We’re visual people, the human race. Whenever there’s an appealing image, our eyes gravitate toward it. We’re also a very busy and fragmented race. We skim blog posts, looking for the marrow of the post. Then we move on.
If you’re the blogger, this isn’t necessarily good news. It’s up to you to keep a reader on a post longer. One way to do that is with images and formatting.
1. Find a Good Image
A solid photograph or design can tell the story you want to tell in a blog post (or ebook or email). It can be a literal representation of your topic, or one that’s more abstract. For example, the image I use here plays off of the word “Jazz” in the title of this post:
You don’t need to hire a professional photographer to get great images. In my book, co-written with David Langton, Visual Marketing, we highlight email marketing firm Vertical Response. The firm creates free marketing guides for business owners. To make points in the guides stand out, it uses images from stock photo sites. Vertical Response’s guides have been downloaded 35,000 times in the last year alone.
Here are 3 good places to find inexpensive stock photos for content:
Here’s a list of another 50 places to find inexpensive or free images.
2. Format for Quick Reading
No matter what you’re writing, make it easy to skim:
- Use short paragraphs, with no more than four or five sentences.
- Keep sentences short! Long dense sentences turn off readers. You lose traffic this way.
People want the meat of your post fast. They know that anything bulleted is worth reading, so use bullets (as above) or number lists to call out key points.
3. Get a Good Avatar
Many posts today show the author’s avatar near them, especially on group blogs. Same goes for your Gravatar image for blog comments, or your Disqus or Twitter profile. A blurry or poor avatar can turn readers off. Many people don’t even bother uploading an image. Simply by doing so, you stand out in a sea of gray silhouettes.
If the instructions say that a certain size image works best, resize or crop it before uploading. There’s nothing tackier than a photo squeezed into a distorted shape. Also, choose an image so that your face is recognizable even when small. Usually this means a headshot, not a full length or torso photo.
4. Go With Infographics
Infographics are extremely popular these days, and easy to share. Essentially, they take complex information and turn them into a visual, like this:
Infographics today are a key link-building strategy. This means that most creators of infographics are more than willing to let you post them on your blog, as long as you credit them as the source and link back. (You could also create your own infographic to attract links to YOUR blog, too.)
Aside from a link-building strategy, infographics are a great way to liven up otherwise non-exciting data. No one wants to read a list of dry statistics. But a good infographic makes it visually stimulating.
5. Use Subheaders
Great blog posts and articles are broken up into sections using bolded subheaders. In this post, we break down each of the tips into its own section. This gives the eye a chance to rest, and organizes your information. This is also useful in long whitepapers and reports.
6. Have a Great Template
Have you ever visited a blog that immediately turned you off, due to poor design? Blog templates are free, so there’s no excuse not to have a good one. If you want something that’s in vein with your branding elsewhere, hire an affordable theme designer to customize one to match your website or logo.
A challenge for corporate blogs is: how do you make the blog feel more conversational and relaxed, when it’s a section of a very businesslike site.
One great example from Visual Marketing for how to do this is Tim Berry’s blog. He founded Palo Alto Software, and his blog is within one of the company’s corporate sites. But his blog header is designed specifically to profile both the business and personal side of Tim. There’s an image of Tim in front of some beautiful mountains.
By including himself in a relaxed manner, he’s showing the business world his personal side. You don’t have to be all business all the time.
7. Make Sure Content Flows
When it comes to web copy or email messages, it’s important that the sections flow well. People read web pages in an F shape, so it’s key to have your most important content and images on the left.
In an email newsletter, use a sidebar to break out separate content, such as tips or news. This lets the reader quickly determine that the main block of text is separate from what’s blocked off on the side.
8. Bold Important Words
An effective technique on blogs is to bold important phrases and words. This helps readers easily identify the key points in your blog, just like our textbooks told us what to study when the glossary words were bolded in the text! Don’t overdo your use of bolding, but do use it to effectively focus on certain concepts.
9. Use Multiple Images in Long Posts
For a long post, such as the one you are reading, images not only illustrate key points, but they break up text. They make it easier to read. To some degree beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and there are different ways to approach the images:
- Uniformity – with uniform images you make all images exactly the same size or at least the same width. And you place them precisely the same (e.g., all centered, or all left aligned). Here is an example of a post with uniform images.
- Variety – a different approach is to mix up the size and placement of images for variety. The post you are reading now has a variety of sizes and placement of images. Just be careful. Too much variety and your post may look chaotic and lack unity.
10. Show Excerpts
You’ve likely seen blogs where the home page shows the entire article (times ten or so), which makes for a very long and unappealing page. Instead, simply show an excerpt of each post, with a thumbnail image next to each. WordPress has an excerpt feature and various plugins are available to achieve this effect, which means readers have to click to read the entire post.
By using these techniques, you can make your blog posts and web content more visually interesting, which will entice visitors to read more and stick around longer.
Anita Campbell is the Founder of Small Business Trends, reaching 3 million small business owners annually, and CEO of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses to bookmark their blog posts. She is a Forbes #1 Influential Woman on Twitter for Entrepreneurs, and one of TwitterGrader’s 100 Most Powerful Women on Twitter. She is co-author of the book “Visual Marketing.”