BACK to BASICS: Blogging and the User Experience
What makes a blog post readable? Well, there’s an answer, but it’s not a simple one. Consider this though: What makes a painting pleasing to the eye? It’s the aesthetics, right?
When looking at a painting, it may not be easy to explain exactly how the artist came to the end product, but there is a method to the madness – an experience the painter creates for the person through style and technique. And blog post is no different.
User experience as it relates to the Web is often defined by how the user feels interacting with a system, product or service online. It's centered on ease of use and efficiency. You can improve the experience you are creating for your readers in your blog by following simple steps. The goal? Create an experience that is respectful of the reader’s time. Don’t make them work for anything. Put in the legwork to create a publication piece that delivers the information with ease.
Of course, the actual content – what is said, how it’s said and who is saying it has a lot to do with this. But in this article, we’re going to explore the “other side” of readability. Not what you should be talking about but how you can organize and format the content in a way that improves the experience of the reader.
Creating a blog post is a little bit like a painting. You know that yellow and green makes blue. You know that a stroke of the brush one way creates a particular effect. Except in this case, the medium is the blog. And the approach to how you are organizing the information will create a better piece of work.
When you approach content from an organization and formatting standpoint, you can create “templates” that better the user experience. With a little bit of structure in your approach, you’ll be elevating the user experience in no time.
Determine the Style of the Blog Post
Just like a painter, the writer must decide on a style. In the visual arts world, it could be impressionism or expressionism, for example. If you painted the same subject in those two styles, it would create a very different experience for the viewer of the art.
Similarly, there are many different styles you could write a blog post in. A person could take several different approaches to one topic and it would read completely different from style to style.
The academic approach to writing offers a wide range of styles for writing. If you’ve ever written a paper in school, you might remember having to write in a certain style. Taking cues from school days, some styles for your blog post can include:
After you have an approach, you’ll then need an outline of how you’ll organize the information you are presenting. Based on the type of style you choose from the list above, the organization of the information will come naturally with a little assistance from your research on the type of writing you’ll be using.
An outline helps organize thoughts, assign resources (where additional information will be helpful) and plan for content assets (like images and videos).
A Note on Writing Specifically for Blogs
It’s best practices to give the reader something in return for their time. Something they can use, something they can apply – at the very least make it clear what the message is so the reader feels like they were rewarded for the time invested in the reading experience.
And because a blog is the medium, not a college classroom, ditch some of the more traditional rules of third-person writing. Address the reader as “you” to make it a conversation between two people.
Last but not least, infuse it with your individual personality and perspective – no matter what approach to the topic you choose. Each person has something unique to add to the conversation based on their experiences and “place” in the world.
Create an Experience through Technique
Painters have individual techniques that make subtle and noticeable differences in their work. They visually plan how the painting is going to look, and they use painting techniques to make it come to fruition.
In a blog post, you want to plan for how it’s going to look visually, not just what it says. Remember, we are talking about how to structure content for readability. This includes not only the way the information is organized (as we talked about in the previous section), but also the way it’s laid out and formatted visually.
The following are some things to consider when creating blog posts:
Try not to use a bunch of competing fonts. Often, a rule of thumb is to use fonts that complement each other, like "display" fonts for headlines, and then a more readable font for a paragraph. A general rule of thumb is not to use serif fonts on the Web for paragraphs. Serif is the “decoration,” if you will, at the end of the letter character – the projected stroke off a letter.
Here's an example of a serif font, Times New Roman (screenshot from Fonts.com):
These types of fonts are generally less legible on the Web than in print. The exception is Georgia, a serif font specially adapted for the Web that addressed some of the problems serif fonts posed.
You also want to consider whether the font is widely available on multiple devices. A sample of commonly used fonts for the Web is:
You can also check out Google Web Fonts, an “open source” project that offers a variety of Web fonts that are compatible with several browsers and mobile devices. Other options for fonts is TypeKit.com.
And keep it clean. Lots of bold words, capital letters or italics can be confusing all at once (keep in mind as well that on the Web, using caps indicates yelling). A page with these elements clumped together is a visual assault, and in turn, makes it harder to read. Used sparingly – a bold word here, an italic word there – it’s appropriate for emphasis.
A “wall” of text can be intimidating to readers, and they might just abandon the page altogether. Try breaking your paragraphs into no more than four lines of text. There’s usually a natural break in the “thought” where this is possible. If not, consider ways to reorganize the paragraph into two separate thoughts.
The length of a line can impact the readability as well. Consider keeping the character count lower, usually determined by the blog’s width parameters. There’s many theories on how many characters should be in a sentence, but just try to take a practical approach; what are other well-known online publications doing? What are the margins people are used to reading within, such as Word documents or commonly viewed documents?
Think about the leading as well -- the space between lines in a paragraph. Loose leading tends to make Web pages more legible.
Other ways to make the format of a blog post more “readable”:
Imagery and MediaA blog post with nothing but text is a bad idea for user experience. On the Web, we have access to all sorts of images and videos we can use to make the page more visually interesting and further illustrate our point.
Prior to even posting, you may have an idea of where you want your images to go. For example, a particular section might conjure up images you’d like to find in a stock photography site or naturally lend to a type of image you create, like a chart.
But if you don’t know where your images should go, what they should be or how many you should use, try the following:
Here's an example of what not to do in a layout of a blog post:
More tips on imagery in a blog post:
Of course, we can’t forget all the other important elements on a blog that make it a great experience, like any plugins that engage the reader further including social sharing buttons, breadcrumb navigation, related posts and more. We also can’t forget how important SEO and social tactics are for having those posts be found in the first place.
But the tips laid out in this article address what you can do for your posts once the reader gets there – the most important part. Take these tips and your blank canvas screen, and start looking at the visual aspects of organizing your content and information to create the best experience you can for your readers.