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How to Format Blog Posts Effectively

Beyond writing good quality content, how can I format my posts so that they communicate more effectively?”

I was asked the above question by a reader earlier today on Twitter and shot them back a series of DMs with the following suggestions that I thought might interest others (I’ve expanded them here).

Image by Kailash Gyawali

Of course, as the question implies, the most powerful communication strategy for bloggers is quality of writing—but beyond that, here are a few things I’ve found helpful over the last nine years of blogging.

1. Your blog post titles are everything

Okay, they’re not everything, but they’re often the main thing people look at to decide whether they’ll read your post. So take time to hone them.

Use a title that grabs people’s interest, but also leads them into what you want to talk about. You don’t want to grab interest with a sensational post title that has little to do with what the post is actually about.

2. When writing longer titles…

I generally try to make my blog post titles reasonably short. They seem to have more impact, and they’re easier to share on the social web.

However, sometimes a longer title is necessary. If you’re using one of those, make the first words in the headline get straight to the point. The first words in a headline seem to be the ones that have the most punch—choose them wisely.

3. Use short, punchy paragraphs

One of the main edits that I do on guest posts submitted to dPS is to simply break up long paragraphs.

Large slabs of text are unattractive to those reading online, so break it down!

4. Use images liberally

Similarly, a whole page that is just text tends to be a turn off to many readers.

Adding a visually appealing image to the top of a post will grab attention and draw people in.

Using images throughout longer posts will also draw the eye of your readers down the page and keep them engaged.

Larger images are said to be good. One study I heard about recently found that bigger images draw people to look at them for longer—keeping people engaged.

5. Faces can also draw attention

Faces in images also tend to hold people’s gazes for longer.

As humans, we’re wired to connect with others’ faces, so using them in a post seems to grab attention, draw people in, and hold their attention a little longer.

I’ve particularly found this to be true on Digital Photography School, where we regularly feature portrait images.

You may not be able to use faces in every post you do, but keep the principle in mind and test it for yourself.

6. Break up posts with subheadings

Those viewing of your site will often scan your content when they arrive on your page to find out if it is relevant to them.

So if you have some main points, highlight them with sub headings.

Your sub headings should give a snapshot of what your post is about, but also draw people into reading it.

One effective technique with sub headings is to only say half a sentence or phrase in them. I’ve done this in points #3 and #7 in this post. By doing so, you signal what that section is about without giving away everything—you give people a reason to stop and read.

When looking at a design or theme for your blog, try to make sure that whoever designs it has good options for heading tags. I use h2 and h3 tags pretty regularly in my posts (it can also be advantageous for SEO).

7. Lists: we love to hate them, but…

Many bloggers are obsessed by list-type posts and, as a result, others look down at them.

However, they’re very very effective in terms of bringing in readers and communication effectiveness. You probably don’t want to use them in every post, but don’t write them off completely.

Further Reading: 8 Reasons why Lists are Good for Getting Traffic to your Blog.

8. Use formatting to your advantage

Make your blog posts a little more visual but breaking up your text visually with formatting changes.

You can go over the top with this but using basic formatting like bolding and italicising words can draw the eye to your key points effectively.

Similarly using blockquotes or some kind of call-out box for key sections of your article can draw people to important parts of what you’re communicating.

9. Call people to do something

If you want to be “effective” as a blogger, you must have some goal in mind for what you want your readers to do.

If this is the case, it is important to actually call your readers to do that in some way through your article.

The call to action might be anything—it could be to apply what you’re writing about in your own life, to go away and do a little homework, to react to the post in comments, to share the post with someone else… but the key is to actually invite your reader to do these things, rather than just assume that they will.

What would you add?

I’d love to hear your advice to a blogger wanting to improve the effectiveness of communication through the way that they format and design their blog posts.

  • What has worked for you?
  • Do you apply any of the above principles, or have you found other styles and approaches to work better for you?
  • Lastly, feel free to share a link to a blog post that you or someone else has written that you think is styled effectively.
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 enjoyed this post very much, Darren!

    Agreed: away with the walls of endless text! People see these and it’s an instant “Next!”

    Because we’re reading on a computer or similar monitor type of set-up, the eyes are already strained enough. We really do need web formatting to be both appealing to the eye, as well as easy to read. Seeing those uber-long paragraphs is the web equivalent to getting served a giant heaping mountain of pasta – you lose your appetite right away.

    And, of course, this post was indeed expertly formatted to the finest detail!

    Many thanks,

    Peter

  2. Great post! Thank you and well formatted.

    If posting a ‘how-to-do-something’ post, I like when the images follow a story line with a comment or two under each image explaining something about what it is the reader if viewing. Each image should encourage (or lead) the reader to keep reading so they can eventually view the final result at the end of the post. This helps to keep the momentum going.

