Do you follow these content formatting essentials to engage readers and increase $ales?
Formatting is crucial to getting your content noticed and read. And that’s your goal – to engage the reader and ultimately get them to act after reading your words. Get great audience engagement for your copy with these formatting tips.
Say what… school got it wrong?
So, you’ve gone to the effort of writing a great article or blog. You’re sharing your wisdom and experience with the big wide world. And if you don’t say so yourself, it’s friggin awesomeness on a page.
Or is it?
What good is all your effort if no one other than your mum’s gonna read it?
The problem is probably not your content (cos we already established it’s amazeballs). The kryptonite for your readers is your formatting.
Let me tell you a little secret – Mrs Jones from high school English class was wrong. Well, she was right for year twelve English but wrong for how to write effectively today, especially for digital media.
Lately, I’ve been doing a bit of ‘googling doodling’ on travel, cos who doesn’t love some procrastination? Anyway, I’m shocked at how often I see crappy digital formatting. Huge blocks of text, pages of it, and we know that Bruno Mars’ “Chunky” was so 2016. So read (or scan 😊) on to get your wordy wisdom read
Don’t get an “F” grade for audience engagement due to page formatting
Known for their eye-tracking research, Nielsen Norman Group scans how people read content. They first discovered the F-shaped reading pattern in 2006. In simple terms, when faced with big blocks of text, we tend to:
- First, read a line from left to right horizontally
- Then move down the page a bit on the left side
- Then read another line horizontally
The F-pattern can be a ‘F’ing problem. The F-pattern means much of your wordy wisdom is not getting read (other than your mum – and well, is she really reading it word for word?).
So, what can you do?
Increase your reader’s attention “scan”
Today people scan content. They’re looking for specific answers or confirmation your content is worth their attention.
Your formatting plays a crucial role in ensuring you highlight the significant bits. It needs to steer the reader in the right direction. You must ensure you make things quick and easy to scan and convince readers to stop and read for a while.
Read on for 12 hot tips to un-“F” your formatting and get it read.
1. Main Heading – your superhero
Also known as your H1, the top heading needs to have its own superpower.
It needs to state what your copy is about – umm, durr.
But hang on, there’s more to it. Check out the dot points below:
- Try to put the primary takeaway of the content at the start
- Focus on the benefit or outcome that the reader will get
- Include your keywords (SEO love)
- It’s not the size – try to keep it short (ish) and to the point
2. H1-H2 combo – Kapow!
Like Batman and Robin, your top and first sub-header work together like a well-oiled steak dinner.
- The first H2 is like the roast vegies and balsamic gravy that complements the steak.
- It creates further interest and fills out the main heading.
- If you’ve been serious in your H1, the first H2 can be where you have a little fun and create some intrigue.
- Or flip it around. Consider a hook or quirky angle for your H1. But make sure the sub-heading fills in the context of the article.
3. Lots of sub-headings – the Justice League
You probably hate scammers, but it’s time to embrace your scanners.
Tell them what each section is about and give it a meaningful or intriguing sub-heading.
Often, a document is initially read by its headings alone. A reader may be looking for a specific answer and not interested in the rest of your content. And that’s OK, cos we’re trying to be helpful after all – smile and wave to Google.
Sometimes, when a reader gets a helpful answer to their specific query, they’ll go on to read your entire piece.
A reader may scan your headings to see if reading your entire content is worth their time and effort.
Do your headings advertise what the reader will get by spending some eyeball time on your site?
4. Be bold
In amongst all your wordy goodness will be some key points, phrases, or quotes. Make them stand out by bolding them.
Targeted bolding draws attention and confirms that reading your copy is beneficial.
But …. less is more. Don’t go overboard with bolding. Too much bolding has the opposite effect and makes the text difficult to read.
5. Picture this
Now I’m a copywriter, but I’m going to say it:
“The right image can tell a thousand words.”
Top benefits for images:
- Breaks up the text
- Enhances the content
- Draws the eye
- Adds intrigue that makes the viewer want to read the content
- Makes a complex topic easier to understand visually.
Tips for images:
- Make pics relevant to the topic, you, your business or your branding
- Make sure it is clear and high quality
- Add a caption, so people know what it is about
- Name your image file with relevant topic and keywords – never image 26785 (SEO juice)
- Don’t overdo – Neil Patel recommends about three images (and there’s more awesome writing and formatting tactics there as well). And Neil advises to avoid stock photos if you can.
- Add an image title, Alt text and description when uploading
- If it’s not your image, make sure you’re not breaking copyright and credit it if required.
6. Get to the point – the dot point
Readers want information that’s easy to read and digest, and they want it fast.
