How to Format a Blog Post So People Actually Read It

by Ashley Barnett
*Some of the links below may be from our sponsors. My full disclosure statement.*

Writing for the internet is unlike any other kind of writing out there — and you didn't learn this type of writing in school.

The first thing you need to know about writing for the internet is that internet users are lazy. If they have to work for the information at all they will leave. The information has to just download into their brains and formatting has a lot to do with making that happen.

The next thing you need to know is that blog posts aren't books. No one starts at the top and works their way methodically down the article. We must plan for the scan.

Use Headings that Make Sense

Next time you are looking something up for your own personal use pay attention to how you use the blog post you find. I usually quickly scan the headings and then if I see something interesting I'll stop and read that section. If I like it, I might read another section, then another.

If I find I'm liking everything I read, then I'll go back up to the top and start reading for real.

So plan for this. Use headings that tell the reader what is in that section. Don't try to be clever. Just state it plainly.

Use H2 headings for your main points and H3 headings for your subpoints.

Each section should be 200-300 words long. If you find that a section is getting longer than that consider breaking it up with an H3. If your H3 section is getting too long you can break it up with an H4 – this does not happen very often and double check what your H4s look like cause they on some themes they aren't great.

Using good headings allows your reader to scan your article, see what it's about, and drop in and read the parts they are interested in.

Treat each section as its own mini-article without assuming that the reader started at the top and worked their way down. I can almost guarantee they didn't.

Vary Your Paragraph Lengths

The number one thing I fix when editing articles for new bloggers is to break up their paragraphs. You don't want a bunch of long paragraphs in a row. On the other hand, you don't want a bunch of choppy short paragraphs in a row either.

Change it up.

Switch back and forth between short, medium, and long paragraphs so the article looks interesting but not intimidating to read. A bunch of similar length paragraphs doesn't look good, if they are all long, then it looks boring and that it's going to take forever to read. If they are are all short the article looks thin and pointless.

If you have a really long paragraph follow it up with a nice short one. Maybe even one sentence, or even just one word. I'm a fan of the one-word paragraph as long as it's used sparingly.

The very last thing I do for every article is preview it on the site and just look at it. I scan the article without reading the text just looking at the formatting of the paragraphs, sections, H2s, and any bullet points or images.

Just make sure it looks good.

Include a Table of Contents

A table of contents allows readers to skip directly to the section of the article that interests them. This is another reason why it's important to use headings that make sense. If someone is only looking at your table of contents you want them to be able to get what they need.

If the table of contents makes no sense they will assume the article will follow suit and leave.

Luckily, the table of contents is so easy to do. I use Easy Table of Contents. You can see what it looks like above. It's so simple and automatic that a few minutes of your time and you can have a table of contents at the top of every post.

Proper Bullet Points

You knew this one was coming. Scanners love bullet points. If you have bullet points I can promise it will be one of the first things that will be read in the article.

  • who
  • doesn't
  • love
  • bullet points

But there are good and bad ways to use them.

Bullet points should be partial sentences. I can also live with very short sentences. But I can't live with full paragraphs masquerading as bullet points. No. If you have to go onto the second line you've crossed into paragraph territory and it's no longer a bullet point.

The point of bullet points is to break up blocky text, not to create a wall of it.

If you find yourself creating a bullet point list of paragraphs I have a solution for you. Drop the bullet points and instead create a bullet point-ish intro to your paragraph that is bolded.

Here's an example of things to bring on a picnic. They both have the same exact text. Which do you find easier to read?

Helpful Links

I rarely, if ever, see advice on how to choose what links you are going to use or how to choose the anchor text. (Anchor text is the words that you link on.) And the fact that this is never discussed might be exactly why so many people struggle with it.

There are two types of links — internal and external.

Internal Links

Internal links are links in your article that link to another page on your site. They can open in a new tab or in the same tab it's up to you. But whichever you choose please be consistent.

There are two decisions to be made here:

  1. what article you are going to link to
  2. the anchor text

Choosing the Article

You don't need to take every opportunity to link to another article. The point of them is to get the reader to go down a rabbit hole on your site. You want them to read this article, then another, then another. Only link to the article if it's relevant to the current problem your reader is looking to solve right now.

And that's where a lot of bloggers lose their way.

Just because you write a few words that remind you of another article you have doesn't mean you should link to it. Instead, ask yourself, “if a reader is interested in this post, what other posts of mine will interest them?”

Bad example: With SEO, you can write blog posts that attract readers from search engines without having to spend time promoting your blog.

That link goes to an article on how to write blog posts. But if the article is about SEO then a beginner's guide to writing blog posts isn't what will send the reader down a rabbit hole. If the reader wants to learn about SEO then it's better to link to another article about SEO.

