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

Leave a Comment


{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Mayur December 10, 2010 at 9:11 pm

Sometimes design itself is more than enough to increase readership and at the least page views. You know, some blogs have such an appealing design that sometimes people surf around just for the look and feel of the website, it happens.

Eric@Хостинг November 22, 2010 at 8:34 am

No more than 100 words you say for a paragraph, but what about whole articles in one paragraph :D. Because I have seen sites that just do not know what is a paragraph is. When you look at their article it is like you are looking at a never ending sea of words and the thought of reading them is unthinkable :).
But enough useless talking from my end, let me give some tips :). I think that a very good idea is to make not too long articles. No matter how well formated they are, when a user scans the article he sees the length and he must not see something huge :). Also probably is a good idea to use some of these plugins that tell the time needed to read an article (something like: “reading time: 2 minutes”). I have not used them, but I have seen them :).

Biodun @ UK Webmaster Forum November 22, 2010 at 5:51 am

It is easy to imagine that the value of design is simply as part of the process of generating value through brands and user experiences for consumers. Best fonts are those that people are used to reading, people become familiar with fonts over time and learn to read them.

Good design is all about effective communication!

Texas Web Development November 22, 2010 at 12:49 am

These are the basics but some of the most important things to keep in mind while blogging. All great recommendations Tia. Thanks for the share!!

Sandy SIdhu November 20, 2010 at 10:13 am

I think good design helps but good content is just as important. I agree with all your points and think breaking up the content definitely makes it easier for readers to absorb. As for advertising, I’m not to keen on it (eg.Google ads embedded in between posts) and find it a distraction. And do your really want users clicking away from your content for a few cents?

Tia Peterson November 21, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Hey Sandy!

Thanks for your comment and for visiting. I’m not a fan of too many ads surrounding the content, either. I think they can be just as effective in their own place. You’re making a great point about the few cents thing. 🙂 It depends on how many clicks, of course, but for blogs with low readership it makes no sense at all!


Andrew @ Blogging Guide November 16, 2010 at 6:57 am

I agree with breaking it up. It seems that internet readers have a short attention span. They tend to scan or browse through the post rather than really read so make sure to highlight important points and break it up.

Tristan@Blogging Tips November 15, 2010 at 11:00 pm

Great article, Tia. I really need to use block quotes more. I always forget about them!

In addition to the gray box that you can do in Thesis that you mentioned, there’s a yellow box, too:

This is text surrounded by the Alert box.

Here’s the code (I inserted a space after the < so that it would show up as text and not convert it into a box, so delete that space when you use it on your blog):

This is text surrounded by the Alert box.

It’s the same code as you use for the grey one, just change “note” to “alert.”

Daniel Sharkov@Blogging Tips November 15, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Hey Tia,

You have covered some solid points there. In my opinion design holds huge importance that often gets disregarded by newbie bloggers. Can’t really say whether content or design is more important. For the first impression I would choose design though. It is the first thing a visitor will see. I for example often judge of a site’s quality based on its design. If I don’t like it, I hit the X button before even getting to read some of the contents.

The second important thing abut the layout, is the article structuring. Totally agree with you that long paragraphs are a no-no, since digesting the information becomes a tough task. Naming each of the paragraphs is crucial as well and even more significant than the length factor. It makes things a lot more organised and it is easier to scan through an article.

Ileane@Basic Blog Tips November 15, 2010 at 11:24 am

Hey Tia,
I would love to learn how to integrate the “note” style into my theme. Does the example you gave only work with Thesis?

You have a great font and layout for this blog and I’m heeding any advice you offer on the topic! Great post.

Thanks Tia.

Henway November 15, 2010 at 7:35 am

Great tips. I had a blog for a couple of years and for some reason even though I promoted it I didn’t have a loyal reader-base. When I took out some of the ads and wrote in smaller chunks, it gradually improved, so these tips are right on the mark.

Madav @ Tech Tips November 15, 2010 at 7:15 am


Thanks for the great tips.I would like to mention one more thing,Bloggers should check their theme compatibility in different browsers and operating systems.

