How To Get People To Actually Read Your Blog

I’ve seen it on the web and when I do, I cringe. Large paragraphs of black and white text followed by another large paragraph of black and white text, followed by another….well, you get the point.  :)

I’ve been helping a number of clients with their blogs lately and one thing that has come up a number of times is the formatting of a good blog post.

People read differently on the computer than they do when reading in a book, magazine or newspaper. Not only is the screen hard on the eyes, but the mouse is literally under their finger and they are just waiting for a reason to click away. Give them reason not to and use the following tips to keep their eye interested and scanning for more.

1. Keep it conversational… as if you were actually speaking to the reader, not writing an article for some glossy magazine. If you want to use one word on it’s own like with ellipses (…) after it..then go for it. Keep the formalities for books and magazines.

2. Use very short paragraphs. This is important because most people scan web pages looking for something that interests them. Small paragraphs are much more inviting cause the reader knows that if they aren’t getting into something long and drawn out. Large paragraphs are daunting.

3. Use bold, italics, strike-through, highlighting to enhance important parts of your post. This draws people’s attention to certain words of phrases that you really want them to read…even if they skip the rest of it.

4. Use smileys and ellipsis often. This just makes reading more emotional. You can tell when someone is being fun :), sly ;) or sad :(. Online writing can be, not always, a very non-emotional way to communicate. I try to add smilies to almost everything I write so people know I’m saying things in a friendly, or sometimes sad, way. :)

5. Use lists. Top 3, Top 5, Top 10…. Actually I read that a Top 13 list will always pull in more readers. Not sure why but some testing has show this to be more effective. Bullet points also work well. Be sure to bold the most important part of the numbered list item or bullet (as I’ve done here). This way people who scan the post will still get the essence of it.

BONUS TIP: Write AWESOME stuff. Sometimes people ask me how often should they blog. How often is really not a concern. The concern should be “how awesome” it is. If you write a blog post daily and it’s mediocre….you’ll have less people reading it AND you’ll be spending a lot of your time writing. If you post something once every 6 weeks and it’s absolutely amazing, it’s got a good chance of being read a lot more because people will be more likely to share it with their friends and associates.

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Tracy Matthewman helps small business owners understand and implement 21st century marketing strategies via the Internet and social media. Sign up for Sprout, her weekly “digestible” internet marketing training newsletter. Website: TracyMatthewman.com

Comments

  1. Nunzio Bruno says:

    I think this was a great post for a lot of reasons. Not only was the form factor true to the message but, I found it extremeley relevant to a conversation I had today about my blog http://www.financiallydigital.com I was told via email by one of my readers that I was too conversational and that when discussing personal finance issues I should use a more formal voice. To that I replied that I write the way I talk, the way I teach to my college students, and the way I interact with clients. I think it soooo important to break down complex issues conversationally because it not only keeps reders but I wholeheartedly want to help them – with real and easy to use advice. I’m not a professional journal and I really like that fact. Great post again :)

  2. I like this post, and I’ll agree with you on all but one: the smilies. I think they’re an unnecessary crutch. Why not let the writing show what you mean? Written letters and books and magazines (including opinion columns, which probably come closest to blog posts) have been relying on the words to convey tone since the beginning of written communication. They don’t need emoticons, and neither do blog posts.

  3. I have to disagree with #4. When I visit a blog and it has a lot (actually, any) emoticons, I immediately get turned off and rarely continue reading. Emoticons make me immediately think a blogger is unprofessional and doesn’t take pride in her writing. I can tell if a good blogger is happy, sad, or making a joke if she does it well, so using an emoticon to communicate these feelings shows a lack of confidence in her own skills. It also insults me as a reader because it implies I don’t know how to really understand when someone is sad about something that happened to them. But if she’s really concerned about it, she could just write, “I’m so sad” or use other words to communicate her feelings. To me, an emoticon is a cop-out.

  4. All great stuff, but like people already pointed out, the emoticons can get annoying. It really depends on the audience, but I don’t know any audience that likes numerous emoticons.

  5. Great post, Tracy! When it comes to online reading, I will hardly ever read something with huge blocks of type. In book form, it’s fine. But online – it has to be broken up a bit. I like your tips. Now I just need to figure out how to do highlighting in WP. :)

  6. Ok..maybe #4 sounded like I mean to use emoticons all the time…but that’s not really what I meant. At least I don’t mean to go overboard. I am not a professional writer and so I find that they help me convey the emotion. I would agree too many would be unprofessional…but I find adding 1-2 per post isn’t too much of a crutch. :) (<-just because I can)

  7. I would agree if your business is blogging. Most business owners don’t want to be “bloggers” per say…so it was meant for those who have other traditional businesses to run. Thx
    Tracy

  8. Great tips to format a blog post — but the title is misleading that following the above would GET PEOPLE to read it. Those two words, with the above, presume there is already a stable community of active blog readers.

    It’s curious that you don’t write about blog promotion. After all, if it’s there, nobody will come unless/until you tell them about it. :)

  9. Hi Ari,

    The word “get” doesn’t necessarily mean “get them to the blog”, it meant “get” them to read the blog post.

    What I meant by “read” and the reason I put the word “actually” in front of it is because I meant for people who already have found your blog post…to then actually spend a few minutes reading it. It wasn’t about getting them there in the first place. I know personally when I visit any site that is written with long, plain paragraphs of text, I very rarely spent time reading it. I’m usually onto the next thing pretty quickly. But those blog posts that are, let’s say, “designed” better, using the methods above, have a much better chance of me, in the very least, skimming it. And if it’s a subject I’m really interested in then I will actually “read” every word. Hope that help explain what I meant by “get people to actually read”. Tracy

  10. I liked that your post was short and to the point. I’ve experimented with different post lengths, but is there an optimal length so that readers don’t quit?

