If you write and edit scores of blog posts every month like I do, you probably find yourself returning time after time to the same old blog formats. And I’m sure that some of your old standbys are on this list—I know mine are!
It’s not sheer novelty that makes a difference, but rather using a format that makes your content more clear, accessible, and easy to read (and, if we bloggers are honest with ourselves, easier to skim).
If you’re struggling to complete a blog post at the end of a long week, not only can these ideas help you format it, but they can also help you find a new angle that can rejuvenate a bland post.
Here are a few ways to keep your readers (and yourself!) engaged:
1. Embed a video or audio clip.
YouTube is a great source, whether you’re adding a weighty TED Talk or a little comic relief. NPR also allows you to easily embed audio clips from shows and interviews.
Example: How Many Hashtags Are Too Many?
2. Frame it as a Q&A – but focus on their questions, not the ones you want to answer.
Keyword research is a great starting point for how people ask questions, but knowledge of your buyer personas is priceless. What are their concerns and pain points? How would they phrase their questions? What information will help them the most?
Example: 5 Basic Keyword Questions Answered
3. Pull out important quotes.
Borrow an idea from traditional news media, and highlight a key quote from your post. Whether it’s a direct quote from a source or just a great line you wrote, it can help the casual skimmer get a feel for the post and draw them in to reading the whole thing.
I’m a big believer in humor in life as well as in marketing, and luckily for me it gets results. The members of our design team have been remarkably tolerant of the fact that I like to create goofy images for my posts, like this one:
Example: How to Delete a Facebook Page
5. Give visual examples.
Along those same lines, using screenshots or other illustrations can often make your point more clearly than text can. It seems intuitive, but it can be easy to forget, especially if you know your topic very well.
6. Make it a step-by-step how-to.
Don’t think there are enough steps? Maybe that’s not such a bad thing! For most busy people, 2 or 3 steps are more appealing than 6 or 7! If it’s more complex, like the post below, steps will help organize a large volume of detailed information.
7. Use section headings and commentary lines.
Well-worded section headings are a simple and effective way to help readers find the information they’re looking for in your posts. Likewise, a line of commentary text set apart and bolded can add context and flair to your copy. You can see examples of both in this post:
8. The Old Standby: lists.
Whether it’s a numbered list, a checklist, or a bulleted list, giving your readers information broken up into easy-to-digest pieces makes them much more likely to read it. Plus, there’s something profoundly appealing about creating order out of 400 words of chaos.
Example: 5 Blogging Mistakes to Avoid in 2014
9. Add quotes from thought leaders.
Want to make your point even stronger? Add a quote from a leader in your industry or a respected public figure. People are naturally social, and we rely on social proof in decision-making. This post is all about quotes, but hey – it’s Nelson Mandela, so who cares?
10. Highlight main points.
I’m a big fan of bolding the main points in each paragraph to help people both see the value in the post right off the bat and find what they’re looking for. Used judiciously, it can be combined with other formatting, but be careful that your posts don’t look cluttered.
11. It’s simple, but… indent.
Especially in longer posts with sections, indenting certain portions of the copy can help break up the text and make it easier to read.
As Seth Godin points out in his post “Trapped by tl;dr,” it’s all to easy to give in to the “checklist, punchline mentality” that says everything should be shorter, snappier, and easier to consume. Once you start down that slippery slope, however, the quality of content often gets left by the wayside.
Sometimes you only need 250 words to make your point; sometimes you need 1,000. It’s the quality that matters – if what you’re saying is truly valuable to someone, do you think they’ll stop reading when they hit 300 words? Regardless of the length of the post, there are ways to make it easier to read and more appealing.