Sherryl Perry November 14, 2010 at 7:14 pm

Excellent post Tia. I like your original title “Dude! Your font is WAY too small.” It made me laugh. My favorite pet peeve is a small white font on a black background. I mean …. seriously? You should be designing for your target market but if your target market includes aging baby boomers… you’re missing the mark with that move. – Just saying. 🙂

Alex@Jocuri November 14, 2010 at 8:12 am

Great post Tia,
Lots of people lose readers because of the way they are organizing their blog posts.
Breaking the content in small digestible paragraphs and having a design that makes your writing stand out is almost always a subscriber booster if combined with usable and useful information provided by your posts.
Advertising is useful for bloggers because that is the way they can maintain their blog and maybe the way they are supporting themselves but shoving the ads in people eyes and pop-ups makes it worse and probably less profitable.

Bryan November 14, 2010 at 6:06 am

Hey Tia,

You’ve made some very relevant points there. The thing that really makes me wonder sometimes is the my ads and location. I think it’s not too much of a bother as it really doesn’t distract my readers from content.

Sometimes I also feel like I want to add more, but I think that’s just enough. I noticed that your blog has ads too. It doesn’t look distracting to me. I do get the feeling that my blog is kind of “full” of stuff sometimes. Hmm what do you think?

Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach November 14, 2010 at 3:32 am

Font size is a big thingee to me – I like being able to read without squinting. Perhaps my vast venerable age has something to do with this….

Chris Ryan November 14, 2010 at 12:02 am

This article is very help. Content is king and if you want people to keep coming back to visit your site you need to keep up with great articles. You don’t want your flashy or overlarge images to ruin the experience for your viewer so you definitely want your content to be the main focal point.

Hesham November 13, 2010 at 10:11 pm

It’s always nice to start your blog post putting a smile on your reader’s face 🙂

Ah! so you mean design usability? yes this need a lot of experience and it will never come with one or two website designs, it’s really something that need measures and knowledge, this is limited to a few designers in the whole world (I guess).. Also each site has it’s very own nature which makes it even more harder! So, I completely agree with this!

I read the other post about advertising, very useful though! I’ve been attacked several times by my blog readers, but what to do?! need to pay the rent 😉

Very good writing Tia

Lauren Ashley Miller November 13, 2010 at 7:24 pm

Nice post — tip #3, the

, will be a new standard on my blog! I don’t know how I wasn’t aware of that.
And although I know I need subheads, I somehow fail to do it regularly. Thanks for the reminder!

Extreme John November 13, 2010 at 6:46 am

Your killing me with this post. I don’t really feel I need a blog re-design but I sure feel like I want to have a contest to have my blog re-designed.

Not to mention I guess it wouldn’t be a bad thing if I worked in a few of your tips to ensure I’m getting the most out of my blog, I know there’s a few things above that we need to do to our business blogs that’s for sure.

Tia Peterson November 13, 2010 at 10:08 pm

lol Hey John,

It’s good to be back if only to read comments like this. 🙂 You SHOULD hold a contest to have your blog re-designed. That’d be fabulous. I’d certainly help promote it!

Lemme know. At least you know that your font is a-okay in terms of size!


Joseph Archibald November 12, 2010 at 10:03 pm

Hey mia Tia, where you off on holiday to then?

I remember a while back and you wrote on Facebook that you hate when folks call you “DUDE”, lol!

For me – I just hope I can keep writing interesting posts or no matter how many glossy pics and how large apart I space my paragraphs, I’ll not retain much readership.

I know Rick Lapoint wrote a post recently (which I saw mentioned on Facebook but did not quite get the time to read as of yet) along the lines of “How long should your posts be? Doesn’t matter, as long as your post is engaging to your target audience”. For me, that says pretty much all there is to say.

Enjoy your time away; nice to see Gera back online and re-gaining good health!

Tia Peterson November 13, 2010 at 10:11 pm

Yes, it’s awesome to see Gera back!

I went to Disneyland in Anaheim, California. It was fun except for the fact that I was sick the whole time!