  11. I haven’t found one that I would say is perfect..not sure that one even exists. I think that some topics warrant longer lengths than others. It depends on what your trying to say. I have spent more time reading longer posts when it was interesting or a topic I really wanted to know more about. Tracy

  12. Thank you for these ideas. Very interesting and mostly very good. I’m also a bit reluctant to agree with the emoticon stuff. I do use emoticons on comments and tweets etc. but I don’t believe they are exactly good on blog posts and such. Overall nice and simple ideas, though.

  13. Tracy, these are good points.

    I blog on dermatology and skin care as a physician. It’s easy for me to gravitate towards mind-numbing detail and doctor-speak. I force myself to

    1. write only in short paragraphs,
    2. highlight key points
    3. promise that the info will be short and concise by having no more than about 5 key points.

    I double check each post using this filter before hitting publish; while I may think the topic is so interesting that the details are worth the resulting lobotomy, I just can’t let myself go there. Good reminder, thanks :)

  14. Georgie says:

    Smileys? No thanks, I’d rather read blog posts that weren’t written for/by twelve-year-olds.

  15. Great post. I’m trying to push the blog on my web design portfolio a little right now… so the tips here will really help! Thanks.

  16. Your Welcome Will…I guess people don’t like the smilies…so steer clear of those :) Tracy

  17. Hi Tracy
    This is some debate you have fueled here :) I have no problem reading text with emoticons in it. If I were reading a book then I may have a different opinion.

    Bloggers write to their audience and a smile or a wink never hurts anyone in my book.

    I disagree with awesome though, it’s a bit like passionate and killer. Those phrases are so last year ;)

  18. Hey Sarah..thanks I appreciate your comments. I personally don’t think the word Awesome is last year…Scott Stratten says to write awesome stuff and he’s at the top of his game right now teaching people about “Unmarketing”. I love reading awesome stuff. I actually stop my day to read awesome…but everyone is different. Out of curiosity..what do you think the new word for 2011 will be? hmmmm I wonder…let’s spark a conversation on it and set our own trends shall we?

    astonishing, awe-inspiring, beautiful, breathtaking, exalted, formidable, grand, hairy*, impressive, magnificent, majestic, mind-blowing*, moving, real gone, shocking, striking, stunning, stupefying, wonderful, wondrous, zero cool

    Which one do you like?

    I like zero cool and hairy :)

    Tracy

  19. A campaign to bring back titillating? I dare Brandon… link ya post here when you are done ;)

  20. Ya I want to see that too Tracy

  21. Hm. This post was interesting….

    I didn’t really think that much negative of tip #4…I must have overlooked it or it just doesn’t seem that bad to me.

    I personally don’t use emoticons except for at the end of my blog post when I’m asking them to share the post or write a comment.

    I really don’t think it’s that much of a big deal though….

    All this strategy stuff can get kind of stupid. I can see people are protective of their need to be ‘professional’, and the need to not seem like a “12-year old” – which to me seems like a kind of rigid idea.

    At the end of the day, how valuable IS ‘professionalism’ exactly? Don’t we all know of people who aren’t exactly traditionally professional and who still do very well?

    It’s all contextual.

    Thanks Tracy. I agree with a lot of your points.

    Renee.

  22. I love your points and have mixed feelings on the smileys, I do sprinkle them in here and there though.

    I definitely appreciate your point about writing as if you’re speaking to someone. That’s how I write, and when it comes to blogs, that’s what I love to read. I’ll give that Top 13 and try and see how it goes!

  23. Thanks Rene, I wholeheartedly agree with you. I’ve made videos where I acted like a 12 year old and they get attention so I think it’s all based on who you’re marketing to and what message you’re trying to get across. Thanks for commenting.

    Liz: I think writing the way you speak is so much easier than trying to be a “professional” writer when that not what you are (unless you are of course) – (and by you I don’t mean YOU specifically ) :) But many entrepreneurs aren’t writers but they should still put their content out there…so just be you. The absolute best way to squash the competition.

    Tracy

  24. Hi Tracy,

    I like your post… and am happy to see that I have already been following your excellent advice.

    Short and sweet works. As a coach, I want my readers to feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of reading one of my posts – like they can easily implement the tip or idea I shared.

    Since I shortened my blog posts it’s also taken some pressure off me – it’s so much easier to write a quick tip than a long article.

    If I may weigh in on two debates…

    I’m not a fan of the emoticon, but not so much because of any “12 year old” energy it conveys, but because of the animated look of the emoticons themselves. They bug me and distract me from the text itself. I prefer an old-fashioned colon and parenthesis for a smile – I hate when they’re automatically converted to the yellow smileys :)

    And on the question of “Awesome”… check out my domain name… I’m totally a fan.

    Good, fun article.

    Thanks,
    Heather

  25. Hi Heather..thanks for your comments. I appreciate you. I will do check out your “awesomeness” right now. Tracy

  26. Hello Laura thanks for your timely advice on blogging.i am new at blogging and bringing traffic to my blog has proved to be quite difficult.there is hope though.i am Kenyan and would be happy if you checked out my blog it is http://www.tusijisunde.com

  27. Controversial posts do work and many bloggers try this formula on their readers but sometimes such posts also go out of hand inviting more criticisms. Its a good technique which still works wonderfully for blogs.