A list of dot points captures the eye more than paragraphs of text. That sexy little indent and the concise nature of a dot point give it appeal and help it stand out.
Here are a few tips on using dot points:
- Put the most important points first and second.
- Be concise – this is not the time for long sentences.
- Be consistent with your formatting and style throughout the document.
- Remember, you can use a sub-list for bullets.
- Don’t use ‘and’, ‘or’, commas (,), or semicolons (;) at the end of each point.
- Have a strong finish and avoid petering out. Some people will read the top and bottom bullet only.
7. Here’s my number
Like our friend the dot point, a numbered list is another way of making your message stand out and get read.
Numbered lists are perfect for step-by-step processes or showing the ranked order.
My top 3 tips for using numbered lists:
- Rank the information in order of relevance, impact or importance.
- Use concise text to make numbered lists easy to read.
- Don’t go overboard – unless it’s a complex process or steps you’re explaining. A good list is a short list
8. Short paragraphs
It’s time for a break-up with your t’ex’t.
A big chunk of text is tiring to the eye.
We’ve all been there. Paragraph after paragraph, block after never-ending block. And your eyes flutter, your head nods, and you may even dribble a bit on your desk.
Today’s paragraphs should be comfortable to read – cos, we have a bit of a commitment phobia. That slab of a paragraph looks like we need to put a ring on it to get through. But a nice little paragraph is less commitment, and that extra white space is easy on the eye.
Aim for no more than two to three sentences max. That’s an ideal size for scanning, more approachable and won’t leave dribble marks on your desk.
And one-sentence paragraphs are A-OK in modern writing.
9. Can you brief me, please – short sentences
Let’s keep this short. Short sentences are easier to read, and long is wrong.
Sometimes in writing, you’ll hit a flow point and find that time disappears as you enter a zone where words seem to flow magically, and the only thing stopping you is the speed of your typing or working out which sentence to write down first.
Phew – that was tough, right?
Did things get a bit blurry by the middle of the second line? Yeh, I thought so.
Aim for 15 – 20 words per sentence and mix sentence length to keep it interesting. And here’s something exciting. Single-word sentences are acceptable. Awesome. Boom. Yay.
10. Whiteout – white space
It’s easier to read content that’s lovingly cushioned in generous amounts of white. The text pops. Using the tips above will help with white space.
Also, set your line spacing to a minimum of 1.15. Be generous with your margins, header, footers and spacing between sections. Like art needs a frame to make it stand out, your text benefits from an edge of white space.
11. Let’s link up
Links are helpful to your reader (hello again, Google) and add trust and validity to your content.
Show where you got your information by including a link to your source. Make external links open in a new tab/page. Yeh, we’re trying to be helpful, but we’d love it if readers hung out on our site a little longer.
Internal links direct a reader to more of your content and help with SEO juice and Google love. Linking your copy keeps readers on your site longer and demonstrates your expertise.
When adding a link, use the text highlighting where the link is going or the benefit the reader will get. Never add a link to ‘here’, ‘click’, ‘more’ or ‘report’.
Check out my blog writing packages to find out my pricing.
Click here to find out more about my website copywriting.
12. Tell me what to do – a call to action
So, I’ve reached the end of reading your content, and now I’m sitting here wondering what I should do next. Ummmm, well, I guess I’ll just close your window and do some more Googling elsewhere.
But wait, you’ve added a call to action (CTA) at the end. It’s telling me to book an appointment, buy your product, or read another article you’ve written. OK then, I might just do that, thanks.
Don’t be shy. Put it out there. Make it easy for me to do the next step. A little text and a nice button to click (and don’t you dare use ‘click here’ on that button) will guide me to the next step.
It’s like when the waiter suggests the creamy Sicilian chicken with capsicum, broccoli and white wine. You probably weren’t originally thinking about it, but now that you’ve heard it, it sounds like a mighty fine idea.
Suggest away – add a CTA.
Over to you, you formatting superhero.
Wow, that was a bit of a marathon of formatting tips. But you’ve gotta admit, there’s nothing too complicated or scary there, right?
Modern content writing and formatting are different to what we learnt at school or in the workplace. It can feel odd breaking those drummed-in writing rules. But today, copywriting and content creation give us new ways to express ourselves and can be a lot of fun.
With your new formatting superpowers, you’ll get your content eagerly read. Onwards and upwards, you formatting wonder.
So, you get it. But you’re kinda thinking this is all a bit too hard. And you may not have the time for all this typey typey stuff. Hey – that’s OK because I’m worder woman. And I’m here to save your word-day.
I’m ready to help
(Ps. Have you liked my style, but you’re not sure it will suit your brand or biz? I’m a copywriter that can dress in many superhero outfits. And yes, I can tone it down for my clients 😊)