5 Ways to Improve Blog Readership With Simple Design Changes

in Tech

Truth be the told, the original title for this post was going to be

Dude! Your font is WAY too small.

But I thought that might offend some people. Every time I write something a little borderline, I can literally hear the sound of Twitter followers hitting the unfollow button, lol :)

Ah, the joys of social media marketing.

Is Your Design & Layout Based on Best Practices?

John Garrett at Hypertransitory wrote a great post about using templates for website development, and I’m glad he wrote it, because while funky, custom, unique blog themes are all the rage, the reality is that most of us are not user-interface designers, are we? We don’t spend all day designing for the web, based on years of experience understanding and testing best practices. Why then, would we decide that we know what’s best when it comes to the design of our blogs?

Good read: 10 Important Traits of a Great Blog Design, Six Revisions

Design Is Important, But It’s Not Everything

Here’s the funny thing about looks – they don’t matter and they do matter.  Content = your message, including its design & layout. Your design is supposed to support your message. Bad design can negatively impact good writing. However, good design cannot save bad writing. Assuming that your writing is fabulous, here are some things to remember about [intlink id=”7″ type=”category”]blog design[/intlink] and layout so that your message reaches its full potential.

1. Be Aware of Font Size

Since I have been planning to talk about this subject for awhile, I have been taking mental notes on font size as I travel around the Internet, reading blogs and online magazines, etc. There seems to be a direct correlation between font size and lack of participation (sharing + commenting). What I’ve noticed is the smaller the font size, the less engagement happening. Similarly, gigantic font sizes don’t fare any better.

The font size I’m referring to is the body font size – the main text on your blog. When text is difficult to read, people don’t stick around to read it. There is no standard size such as 12 pixels or 1em; the size just needs to fit your design and be readable.

If you’re not sure whether your font is too small, just leave a comment asking about it and invite people to go visit your blog and check it out. That’s the best way to get an honest opinion.

2. Break, Break, Break It Up

If it’s been said once, it’s been said a million times. Beware of very long paragraphs. They’re just too overwhelming. If your paragraph has more than 100 words in it, it’s too long. According to this article on writing paragraphs for the web, if your paragraphs tend to have more than 50 words, they’re too long. I’d say you’re safe if you’re somewhere in between, then.

Shorter paragraphs can make a very long post seem easier to digest.

3. Use <blockquote> or the Note Class To Add More Interest

On my blog, this is an example of a <blockquote>.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s just say that blockquote is a term for a layout style that, when applied to text, offsets it from the left by a bit and calls attention to it. There is a lot more to it technically but the way I’ve described it is more than sufficient. (More on blockquotes).

Styling quotes has been happening for a long time, on and offline, in magazines and some newspapers. You don’t have to just use it for “quotes.” You can apply blockquote styling to any bit of text that you want to make stand out.

Most WordPress themes and Blogger templates include a style for blockquotes, but if you have a custom theme, you might need to tweak it a bit to make it look the way you want.

The “note” class is a CSS style that’s native to Thesis Theme, so all you need to do is go into your html tab, find the text you want to wrap in a “note” box, and add <p class="note"></p> around your text.

This is an example of text wrapped in the “note” class.

4. Give Your Sections Titles

Similarly to #2, this is talked about at length but is one of those things still rarely done. People want to see what a post is about before they decide to read it, but it’s difficult to do that unless there are section headers.

Easy trick: If you do #2 and break up your paragraphs, you can go back after you’ve written your post an add logical section headers.

Major kudos to Adam Baird over at Art of Blog who not only uses section titles effectively, but has implemented a very nifty post summary box into his Thesis theme customization, so that he can easily add a table of contents in every post for easy navigation.

5. Go Easy on the Advertising

“I’ve seen several people who posted ads on their blogs, earned some serious sums and stopped paying attention to the users and content. They just put as much ads as they could, which eventually ruined all of their hard work…”

From a comment left by Ardorm on 5 Ways to Monetize Your Blog Without Selling Out, Problogger.net

Is advertising the root of all blogging evil? Certainly not. Advertising is the heart of the revenue model of a publisher. Still, too much advertising invokes a gag reflex.

This is probably the #1 reason I no longer visit Examiner.com and don’t publish there even though I have a column. I can’t stand all of the advertising and the way it’s laid out. You can have the best blog in the world and then lose readership if you take the spotlight off of the content and put it on the ads.

Testing Helps

It’s okay to spend some time testing. First, determine what you’ll be using to measure readership. Do you want people to stay 2 to 3 minutes on a page and then check out something else on your blog? For that, you would use Time on Site and Bounce Rate metrics (provided by Google Analytics, etc.). Or, you might measure readership with comments, just be aware that MOST people who read your blog are not going to leave a comment. Perhaps you are more concerned with social sharing; that’s fine, too.

Once you’ve determined how you’ll measure readership, make a few changes that you hope will improve it, and test the results over a couple months or so (if you publish new content often), taking holidays and other things into consideration. Then adjust accordingly.

Questions? Just let me know! Follow Friday returns next week, for those of you who are looking for it!

Image Credit: Shutterstock