrate a point than anything.

The content remained almost identical – but I added 5 images to the post (images that still illustrated the point but eye catching ones), added sub headings to each paragraph and reformatted one section into a ‘list’ rather than just a block of text.

I then republished the post at the top of my blog as new.

The result was amazing!

The next day the post had 50+ comments, was on the front page of Digg and it was being linked to by blogs everywhere. The old version had received 2 comments and had previously gone largely unnoticed.

This is the power of paying attention to how your blog posts look.

Why Polishing Blog Posts Works

There are a number of important reasons why polishing blog posts is worth putting a little extra time into:

  • First impressions – in the same way that your overall blog design conveys messages to readers about what your blog is about and whether they should subscribe – the formatting and design of single posts says a lot about you to first time visitors.
  • Grabbing Attention – loyal readers may rarely visit your actual blog if they follow it via RSS so one might not think post design matters – but in actual fact post design has a massive impact in the realm of RSS where there is little to set your posts apart from others. A good picture or clever use of formatting can really grab the attention of someone scanning through their feeds.
  • Reinforce Content – visuals in a post can reinforce points that you’re using within content. Illustrative images, video, charts, graphs, tables etc – all will connect with visual readers in a way that text cannot.
  • Connect with Web Reading Habits – most web users don’t ‘read’ content word for word. They scan content, looking for elements of web pages that draw their eye and for keywords that connect with what they are interested in. As a result the way you design your posts can be the difference between someone actually ‘reading’ your post or just glossing over it.

How to Polish Blog Posts:

Following are a number of areas that I consider when polishing blog posts. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you’d add to the list – I’m sure there are plenty more.

  • Images – images on posts are gold! They draw the eye and grab attention, they illustrate points, they inspire, they engage the imagination and they connect with visual learners. In a largely text based medium – the use of good image can set a blog post apart from the crowd – learn to use them!
  • Charts and Diagrams – similarly, good charts, graphs and diagrams add depth to content and give posts a visual point of interest.
  • Formatting – one of the big mistakes that I see guest posters submitting posts to me making is that their posts come to me largely as large slabs of uninteresting looking text. Most people don’t ‘read’ content online – they ‘scan’ it. As a result you need to work hard to break up your text and draw attention to important points. Using lists is one way of doing this, as is using bold, italics, font size and color, blockquotes and other formatting techniques.
  • Sub Headings – I am a fan of sub headings – rarely a post goes by that I don’t put <h3> tags around some important part of my post to draw the eye, start a new section or break up a slab of text. One quick tip I’d give on sub headings is to think about them in similar ways to ‘post titles’. The purpose of a subheading is to get people to read the text under it – so ‘craft’ sub headings using some of the same techniques as we mentioned in our post on crafting titles.
  • White Space – a simple line break or a little extra space around an image can have a big impact upon how your post looks. Let your content breathe.
  • Short Paragraphs – one edit that I often make with posts submitted by others on my blogs is to break up paragraphs into shorter ones. This makes posts seem less overwhelming and more achievable for readers to read.
  • Break Posts Up – at times after writing a post it becomes clear that you’ve written something that is simply too long or covers too much territory. Rather than publishing it – breaking it down into a couple of smaller posts can do wonders for how the post looks to readers. Many readers would much rather read two single posts that are more focused than a longer rambling one that covers too much ground. This is actually what I’ve done with this very post – originally it was the 2nd half of my post on Quality Control but I realized that while related, the topics were perhaps a little too different to cover in the one post.
  • Highlight and Reinforce Main Points - pay attention to using some of the above techniques when it comes to your main point and call to action. If your post is a long one – it can actually be useful to repeat your main point numerous times within your post (in the introduction, main body of the post and then as a closing sentence).

What would you add to this list of ‘post design tips’? How do you ‘polish’ your posts to maximize their impact?

Further Reading on Quality Control and Polishing Your Blog Posts:

Read the Full Series

This post is part of a series on how to craft blog posts. It will be all the more powerful if taken in context of the full series which looks at 10 points in the posting process to pause and put extra effort. Start reading this series here.

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. Sire says:

    Darren, I like the way you re-introduce certain aspects into your posts that were also part of previous posts. It sort of reinforces certain points.

    I assume that you would apply ‘polish’ to a post after it didn’t have the right impact upon publishing. After all, I am sure that we have all published posts thinking they were spot on, only to discover that they could do with a little touch up, or a bit of a polish, so to speak.