    Janine Gregor
    Virtual Assistant

  3. André says:

    Pretty pictures! For longer articles, I use several. Otherwise, one at the top does the trick.

    If you’re like me, try to avoid the usual stock photos. I search Flickr for CC-licensed photos and have always found something eye-catching. Another good source for similar-licensed photos is Wikimedia Commons.

  4. I really love a very concise blog post: one line intro, one paragraph exposition, one line call to action. Seth Godin’s posts are sometimes beautifully brief yet insightful.

    One thing I’d like to raise about formatting is to remember some of us are reading your posts via RSS or email subscription. So the lovely formatting you apply on your *site* isn’t necessarily what we see when we’re reading your *content*…

    Thanks for the tips!

  5. Thanks for these. I do almost all of these. My titles can be a little long at times and I just started using bold and italics to highlight points. It’s hard to get feedback on your content so hopefully these work better for readers but I like using these ideas as well.

    • Brianna says:

      I’m also a huge fan of using bold and italics to highlight points. I try very hard to avoid long paragraphs and use short punchy ones instead. But my natural writing style is long and flowy and sometimes I just can’t bring myself to break up those longer paragraphs. In those cases, I underline or bold my main point so impatient readers can get the gist quickly

  6. Laurie says:

    Really enjoyed this information!
    I have been writing a Blog for a year or so. I find it difficult sometimes to come up with things to talk about other than destinations, so I get Guest bloggers in to write about their holiday experience. Seems to help getting people to see the blog. I also have found that lots of pictures help as people can then see what the destination is like and they know the picture was taken by us!

  7. Yvonne Laine says:

    Thanks for the great advice Darren. I’m quite new to the blogging world and am enjoying reading the myriad of articles to both improve my skills and learn how to market effectively. It’s refreshing to read posts that are not so technical, “holier-than-thou” or so wordy I get overwhelmed — your information is straight, to the point, and easy to implement — thank you!

  8. Laura says:

    We talk to our clients about these sorts of things all the time. I think most people are intimidated by blogging, until we show them the power good content holds. I also suggest to them to vary the content they publish. It’s OK to write short posts or do a video instead of always posting longer posts.

    And, the face thing is interesting. I wonder if faces are more effective when they are looking at you, rather than a profile, for instance? It seems like there would be some sort of pseudo eye-contact principle in play there.

  9. Angie says:

    Thanks Darren! All very good points. Your blog demonstrates all of these points very well. Another blog site which follows these tips well is http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com

    I think it’s worth mentioning the importance of being concise, while still telling your story. We often find ourselves with two killer sentences but perhaps they are redundant, and one will have to go. It’s tough on the writer, but easier on our reader!

  10. I’ve always had a bit of difficult with titles. Some people say to make them strictly relevant to your post so that search engines can easily find them. Others say to be creative to draw in readers. I usually do both by including some creative follow by a hyphen, then something more strict. For example, for a game review of Fun Game the title might be Fun Like You’ve Never Had – A Fun Game Review. Titles like this may get a bit lengthy, but they include the best of both worlds.
    Thanks for the helpful post, Mr. Rowse!

  11. Hey Darren, this is the sort of post that puts the Pro in Problogger. Every blog I read filters through your list, and now it’s on here.

    If bloggers, me included, followed these guidelines/suggestions, there’d be a lot less “I owe an apology to my readers for neglecting this space” or “Yesterday I was thinking of what to post today…”

    A screenwriting class I took here in Oregon broke down scripts the way you broke down blog posts. Formatting is a key to comfort, and once you get a reader in their comfort zone they understand what you’re saying so much better.

    What would I add?

    One of the funs things I’ve discovered is twisting song lyrics to help make a post’s point. The most recent is The Stones ‘Paint It Black.’ Mick and Keith hold the keys to the blocked blogger. And so do you.

    Thanks,

    David

  12. Bill Cobb says:

    Hi Darren, Thank you so much for this guidance. It’s difficult for me to keep my Titles shorter and not truncated. You mentioned Digital Photography School hyperlinked and the link isn’t working. Can you please fix the link or reply with it. I Googled it but am not sure if the Matt Brett site is where you meant to direct us to? Thank you so very much. Bill

  13. Nice summary. I would only add to be sure to make it super easy for people to comment. I hate no finding the button and especially captcha.

    • Totally agree with you regarding both: 1.) having to subscribe before commenting, and 2.) captcha’s. You should be making easy for me to share my opinion, not laying out barriers!

  14. Ifham khan says:

    Hi Darren you are said right about the Images we post in article. If we use big images of faces much attract reader.
    Thanks for sharing and I really love your articles

  15. Archan Mehta says:

    Darren,

    Thank You.

    You have made some valid points here. That makes this an interesting post to read–right on the money.

