Make it Scannable
Only 16% of people read web sites word for word.
The average person only comprehends 60% of what they read.
Knowing this – how should bloggers who want to communicate effectively write?
Is your Blog Scannable?
Most people read online by scanning the page for individual words or phrases, headings and other visual cues. Studies have shown that reading from a screen is more tiring and therefore about 25% slower than reading from paper – hence scanning becomes a technique that most employ.
Is your Blog Scannable? It’s a pretty simple thing to test. Ask a friend who is not familiar with your site to take a quick look at a few of your recent posts. Give them 15 to 30 seconds on each post, at the end of which you ask them what the post was about. You’ll quickly get a sense of how they’ve interacted with your blog.
Techniques to Make your Blog Scannable
Good bloggers keep this in mind as they write and will employ a variety of techniques to make their posts easier to read. Some of these techniques include:
- Lists – Anecdotal evidence suggests that its my posts with bullet point lists in them that get linked to ALOT more than similar length posts written in of an essay style.
- Formatting – Use bold, CAPITALS, italics, underlining, teletext and to emphasize points. Don’t go overboard as you run the risk of frustrating your reader. Also consider changing font size, color and style to draw your readers eyes to your main points.
- Headings and Sub Headings – Large, Bold words that act as visual cues of what is happening in the content are effective ways of drawing readers further into articles.
- Pictures – Research shows that readers eyes are drawn down the page by pictures. Place them cleverly by your key points (especially when they closely relate to the content) and you have more of a chance of getting readers to read full articles.
- Borders/Blockquotes – boxes around quotes and key points can similarly get the attention of readers.
- Space – don’t feel you have to fill up every inch of your screen – rather create spaces because they help readers not to feel overwhelmed and again tend to draw readers eyes to what is inside such space.
- Get to the Point – try to be succinct with your points.
- Don’t Bury your Points – one trap many of us fall into is to bury our main points deep within content where it’s unlikely to be noticed. If you have a key point make sure you say it up front. You can expand upon it later but get your message across in the first few sentences if possible.
- Find creative ways to reinforce your main point throughout your post.
- Don’t Introduce too many New Ideas in one post – once again this helps to avoid overwhelming readers with information all at once. If you want to cover many ideas that relate to one another consider a series of posts that link to each other.
If your site and its posts are not easily scannable you run the risk of losing your reader to another blog that is.
Post Length – How Long Should a Blog Post Be?
We might as well continue exploring the topic of writing good content with a topic that has been debated by bloggers rather hotly over the years, the length of the optimum post. There are a number of ways of looking at it:
- Reader Attention Span – It is pretty well documented that the typical web reader has a short attention span when it comes to reading content online. My own little investigation into length of stay on blogs found that average blog readers stay 96 seconds per blog (I’ve seen other more scientific tests that show similar results). What ever the number – it’s generally not long. As a result many web-masters purposely keep their content length down to a level that is readable in short grabs.
- SEO – There is a fairly strong opinion among those considered experts in Search Engine Optimization that both extremely short and extremely long web pages are not ranked as highly as pages that are of a reasonable length. Of course no one really knows how many words are ideal – but the general opinion seems to be that a page of at least 250 words are probably a reasonable length. Similarly, many advise keeping pages under 1000 words.
- Quantity of Posts – One theory that goes around is that shorter posts allow you to write more posts and that more posts are better for generating readership with RSS and in Search Engines. While I don’t know their strategy personally, some believe this is what sites like Engadget and Gizmodo do with their high number of short posts which make up the majority of their content.
- Topic/Genre - The type of post that you’re writing will often determine it’s length. For example when writing a review of a product you’ll generally write a longer post than when you write a news related post where you link to something someone else has written.
- Comprehensive Coverage of the Topic - Ultimately this has to be the main criteria that bloggers go with. I can’t remember who advised this but at some point in the last year I read someone saying that you should write enough to comprehensively cover your topic and then stop. Long posts for the sake of them are not a wise move – but so are short ones that don’t cover the topic well.
Using Titles Effectively on Blogs
- Keep it Simple – Most research I’ve seen into titles seems to argue that the most effective titles are short, simple and easy to understand. While breaking these rules can help grab attention (see below) they can also confuse, frustrate and put a glazed look in the eyes of potential readers. Shorter titles are also good for Search Engines – keep it under 40 or so characters and you’ll ensure the whole title appears in search results.
- Grab Attention - Good titles set your posts apart from the clutter around them and then draw readers into your post. Grabbing attention might happen using tactics of ’shock’, ‘big claims’, ‘controversy’ or even ‘confusion’. While these tactics do work at getting people in – it should also be said that they can do more damage than good if the rest of your post doesn’t live up to the promises your title makes. By all means try to grab attention – just just ‘trick’ your readers into thinking you’ll provide them with something you can’t give them.
