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The format of your blog content can dictate how long your audience stays on the page, what they take away from the content, and what gets shared. The good news is that you’re completely in control of what your readers get out of your articles — all it takes is a little strategic planning and the right article format.
Here’s our guide to creating content that keeps readers going until the end, and then makes them share.
While there’s something to be said about teasing out the information for your audience and making them read completely through before they reach your point, it’s not the best strategy when you’re hoping to create highly shareable and linkable content. The sooner you get to the point, the easier it becomes to keep your audience’s interest.
The Washington Post reported on the Media Insight Project’s study about how Americans consume media. Almost 60 percent of Americans admit that they just skim the headlines of a story instead of reading it completely to learn more. Your content is going up against a nation of “headline-gazers,” so if they do click through to your page, you need provide the information fast.
There is good news: Headline reading doesn’t hurt social shares and engagement. NPR’s 2014 April Fools’ Day Prank shared a headline asking “Why Doesn’t America Read Anymore?” The body of the article instructed readers to like the Facebook post, but not comment on it.
Image via Gawker
Thousands of people commented on the Facebook post, proving that a lack of knowledge about the article won’t stop people from adding their two cents.
Slate used its page data to break down the behavior of every 100 visitors to its site. The author found that 5 percent of visitors never scrolled below the fold, and 50 percent bounced before the author reached the halfway point. Despite this, the article has almost 13,000 Facebook likes and thousands more Tweets.
People are looking for a smart, pithy sentence to encapsulate the article’s message.
They don’t want to read every word. They just want a tidbit that’s shareable on Twitter.
Keeping your paragraphs short and sweet reduces friction for people who engage with your content. When the audience approaches a lengthy paragraph, they stop and evaluate whether reading what you say is worth the effort.
If the answer is yes, they keep reading.
If the answer is no, they either bounce or start skimming until they find the next juicy quotable.
Short paragraphs eliminate the “work” of reading, and make audiences feel like they’re not wasting time in muddled content.
Readers tend to tune out long, convoluted lists of items when they’re placed in paragraph form. After a list of three or four items, readers tend to skim to the next point instead of memorizing every detail. If you’re explaining all the items needed to move into your first dorm, you could lose the audience before you get past bed sheets.
Instead, use bullets to create a digestible way to consume a significant amount of information.
Bullet points create opportunities to make your content more shareable. Audiences are more likely to save content that has a helpful list (like hurricane essentials or educational resources), especially if the content has information that’s new to readers. For example, everyone remembers to pack bed sheets for a dorm, but few think about the bed bug spray beforehand.
Image via Flickr by Sebastian Sikora
If you really want your readers to stick around until the end, the best thing you can do is create custom visuals that engage and amuse your audience. In fact, brightly colored visuals increased an audience’s willingness to read content by 80 percent.
Adding a few images can significantly increase how much of your content is actually read by your audience. Content with relevant images receives 94 percent more views than content without them. If you can get the views, then you’re increasing the likelihood of shares, comments, and eventually conversions.
Many bloggers enjoy using the bold key whenever they want to emphasize their points. As readers skim the article, they’re looking for the secret to increased shares through formatting. If your article isn’t engaging, then they’re likely to skim through the subheads, pick up some highlights, and then move on.
Bolding your best points and ideas draws in the reader’s eye and creates shareable soundbites.
Keep in mind that every blog or website has different rules for when something can be bolded and when this formatting trick should be ignored. If you’re hoping to create your own guidelines, check out Radiopaedia’s example. For the most part, they limit the use of a bold font to introductions, subheadings, and proper names and places. This way, if you were reading this article to learn about George Washington, you could know this is the only place where he is mentioned in the article.
If you are writing for a blog that frowns upon bolded keywords and sentences, consider pulling your best bits into quotes that are highlighted throughout the article. A well-placed quote makes the reader stop, because they think the thought is summarized in a clear, concise way. According to the State Library of Victoria, “A good quote adds something meaningful to your argument and links to the main idea of the paragraph.”
Furthermore, each quote should have supporting information that defends it or elaborates on what the original author says.
While your formatting can bring a reader’s eye to your best points and encourage them to share, even the best design can’t hide poor content. Make sure what you have to say is the backbone for what you share, and use these formatting techniques to advance audience perception — not manipulate it.