    Readers have notoriously short attention spans. So, my suggestion would be to focus on a word count.
    Say, one thousand words could be the maximum, but even that is pushing it. Really long posts and long-winded ones tend to fall off the radar screens of the readers. These days, nobody has the time to read an epic saga anyway. Everybody has other stuff to attend to and time is limited and tasks are many.

    It is necessary to include a picture along with every post. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, but in general this is true. A relevant and appropriate picture can captivate a reader immediately. Such a reader is then more likely to be receptive to your words and ideas. Something to keep in mind, that’s all.

    Break your posts down into neat, little paragraphs. Open every new idea with a fresh paragraph. That is pleasing to the eye and also makes sense, logically. There should also be a sequential and rational flow between paragraphs: there has to be a seamless transition. Otherwise, you will lose your readers.

    Cheers.

  16. Sam Beamond says:

    Here’s a couple additional thoughts that I would add:
    1. “How to” type posts have proven to be effective for me, especially for organic SEO. People are searching Google to find out how to do something and come across my blog
    2. As well as break up large paragraphs into smaller ones, try to make the first line of each paragraph interesting, in a similar way to the headline. That way readers who skim for content will get stopped and become more engaged with the post.
    In closing, the most engaged blog post I wrote took several revisions to get what I wanted out of it. Much of the points here were included in the format (bar an image) and consequently has been my most engaged post to date. The post talks about “Blogging for SEO”, read it here: http://bit.ly/krvVKM

    • Sam: Definitely agree with you! “How To” posts are generally received as some of our top posts as well. Heck, one of my YouTube videos hit 25,000+ views!

  17. rakesh kumar says:

    This is an awesome post. Thanks for such a great writeup. I love reading your posts on regular basis.

  18. Completely agree with breaking up paragraphs. I ALWAYS try to make each paragraph as short as possible. This is one of the most valuable things I learned in a Business Writing class in collgege. This philosophy should be applied when writing e-mails as well. Bottom line, we’re lazy and big paragraphs looks like way too much work.

  19. Completely agree with breaking up paragraphs. I ALWAYS try to make each paragraph as short as possible. This is one of the most valuable things I learned in a business writing class in college. This philosophy should be applied when writing e-mails as well. Bottom line, we’re lazy and big paragraphs look like way too much work.

  20. Darren: Awesome write-up and I agree with all of your points! I don’t know that I have much to add but I’ll share my process here…

    I start with the post title (the shorter the better) and I try and keep in mind that people are going to hit the Tweet button to share it. That said, I try to go with a headline that reads well (the shorter the better). I always end up scribbling several headline ideas before proceeding to write the rest of my post.

    Once I get to actually writing, I try and use lists or bold headings to break up the texts. That way it’s easier for people to read and skim through (I know I like to skim through content).

    Lastly, every single post NEEDS to have one image. No excuses. Again, it just makes it easier on the eyes and welcoming for people to read. Sometimes, finding the right photo seems to take the longest amount of time, but it’s totally worth it.

  21. Thank you for all the great tips! I am a beginner and I will be sure to implement these tips into my posts. Below is a post that I think is styled nicely but I fail to ask the reader to act….

    http://mysunshineaz.blogspot.com/2011/05/diy-media-center.html

    Love the blog!

  22. These are all some amazing tips you have here! I definitely agree with breaking up post, big blocks of post make my eyes hurt!

  23. Swamykant says:

    I believe an image per post is must. Nice post.

  24. Great post! I’ve used all of these, even the occasional listicle – begrudgingly – and it they really do seem to help. Subheadings have been especially helpful since I made the move to WP, especially since my posts can be on the long side. Same with images. And I definitely agree that something about larger images keep me more engaged. There’s something about tiny images that just turns me off from a blog post.

    I don’t have anything to add – I think you nailed them!

  25. Will Hall says:

    Targeted and insightful but thats what we expect from you Darren. My headlines have to get clearer while my post have to get shorter. I get it!
    Keep up the great work. Where are you schedulded to speak these days by the way?

    Will ~ Fan Page Evangelist
    http://www.FanPageEvangelist.com
    I will follow you >> @FanPgEvangelist
    Watch us at http://www.YouTube.com/FanPageEvangelist

  26. Great strategies. That is why I love reading articles like this because it is a sure catch when it comes to learning new ideas. Keep on inspiring your readers with your work.

  27. Great suggestions–as always.

    Question: I’ve heard putting “large”, multiple photos on your post is NOT a good idea. It affects SEO or something (sorry I’m thinking the source is Hubspot, but could be wrong).

    They suggest using one average size photo. Also, only one tag for a title.

    What’s your opinion?

  28. Irena White says:

    A good piece of advice that I have always followed comes from Rudyard Kipling: I know six honest serving men; they taught me all I knew; their names are ‘what’ and ‘why’ and ‘when’ and ‘how’ and ‘where’ and ‘who’.