Good example: With SEO, you can write blog posts that attract readers from search engines without having to spend time promoting your blog. Here's how to optimize your blog posts for SEO.

This is a much better choice. If the article is about SEO then we can easily suggest that the reader should read other SEO related articles.

Choosing the Anchor Text

Another choice to make when placing links is your anchor text. Most people link on words right in the sentence, as you saw above in the “bad example”. Which is not my favorite way to do it. For one, a random link in the middle of a sentence doesn't really inspire action. And two, it often leads to awkward sentences in an effort to squeeze in a link.

My preferred way is to tell the reader what they will find if they click on the link. As you can see above in my “good example”. But here's another example, just to drive home the point.

Bad example: Making money with freelance blogging is a very powerful motivator for consistent writing.

Good example: Freelance writing is a powerful motivator for consistent writing. If you'd like to learn more about freelancing in the blogging space here's how to get started.

Which would you click on, assuming you wanted to become a freelancer?

Ok, one last way! I also do internal links with what I call “related callouts”. They look like this:

Related: How to Use Your Keyword: An On-Page SEO Checklist

They just hang out between paragraphs, usually at the end of a section. It's a great way to sneak in more links.

External Links

External links are links from your blog to another site and they should open in a new tab. They are used for sourcing or to give more information in a post.

When they are used for sourcing you can go ahead and link on words right in the sentence. For example, “It's said there are 31 million bloggers who post at least once a month.” That link goes to the source I found that gives that stat. To be honest, I don't care if anyone clicks on it, I just want to have it there in case someone thinks I just made that up.

The other reason to link to another site is similar to the reason we link to our own site — to give the reader more information.

Sometimes you'll link to things that you can't create yourself, like a giant 30,000 word research piece that takes a special level of knowledge and skill to create. Or maybe a calculator or tool that you don't have the tech skills to create.

Other times you just link to an article you could create but you just haven't yet. When this happens take note, that's a topic idea for another day.

Call to Action (CTA)

Chances are you want your visitors to do something — even if it's just to sign up for your email newsletter.

If you want them to take action you need to tell them what to do. Like, plainly in their face tell them. You need to call them to action!

This can be buttons, or boxes, or bolded links. But it needs to be something other than plain text.

Depending on what I want them to do will depend on the CTA that I use. If the call to action is to click on an affiliate link, I will typically use a button with a “Learn more” CTA. Like this:

Other button copy could be “Get started” Or “Sign up”

If the call to action is to sign up for your email list then a sign up form from your email service provider is always nice. You can put it right between paragraphs, like this:

Proper Visuals

For visuals I'm talking about images, tables, graphs, even video. Basically anything you look at that isn't text.

Images are great for further explaining your point. This is probably a matter of personal style, but I don't recommend using images for decoration. Use them when you can enhance the understanding for the reader. Use Canva to create custom images, like I did above in the bullet point section.

Screenshots are also great, especially in reviews

Tables are also a great way to convey a lot of information in one shot. I try to use them whenever I'm comparing two things — say, in a comparison review. At the top or bottom of the article, create a table that goes over the main features of both items.

If you are good at graphic design you could even create custom graphics that outline your article, or drive home your points. I'm not good at graphic design so you won't be seeing those in my posts — but I do like them in other articles.

Don't Get Fancy with Your Fonts

When it comes to the text itself we want to make it as easy to read as possible. This means black text on a white background and sans-serif fonts.

What is a sans-serif font? Serifs are the little tags on the edges of letters – like this:

Sans-serif fonts are easier to read, especially online.

Also, avoid text decorations like italics, underlines, or all caps. Bold is ok if used sparingly when you really want to drive home a point.

One thing you can do if you really want to call out a bit of information is to create a box of some sort. Check out what your theme's blockquote looks like. If you like it it can be a great way to call out a few sentences.

This is a block quote and is great for pointing out specific parts of the text. If you have the Guetenberg editor in WordPress just add a new block and then search for “blockquote”. It should come right up.

Another option is to create an image in Canva and place it in your text. If you decide to go this route stick with the black text on a white background and have a consistent style you use across all your articles.

A few more technical things. Make sure the font is big enough to be read and your lines are spaced apart well. Experts say you want to use at least a 16 point font and a 27 point line spacing.

Summary

When writing for the internet, the biggest thing to know is that your content must be easy to scan, easy to read, and make sense even if you read it out of order.

Because that is how everyone uses the internet.

They scan, pick out the parts that interest them, and leave if they have to put in any effort. Want proof? Did you read every word of this article? No, you didn't.

So plan for this type of usage by using good headings, images that enhance understanding, and strong calls to action that tell your reader exactly what to do next.

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