Content creation is no easy task.
Trying to get people to read the entirety of what you’ve written? Now that’s nothing short of a full-blown battle!
No matter how compelling the topics are, or how well we articulate our posts, the truth is, not many people read a blog post from start to finish. Most people skim over the whole thing in just a few seconds that should otherwise have taken at least a few minutes to read.
So, how do we ensure the readers’ undivided attention? Make sure they at least get the important bits of the post that’ll be helpful and useful to them?
Well, there are certainly a few tricks that help engage the readers’ senses and get them to pay more attention to the content.
There is this obvious one: a well-written body of work. Some gifted writers are so crafty that they could write a blog post on how to put together an IKEA shelf and readers would gobble it up. But the thing is, not many writers are of that caliber.
But that doesn’t mean us average bloggers cannot write posts that hook readers. We need to bring out a few tricks from our writing bags that may or may not have much to do with the writing process itself, but hey, anything to gets the readers’ attention, yeah?
What if I told you that there are some super easy formatting techniques that can increase a blog post’s chances of getting read almost exponentially?
Don’t believe me? You see, it all has to do with how our brains work. It’s pure science.
Let’s look at some of the formatting techniques that you can easily implement on your WordPress blog posts (or blog posts on any platform, really.)
1. Start the Post with Shorter Paragraphs
My favorite blogger Jon Morrow always starts his blog posts with one single sentence paragraph. All the other writers on his blog follow the same structure. Each and every post starts off with 3/4 single sentence paragraphs, and then it builds up to longer paragraphs. It’s a potent technique.
First of all, our brains react differently when reading off a screen vs. pages in a paper book. On screen, we tend to lose focus easily. Single sentence paragraphs, written in a way that captures our curiosity and attention, helps overcome the initial restlessness and resistance to reading.
If you can write a sentence to hook readers, chances are they’ll go further than had you presented them with a novel at the very beginning of your blog post.
2. Keep the Paragraphs Short
Leaving aside the very first sentence, we should always aim to have shorter paragraphs on blog posts. The reason is the same as I mentioned above. We tend to lose focus and interest reading off of screens much faster.
Shorter paragraphs give the brain frequent breaks, helping it to refocus after the end of each paragraph. We are always doing it subconsciously, but if you can capitalize on that, chances are, your readers will be able to hold their focus longer.
Your goal should be to write no more than 4/5 sentences per paragraph, on average, or 4-6 lines of text, whichever you hit first.
3. Switch up the Paragraph Lengths
Even as you’re writing shorter paragraphs, it’s better to switch up the lengths. If all the paragraphs roughly have the same physical length, the reader will start to get bored. Variation holds focus longer. Mix in single sentence (or just shorter) paragraphs with relatively longer ones to spice things up.
4. Add Headings and Subheadings
Headings and subheadings are not only good for SEO, but they are also good for skimmers who like to get the gist of a post first before committing to reading the whole thing.
A lot of readers (myself included) do this, wherein we read the headlines first to get a feel for what to expect, and to decide if reading the whole post would be worth our time.
Headings and subheadings also break a post down into sections and subsections, which help the brain process the information better. And that, in turn, holds focus longer.
Adding headings and subheadings on WordPress is really easy. On top of the post editor, you’ll see a drop-down that has all the text types listed (headers, paragraphs, etc.) Highlight the texts you want to make into a heading, click on the drop-down, and then choose the right heading. See image below.
5. Add a Table of Content
If you’re writing a really long blog post (typically over 2000 words), it’s a good idea to add a table of content. It serves the same purpose as having headers and subheaders in that, it helps the reader understand what the entire blog post is about, get an idea of the points that are being discussed, etc. And thus, if the topics are of interest to the reader, she will likely continue on and read the whole thing.
Another benefit of having a table of content is that, sometimes, when a reader wants to revisit a section later, it helps her do that with just a click (make sure to have a clickable table of content).
For WordPress bloggers, there are some plugins that add a clickable table of content with just a shortcode. It automatically takes headers and subheaders and creates a table of content. When you click on a section, it jumps to the respective header or subheader.
(Note: I often use a table of content in this blog. The plugin I’m using is Easy Table of Contents, in case you’re looking for a recommendation.)
6. Make the Main Points Bold
Chances are, your reader is still just skimming. In that case, the least you can do is make the skimming easy.
Every paragraph has one or two punchlines. The sentences that convey the real intention, while the other sentences act as fillers; these are transitional sentences that increase readability but do not provide any meaningful insight.
Make the punchlines bold. This way, while the reader is skimming, their eyes will naturally be drawn to these bolded lines and they’ll end up reading them.
This way, even if they’re not reading the entire thing, they’re at least reading the important bits, the bits that are actually useful.
To make a portion of the text bold, select the text first, and then from the toolbar on top of the text editor, click on the bold “B” as shown in the image below.
7. Add Horizontal Rules or Some Other Kind of Visual Cues to Separate Sections
Often, especially in longer posts, you’ll have many sections and sub-sections. Make sure these sections are clearly separated from one another. Do so with a horizontal rule or some other kind of visual cue.
You can do so with images working as a form of a separator or by styling an element in a way that’s clear indication that you’re changing the subject.
You can add horizontal rules easily on WordPress from the toolbar above the post editor. It appears as a small line on the toolbar. Place your cursor where you want the horizontal line to appear, and then click on the small line on the toolbar, as shown in the image below:
Other ways you can incorporate visual cues:
For example, I use a background color on all my h1 tags, making them clearly stand out, as shown in the image below:
Well, what do you think? Pretty easy right? Sounds almost a little too simple, but trust me, incorporate them as often as possible and you’ll see that more people are reading your blog posts, take my word on that!
Do you have your own formatting tips on how to get more people to read blog posts? If so, feel free to let me know in the comments.