  2. Sunil Pathak says:

    I believe only 15% of your blog reader actually read your post word to word, remaining 85% will just scan headers and sub headers.

    with that fact in my mind i try to keep my headers and sub header as suggestive as possible. split my post in many short paragraph rather then one mini novel one.

    this strategy have helped me convert those casual blog visitor into a readers (and some times a subscriber)

  3. Louis Liem says:

    The growing number of your current blog’s reader is also contributing to the increase in the post’s popularity, I think. However the effect will maybe less if the post was republished just exactly the way it had been.
    Another thing to polish posts is we can also add facts or knowledge we didn’t aware of at the time we published the old post.
    Thanks for listing the ideas :)

  4. Louis Liem says:

    Here comes more: rewrite the titles and more proofreading. Recommend affiliate products if possible and open up a discussion if you have more readers than you used to.

  5. chris says:

    I echo Louis’ thought—adding updates after the fact shows your readers that you care about your content to admit mistakes or add value even after the fact.

  6. FFB says:

    After writing a post I always preview to see how it looks to the eye. Is it too cluttered? Does everything line up properly? Are key points properly highlighted. It adds time to the writing process but with out the “polishing” an article may not get as many views as it should.

    I recently had a post that I wrote out. After looking at it I realized I could break it into two subjects on one theme and make two posts out of it. This increased readability, built up anticipation for the 2nd post, and increased traffic for both.

  7. Todd Andrews says:

    You have 3 seconds to hook your reader. Most never master that.

  8. Gavin Heaton says:

    I always re-read my posts. Sounds daft, I know, but it also help to close the post well. That really means linking the title, the first para and the conclusion in some kind of framework.

  9. Ryan says:

    Charts and diagrams, and splitting up posts that are too long and may contain two posts in one are good for informational type blogs. I’d like to hear more about what I think is a rising number of “Sunday Column” blogs–ones that build on the origins of blogging (an online journal) and make them into polished articles you would find in the old Dave Barry Sunday columns or maybe Dear [insert name here] columns. People who tell stories, who entertain, use different methods. Some of the ones you mentioned still apply, but there are more.

  10. KiwiPulse says:

    I remember I did polished one of my post that was unpopular because of the lack of pictures and content. That’s what we can call a quick post. But once I did more research on what I will write to add a punch on the post. I received more traffic than expected. My post got stumbled and received thousands of visitors because I have added more pictures. I have also received traffic from google search engine since I changed my content to be more relevant to my title. My idea of the post was excellent, but the lack of effort to make the post more interesting was missing. Polishing it only make it better. :D

  11. Thanks for the link Darren.

    One thing you could add to the list above is lists. We all talk about list posts, but a short list helps create white space and breaks up blocks of paragraphs. Same for blockquotes.

    Images will have the most impact. Awhile back I started using the Photo Dropper plugin for WordPress. It makes finding and inserting images into posts very easy. I’ve definitely noticed an increase in the rate of new subscribers since adding more images to posts.

  12. Hamdani Amin says:

    I always preview my post before I publish it. And yes, agreed with Sire and Louis, sometimes I re-post certain post to reinforce the usefulness and impact the post.

  13. Young says:

    I am always polishing my posts, and read at least twice before publishing, I have to learn more about “how to” polish since my readers are not much enough.

  14. Andre Kibbe says:

    I used to scoff at lists and subheadings, assuming that they were only for readers with low attention spans. Then I realized that a blog post isn’t like a page in a book. Monitors are placed two to three feet away from the reader’s eyes, so a blog post is more like a poster or a flyer than a book page, which is why elements like whitespace and subheadings are so critical. Graphical layout is almost as important to effective online copywriting as the content.

  15. Sid Savara says:

    I have been doing the same thing recently, but not republishing my posts as new. I have been using “teasers” on the front page to have people click through rather than having full articles on the homepage, and have been adding images to boot.

    I think it’s definitely working as it builds people’s curiosity in the article, where before I just had long and fairly boring looking blocks of text, but he quality of the content was still getting people to read.

  16. Rob O. says:

    I’ll add another vote for proofreading. It’s always worth one last glance through your post to check for grammar and spelling correctness. And it’s also during this final pass that I look for wordy or ambiguous passages that need to be made more concise and/or clear. There’s no doubt that the visual aspect of your posts is important, but even the snappiest-looking post won’t fare well if the content isn’t up to snuff.

  17. This post gave me an idea which I will try to implement tomorrow.

  18. I agree that formatting can make or break a post. When I first started blogging, my posts looked “boring.” I had no bold, or bullets in any of them. Using lists and catchy headlines can really draw people into your post and encourage comments.

  19. One of the things that I do is add images. I know that people are more likely to read posts when images are there for them to look at. I also try to break up my paragraphs into shorter bit size pieces.