You’re right; the content itself is crucial, because if it’s readable but uninteresting, you’ll never know.

Love hearing from you, Jo!


Gera@SweetsFoodsBlog November 12, 2010 at 5:39 pm

Hi Tia!

The original title was fine for me, but not for SEO. This title is correct and more formal – but sometimes a shocking title can be good.
Last year I put a normal title but starting with Warning:…. and several readers came urgently to see the why….

Getting to the point I hate smaller fonts…ctrl plus + for me, if not – out soon from there. 12 is a good size.
All the points are valid, and agree with them, I’m still finding bloggers without any space, breaks, colors, photos in their text.. the feeling is get me out from here, again, soon….

Hope a better next week and good health for you 🙂



Tia Peterson November 13, 2010 at 10:15 pm

Thanks, Gera! I didn’t know about the font size increase. That is good to know, in case there are posts or web content that I have to or need to read for some reason.

I am happy you’re getting around to reading blogs and sharing again. It’s a positive sign. Keep getting better. 🙂


Jean November 12, 2010 at 4:53 pm

I agree that font size matters. I incorporated a larger font right into my style sheet.

Patricia@lavenderuses November 12, 2010 at 6:07 pm

Hi Tia

Another great post. I would have come across with the first suggestion for a title lol especially as some blogs do have too small print that I bounce off. Unless it is excellent content and then I do what Gera does and enlarge print for my perusal.

All good points you make here. I don’t have thesis and if you need code to do anything I need help!!! My guest post you visited (I’ve replied to your comment and thanks) Rick did the graphics and the headings. I usually get my Gen Y niece to do my graphics for me but she got assignments to do for college so Rick came to the rescue.

I do agree about the short praragraphs and the easy read. With so many blogs to visit and comment on, it’s hard on the eyes if the format is not easy read.

Patricia Perth Australia

Tia Peterson November 13, 2010 at 10:14 pm

Hey Patricia – You’re the perfect person to talk about font size and readability, since I know you read so many blogs.

Small font is so incredibly irritating to me. lol I can’t even explain it. I don’t bother to increase the size myself since I didn’t know how until Gera said that; my guess is that most people don’t know how. It’s more about distraction; when content is difficult to read, our brain tells our eyes to move on to something else (that’s my un-scientific explanation), so unless a person has incredible focus, it is totally unlikely that he/she will stick around.

I appreciate your input as always, Patricia!


John Garrett November 12, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Hey Tia, thanks for referencing my post!

I have to admit that I’m guilty of looong blocks of text with no breakup. That’s something I need to get better at so I’m glad you mentioned it in this article.

Gotta make it scannable, baby. Hope your vacation is going great!

Tia Peterson November 12, 2010 at 5:13 pm

You’re welcome, John!

So try that with the next post. I’d love to see it on your blog. Once you start, you won’t be able to stop! 🙂 Don’t forget that you can always go back and do that, especially on those great posts that get search engine traffic.

Cheers, and I’m already “back” from vacation unfortunately. LOL


Ryan Biddulph November 12, 2010 at 11:30 am

Hi Tia,

I try to stick to each one of your tips.

I noticed an increase in readership when I increased my font size. If your reader can’t see the post you can’t expect them to read it 😉

As for advertising, it’s a science and one I continue to tweak. You must let people know you have something to offer them. In the same respect you can’t let them know every 5 minutes and you can’t do it in a forceful manner. At least if you want to keep your readers. Pitchers get panned pretty quickly.

As a rule of thumb the more usable blog content you can provide the more value you receive, whether in be in the form of money, relationships, social sharing, etc. Heavy on the substance, light on the style.

Thanks for sharing and have a fun weekend!


Tia Peterson November 12, 2010 at 1:37 pm

You’re welcome, Ryan!

It’s interesting that you noticed a positive change once you increased your font size. Such a minor tweak can make a big difference. It’s always worth just trying out. Great report from you!


Isabel Rodrigues - Pro Blogger Journey November 15, 2010 at 6:55 am

Its so very true. Title is like your main striker to get the visitors attention.

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