Wednesday 30 August 2017

Engage Readers with Formatting Tips for Online Writing

Format your Blog, LinkedIn, FaceBook posts and Website pages
for better engagement!

Written by Robyn T. Braley

Writing online content requires a different approach than writing for essays, reports magazines or newspapers.

Content that effectively tells your story and engages readers requires thought and crafting. Short is always good, but not at the expense of meaning. 

It wasn't long ago that social media experts were adamant that blog posts should never be more than 500 words long. They didn't believe people would read longer articles.

That has changed. The general rule of thumb today is to write as much content as you need to tell your story. 
A judge in my city writes posts of up to 7,000 words. He is followed by a large audience in the legal community that reads every word. It takes that much content to fully address whatever legal position he is putting forward. 

My Brandit posts are usually 900 to 1,500 words long. Once my word count reaches 1,000, I decide whether a single post can be broken into two. 

In the judge's case, he knows members of the legal community are vociferous readers who want all the details pertaining to a particular opinion. 

Ask yourself these questions. 

  1. Who is my audience?
  2. What are their expectations?
  3. Do I have enough content to provide meaning?
  4. Can I break up the content into several posts?

A series of shorter blogs will usually generate more traffic than one very long one. However, each post must stand on its own. You can link them to each other.  

Strong Headlines Scream for Attention
Taking time to write and rewrite your headline until you get it right will pay dividends. Are there stronger, shorter words? Will flipping the last part for the first strengthen the impact? 

When you write a great post, you want people to read it. Strong headlines show up in search engine searches. They are also easy to cut and paste into social media feeds or email messages for blog post promotion. 

Brilliant titles sell brilliant content. 

One approach is to write your headline in the form of a question. "Why?" Of course, the smart answer is, "Why not!" 

Seriously, a well-crafted question begs to be answered by reading your post. 

A second approach is to make a strong, assertive statement like "What you need to know..." or "You need to know these five..." That helps establish your authority.

If possible, start your headline with an action word. If it is also a power word, so much the better. 
  • Engage
  • Improve
  • Increase
  • Grow
  • Find
  • Learn
  • Go
  • Stop
  • Give
Never use all-caps in a post headline or email subject line. All-caps is the equivalent of shouting online. 

Keep it Positive

Use a positive, engaging tone. That rule also applies when writing about serious topics like the economy, price increases, staffing or other topics

This does not mean understating the problem or shrinking from writing graphic descriptions that underline the seriousness of the issue. However, keeping a positive tone can be in the form of offering hope or proposing solutions to problems.

In my branding practice, I am periodically hired to conduct qualitative surveys. There are usually difficult statistics, comments or indicators that we take back to the client. We never present that without suggesting ways to respond to the information. We offer a way forward.  

Using a $1,000 word when a $100 or even a $10 word will do is to be generally avoided. The general rule is to write at tenth grade reading level. That does not mean dumbing down your content. It has to do with the way people consume online content. 

People Read Posts Differently

People read websites and blog posts differently then they read magazines or newspapers.

Online columns are wider than columns in magazines or newspapers. Online writing is formatted as a single column rather than broken into two or three columns.

Some online readers read a post in full while others quickly scan it and only read the part they are most interested in. Different formatting is required for online writing.

  1. Sentences should be not include more than 10 - 15 words
  2. Paragraphs should be short using 2-4 sentences as a guide
  3. Start each paragraph with a strong statement about the main topic
  4. Resist starting sentences with a clause 

'Because of the need, the Rotary Club raised funds for a clean water project!' will become, 'The Rotary Club raised funds for a clean water project because of the need.' 

Break it Up, Baby

Start a new section when you introduce a new idea. Write a catchy headline as a lead-in. 

Most newspapers or magazines don't do this. Articles may fill an entire page without breaks due to the cost of printing where the use of space is paramount. 

It costs money to add an extra page. In fact, you can only add two or four pages. In blogging, you simply insert a page break. 

You periodically come across posts that have no breaks. They look like a blob of information plunked on a page that will be laborious to read.

Section headlines guide the eye and make it easier to absorb content. It divides it into consumable bites. 

Make it Stand Out 

Use bullet points, arrows or numbers to break up information. Readers respond to lists. 

The judicious use of white space serves a useful purpose. It highlights key information, draws the eye to it and 'relaxes' the content by making it appear looser. 

Creating a graphic to profile key info will make it pop out. Simpler tools like using different text colors and fonts than is used for the main body copy garners attention. 

The liberal use of relevant photos increase the engagement and retention factors. Simply put, they add color and meaning. 

Finally, starting a paragraph with a question appeals to the cognitive process of the reader which results in further engagement.  

The End

What do you think? Do you publish a blog? Do you have tips? I want to hear from you. Please comment below.  

Robyn Braley is a brand specialist, professional speaker and writer.  

Contact Robyn

Email:   Connect on LinkedIn Follow on Twitter: @RobynTBraley 

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  1. Design allows us to properly engage with our community, build relationships and show-off our personality.
    Design Tips for Online Engagement

    1. Thanks Kathik. Absolutely. I believe photos and design are the engines that drive social media. Draws you into reading the post.

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you Angel. Appreciate it. How did it help you?

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Thanks - I think. Not quite sure what you are saying. Thanks for contributing.

  4. Good Blog, very usefull
    Thank for shearing
    Content Writing

  5. Great article, I have been looking tips for network marketing for the fast weeks and very thankful I found this blog, and its really interesting helping and useful.

    1. Thankyou Sarah. Glad I could help. Would that be coaching the coach? Ha!

  6. Hey Scrivinas - Note you came back a different day to reread it. I take that as a compliment. Thank you!

  7. This is actually pretty useful! I tend to write stream-of-consciousness and these details often elude me.

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