  20. Gerard says:

    Darren, if you want to see the ultimate in polished posts, check out Jason Santa Maria’s new layout for his blog.- each post has hand crafted CSS and imagery that makes it look more like a magazine article than a web page!

  21. joe gelb says:

    does reworking the post throw two semi duplicates in the search engine?

  22. Mike Nichols says:

    I have recently converted my blog to the Thesis theme, which allows easy formatting of posts to draw more attention.

    I use section headers, pullquotes and framed images to draw the reader’s eye to important information.

    Since I started doing this, readership has increased two-fold and time on the page has tripled.

    My blog has the good fortune of having a long tail, so I’m going bag and polishing up my old posts, too.

    Thanks for another important article, Darren!

  23. Steven Snell says:

    Thanks for the link Darren. Formatting is definitely important. I know it impacts me as a reader when I’m on other blogs. I think most of us get in the habit of publishing before we’ve given enough thought to the readability and formatting.

  24. I like how you made the “The result was amazing!” line stand out. That was a cool trick. It’s got me thinking about how to do something similar with my own posts.

    And thanks for the link! :)

  25. SEO Genius says:

    Great tips but where the heck do i find images for my site’s articles?

    I always struggle to find images which are free and relevant do you have any recommendations.

    Thanks

  26. Sire says:

    @SEO Genius. I use the Zemanta wordpress plugin, something that I picked up from one of Darren’s previous posts. It doesn’t always come up with the right image, but when it does it’s pretty well spot on.

  27. LittleRoom says:

    Ooh, this is interesting. I’ve recently made a decision not to use images in my posts, mostly because I know myself! I could very easily spend hours hunting down the perfect picture (I love a good diversion and there’s no sense in trying to fight it) so I’m just not going there.

    I do use all the other polishing techniques you mention so hopefully my tender new blog won’t be sent to the ugly corner after all!

  28. impNERD says:

    Great article. I definitely agree on this, but sometimes I have a hard time bringing myself to finding images or formating the text in a way that is readable.

  29. Andre Thomas says:

    These are great advice on how to increase readability. (Is that even a word?)

  30. Dedushka says:

    It’s useful, thanks! Space and images are critically important things.

  31. Darren, thanks for another great article. Your blog is the most useful one that I read.

    I’ve found that varying the image locations in different posts works well. I try to alternate between left and right aligned images between consecutive posts to bring visual balance.

  32. Every time I read one of your posts, not only do I get a ton of help but I get a ton of spin off ideas to post about on my own blog. So many ideas, so little time!

  33. john says:

    It isn’t clear to me if after you have polished your post and republished it as new whether you delete the old post or not? I would assume you wouldn’t, but that you maybe would include a link to the “updated” article?

  34. Syed Balkhi says:

    This is a technique that works on daily basis. I have done it on my blog as well. And it works like charm. The only thing I worry about is duplicate content, so instead of copying and pasting the article, I rewrite it but in a better way. Update with latest insights.

  35. Anemone says:

    Heh, I was just going to write a post on visual design elements assisting in comprehension and the attractiveness of a post … beat me to it. (This time!)

    – Heidi

  36. Angel Cuala says:

    This is what I have been trying to do on every post I publish. I provide at least 4 sub headings with at around 100 words per heading that makes each article close to 500 words.

    I also spend around 30 minutes looking for a picture that would add sauce to the topic.

    Lastly, I provide a quote at the end of each post which I think adds inspiration to the readers. Most of the time, my commentators admits that they love it.

    My problem now is consistency and I feel I am running out of good posts. Ideas are overflowing in my mind but I am afraid I may not make my next posts better than the recent ones.

    I hope one time, you can give me some tips on how to re-post an old post and make it better.

    Thanks!

  37. sandnsun says:

    Great tips on posting and polishing the blog. I think presentation is as important as the contents. As per one of your points, first impression is the last impression.

  38. bagus says:

    “a picture is worth a thousand words”
    I always use picture when I have bad mood in writing.
    Picture sure is draw the visitors attention. It also can cover my bad writing quality lol
    thanks for the other tips of polishing blog posts

  39. I think a lot of printed media is going the way of “small bites”; I attribute this to the number of people who are reading magazines on stairstep and other cardio machines where it’s hard to concentrate on anything too visually dense.

    I appreciate subheads, short paragraphs and a bit of color or an image.

  40. gendut says:

    refreshing old articles to be shining…and getting amazing result, very good idea……

  41. audrey says:

    Thanks for the tips. I don’t really have a blog but I think this applies to anyone who writes web content. Articles also need some polishing from time to time, I think.