Nov 6, 2009

7 Easy Tips to Grow Your Blog Audience

laptopbinarystreamPeople consume content differently on the web than they do with other media. As the number of web pages out there approaches infinity, attention spans on the web continue to shrink.

And that puts the pressure on us as blogger to capture and hold people's attention long enough to read what we have to say.

So here some things you can do to make our blog posts more attractive to web readers. They may be a little different than the way you're used to writing.

1. Think "Scannable"

One big overall concept to keep in mind when writing for the web is that it will help your audience if you consistently make your content scannable. Make it easy for people to scan through your posts to get the gist of what you are saying.

Scannable content is broken up visually. Instead of just a page of long paragraph after long paragraph the content is divided up into small chunks that can be scanned quickly.

Don't worry. If people like what they see or want more detail they'll stop and read your whole post. Or at least that section.

And that is much better then having them click away because you've made your post appear to be too hard to read.

So keep your paragraphs shorter than you would if you were writing a book, for example. Generally speaking you'll be better off if you limit your paragraphs to two or three sentences. Then break for another paragraph.

2. HEADLINES!

Put some effort into writing a good headline or title to your post. The headline will be the strongest draw to get people to your post. If you work hard to craft a great post and then slap some lame title on it you've just shot yourself in the foot.

For example, the working title I used for this post was, Writing For The Web. That's no where near as compelling as the final title, 7 Easy Tips to Grow Your Blog Audience. Which one do you think would attract more first time visitors?

At the same time it's important to remember that even a brilliant headline won't overcome a horrible post.

Remember, you're not trying to get people to read your whole post with your headline. Don't put that much pressure on it. The headline's job is to get people to read the first sentence. The point of that first sentence is to get people to read the next, and so on as you draw people through your whole post.

3. Shorter is Better

Since most people have short attention spans, shorter posts will often be more appealing to readers than longer posts. Generally speaking, fewer than 500 words is preferred. A good ideal to shoot for is probably 250-400 words.

If you have more to say consider breaking your post up into multiple shorter posts. Post series are a great way to engage readers and keep 'em coming back.

(And yes I know this post totally breaks the short post rule. More about that in a bit.)

4. Use Headers

Another thing that will help make your content more scannable is to use sub-headers to break up your content. With the WordPress visual editor it's easy to do.

Click for Larger Image

First make sure you have both rows of edit buttons showing. If you only see one row, click the far left "Show/Hide Kitchen Sink" button to show that second row of buttons. (Arrow #1 in the image to the right.)

Once you have the second row of edit buttons showing, use your courser to highlight the text you want to make into a heading. Then click the drop down "Paragraph" menu and choose the appropriate header. (Arrow #2)

Wordpress gives you a choice of six headings. The way they are displayed on your blog is determined by the theme you choose. Generally speaking they will get progressively smaller as the numbers get bigger. You can see that in the screen capture of the edit window to here. However some themes may display them differently.

Experiment with them and see how they each display with your blog's theme.

Generally speaking, for Search Engine Optimization purposes you only want to have one instance of a Heading 1 on any given web page. Often themes will automatically display the post title or your blog title with a Heading 1 tag. That being the case for most blogs (including the HighCallingBlogs here) you will want to use the Heading 2 or higher.

Headers will help you out in the search engines too, which is an added bonus. I write for people not machines. But if writing better for people is better for the search engines too then that's just gravy!

5. Bold & Italics Too

Don't be afraid to highlight the occasional  word with bold or italics fonts. This will help make important concepts more prominent for your readers. That in turn makes your content more scannable too.

Obviously you can get carried away with emphasizing way too much text. Over-use of bold and italics different text styles will just make your content harder to read and isn't helpful.

I'm just saying.

6. Lists Are Great

Another great way to make your content more scannable and attractive to readers is to use lists. Lists can either have numbers or bullets. The "official" terms are ordered lists and unordered lists. Some themes even use small images for their bullets.

Here are some advantages of lists in blog posts:

  • Easy to read.
  • Quickly scannable.
  • Communicate concisely.
  • Focus your thoughts.

And here are 2 more benefits of lists.

  1. Lists can be easier to write than long prose posts
  2. Good list posts can get lots of inbound links

Maybe it's because I was a military guy, but I like lists. They can really help your blog posts stand out.

7. Images Liven Things Up

Another good idea is to mix images into your posts. The web is a very visual place so generally speaking having at least a minimum of one image per post is a good idea.

blueangelsSince I tend to write longer posts (yes I haven't forgotten that I still need to address that.) I tend to add more images to my posts than just one. Obviously you are best off when the image you add has something to do with the post you wrote. Just throwing in a random unrelated photo like I did right here may not be wise.

But the Blue Angles sure do make for some cool eye candy.

Don't they?

Obviously you need to respect copyrights when posting images. One great resource for stock photos is stock.xchng where you can open a free account and get access to lots of royalty free images.

Microsoft also has an online clip art gallery where you can find images as well.

Some Caveats

These seven tips are easy to implement and will help make your content more appealing to a broader web audience.

That being said, they should be seen more as guidelines than as hard and fast rules. Each of you will develop your own style based on your preferences over time.

You can take any one of these ideas and find examples of very successful bloggers who don't apply them.

Me, I tend to write longer posts. In fact, this one will top out over 1300 words before I finally finish. What can I say? I'm a wordy guy.

But then, I tend to write posts that show people how to do things so I include a fair amount of detail because I want to help them really understand what I'm writing. In my case longer posts seem to work. Although I am working to shorten my average post length down considerably from the 1500 word average I used to have!

The point is, if you are looking to make your writing more appealing to people on the web then these tips can help you. And what blogger doesn't want a bigger audience?

Good Resources

One of the beauties of web is the tremendous amount of resources that are available to us. For FREE!

Here are a few that have helped me become a better blogger:

  • Copyblogger - An excellent resource for learning more about writing influentially. There's a whole section on Writing Good Headlines that I refer to on a regular basis.
  • One of the first blogs I read religiously when I first started was Problogger. It's aimed at people who make money blogging but even as a hobbiest I learned a ton of things from Problogger that made my blogging better over all.
  • Remarkablogger - Another good blog on blogging subjects from someone who knows the blogging business.
  • Chris Garrett is another long time blogger who writes on blog related subjects and knows what he's talking about.
  • Top 10 Steps to Make Your Blog or Book Go Viral - a great post by our own L.L. Barkat with more useful tips for attracting a bigger audience.

I could go on but hopefully that will be enough to get you started. Besides, this post is probably way too long already anyway! ;)

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