- Meet a Need – An effective title draws people into reading more because they feel you’ve got something to say that they NEED to hear. Indexes like del.icio.us illustrate just how effective this is. Quite often the articles that get to the top of the list are ‘how to…’ or ‘tutorial’ type articles that show readers that they will learn how to solve a problem or need that they might have.
- Describe – Some readers will be drawn into a post by a cryptic title that doesn’t tell them much about what they’ll be reading – but the majority of readers need to know something about what they’ll find if they read further. Titles should describe (in a word or few) what readers will get in the main post.
- Use Key Words – As I mentioned above – titles are a powerful part of SEO. If you want to maximize their power you need to consider using the keywords that you want your post to be found with in your title in some way. This of course is challenging when you are attempting to ‘keep it simple’ and to also ‘grab attention and intrigue’ – but it can be done. Words at the start of titles are thought to be more powerful than words at the end when it comes to SEO.
- One last tip on titles – Take your time with your titles. Many bloggers pour a lot of effort into writing engaging and interesting posts – but then just slap any old title onto it without realizing that in doing so they might be ensuring that their post is never read.
Treat your title as an mini advertisement for your work. Take at least a few minutes before hitting publish to not only make sure your post is in order – but that your title is going to do everything it can to maximize the chances that people will engage with what you have to say.
How Often Should a Blogger Post?
I think posting frequency is a question that bloggers need to consider very carefully on a number of fronts. Here are some of the factors to consider:
1. Writer Burnout – While I enjoy the process a lot I also find that it generally leaves me quite burnt out – both physically, as you’d expect, as well as in my ability to write. The constant drive for high quality and relevant content is something that takes it’s toll on a blogger. Post too often and the quality of your writing could suffer.
2. Reader Burnout – I’ve noticed that on some of my blogs that a high number of posts in too short a period can also leaving readers burnt out. This is only the case with loyal readers who either come to your blog via a bookmark each day or who follow you via RSS. I know from personal experience of reading blogs that if my news aggregator shows that there are over 20 unread posts on a blog that I’m less likely to read each post in full (unless it’s one of those blogs that I’m a massive fan of). If a blog consistently posts at too high a rate I’ve even been known to unsubscribe from it simply because I can’t keep up.
3. Reader Participation - This probably relates to reader burn out but I’ve noticed that while traffic tends to go down if I post less frequently than that the amount of comments left per post tends to go up. Conversations in comments also tend to be more productive as readers actually interact with each other more instead of just commenting upon the post itself. I guess this is partially related to the length of time that the post is on the front page of the blog – but is also related to the amount of different threads of conversation that a person can follow at once. Write too many posts on too many topics and they’ll begin to disengage and only enter into what you’re writing to a certain level.
4. Search Engine and RSS Referrals - The reasons to consider upping your posting frequency is that the larger the quantities of quality content that you produce the more open doors you have into your blog via both search engines and your RSS feed. I know that on those days that I post 10 posts that I generally have more traffic, largely via RSS.
5. Blog Topic – I’m a firm believer that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to posting frequency on blogs. One of the main reasons for this is that different topics tend to lend themselves to different styles of blogging. For instance a blog like Engadget has a very very wide topic (consumer electronics/gadgets). This topic covers a lot of sub categories and to do it justice it needs to post a high number of posts. It’s readership knows this and I suspect a lot of them want it as they are attempting to keep up with a wider industry. Gadget lovers are also quite often information junkies who have are usually tech savy and able to consume larger amounts of information. Other blogs with tighter topics would not be able to sustain such a large number of posts because there is only so much to write about on any given day.
6. Visitor type – I’ve already touched on this a little (in saying gadget fans are often information junkies) but another way that your visitor type can impact posting frequency is the source of the visitor.
7. Post Length – Another observation that many people make about some of the most highly visited blogs is that they tend to write shorter posts than the average blog. This is both a reason that they can post a lot (you can write multiple short posts in the time of 1 larger one) and also one of the reasons that their readership is less likely to burn out (readers can read a post in 15 seconds and then move onto the next one).
8. Rhythm and Consistency – find your blogging rhythm and stick to it. While readers don’t want you to be monotonous in terms of what you write – I’ve found they do quite often want it in terms of how you write – and more specifically in how often you write. People want to know what to expect – they buy into things that they know fits in with their own rhythm of life so if you start out writing daily but then increase the frequency to hourly you’ll probably find people reacting against it (and the same goes the other way around).
Interested to hear how often others post to their blogs and how they’ve come to that rhythm of posting