Appearance Matters: How To Format Your Blog Posts For Social and Linkbait Success

They say beauty is only skin deep, that what really matters is what’s on the inside. That may be true with people, but I think a different rule applies with blog posts:

What’s on the inside only matters if the outside is attractive enough to convince viewers to keep reading. In other words, your blog post could contain the best content in the world, but if doesn’t look inviting, attractive, and easy to read, you’re less likely to earn social shares or natural backlinks.

Scanning vs. Reading

Part of the reason formatting is so important is because the majority of Internet users scan content instead of reading it. You need a great post title to draw the reader in, then good formatting to highlight key sections of the article for the reader’s perusal. If you do those things well, the reader may slow down and read your post word by word.

Prerequisites for Success

Before you even start formatting your blog post, ensure you have addressed these four issues:

  1. Your blog should be using a high-quality theme that is customized to your brand. I recommend choosing a premium theme and having a designer customize it to match your brand, or designing a theme from scratch to match your brand.
  2. Your post should have a great title that will grab the reader’s attention. Without a great title, most readers won’t even click on your post, let alone read it.
  3. Ensure you have installed social sharing buttons/widgets for the most relevant social networks (Facebook, Twitter, etc.).
  4. Ensure your blog/post follows basic SEO best-practices, such as static URLls, optimized page titles, meta descriptions, image alt tags, etc.

(Four tips can hardly be a comprehensive blogging strategy, but these items do represent the biggest mistakes I see bloggers making. Pay attention to these four items and you’ll at least have a good foundation to implement the tips below.)

7 Tips to Format Your Blog Posts for Success

I’ve compiled the following list from several sources:

  • Web design best practices (which admittedly can vary some according to opinion)
  • Analyzing my own actions (i.e. posts that I’ve liked enough to share vs. those I did not)
  • My own CRO and content marketing experience
  • Analyzing successful content pieces created by other firms

1) Subheadlines

It’s a basic tactic, but essential—break up your blog post using summary subheadlines. Readers should be able to scan the post and get a good feel for what it’s about just by reading the subheadlines. Which of these would you rather read?

Compare this text (from Wikipedia) with and without subheadlines.

2) Real Photos

Stock photos can be great for adding some color and visual appeal to a blog post. But as a Marketing Experiments’ study found, “an image is only as valuable as the value it communicates.” If a stock photo doesn’t add anything unique to your post, then it doesn’t communicate any important piece of information.

If your blog post is about: Try one of these ideas for photos:
How to (computer based) Screenshots of one or more of the steps involved.
How to (offline project) Photos of the project at each step
A particular company Photos of the company’s building, employees, founder, etc.
A product review Photos of you using the product

Your goal should be to choose photos that are real, tangible, and communicate something specific. For example, if you’re writing a post based on a Skype interview with John Doe, don’t use John’s profile photo from his company website. Use a screenshot from your Skype video chat that shows him demonstrating a product, technique, etc.

Visitors to Anna Maria Island are treated to a gorgeous sunset on most evenings. There is free beachside parking along the southern half of the island.

3) Photo Captions

Adding a caption to your photos turns your photos from mere visual appeal into content that communicates specific information. (On a related note, users who scan the post may be drawn in to read the rest of the article by an intriguing photo caption.) The example on the right shows how adding a caption allows me to use the photo to communicate specific information to the reader.

4) Custom Graphics

For some posts, custom charts and graphics are the best way to visually communicate information. If this is the case for your blog post, invest the time and money required to create attractive, custom graphics that help clearly communicate the data or information in your post. If you don’t have a graphic designer on staff, here are several solutions:

I’ve always admired how well SEOmoz uses custom graphics for their blog posts. Their graphics are always colorful, attractive, and easy to understand, like this example from “How Many SEO Consultants Actually Know What They’re Talking About?“:

5) Pull Quotes

Pull quotes are a great way to highlight a pithy quote or section from your blog post, hopefully enticing users to read the rest of the article to learn more. The screenshot on the right shows how I highlighted a quote from one of the people I interviewed for Recent Hires Share 16 Online Tools & Tactics They Used To Get Hired.

6) Use Color

Unless you are Wikipedia or Craigslist, you should probably avoid the oh-so-boring-nothing-but-black-text-on-white-background look. Add a splash of color—this could be via photos, changing the color of your Hx tags, changing the font color of a quote, etc. Keep in mind that the goal is to highlight your post with some color. Avoid the temptation to add too much color, though, as this could be distracting.

7) Bullet Point Lists

Ordered or unordered, it doesn’t matter. If you have a list of items to present, use a bullet point or numbered list. It will be much easier to scan/read than listing out the points in a paragraph.

My list of top reasons to use a bullet point list:

  • I told you to.
  • Lists are easier to scan.
  • Lists say “look at me, I’m important.”
  • Lists present your points in a clear, easy-to-remember way

More Tips and Resources