This post is based on Episode 176 of the ProBlogger podcast.
You’ve chosen your words with care, and put a lot of thought into them.
But no-one’s even reading your posts, let alone commenting or sharing.
If you want more readers, more engagement, and more sharing of your content (and let’s face it, why doesn’t?) then this post is for you.
Why Readers Won’t Read Every Word – and What You Can Do About It
Only 16% of people read websites word for word. Most people scan, and I expect you’re one of them.
I know I am.
When I arrive at a website or blog, I quickly scan the page to see if it looks relevant to me. If something intrigues me, I might scroll down to see what’s “below the fold”.
People make decisions in seconds. They decide whether your content is relevant to them, and whether it’s worth spending time reading it.
If they can’t see the benefits of reading on, they’ll click away from your site. They won’t read your content. They won’t leave a comment. They won’t share it. And chances are they won’t ever come back.
This means you need to learn to write scannable content. Because people will decide whether or not to read it based on their initial scan.
I’m going to give you eighteen techniques for doing just that.
#1: Write Great Headlines
The first thing people will see is your headline. It should draw their eye. Your blog design should help your headline pop off the screen. (If it doesn’t, you might want to change or tweak your theme.)
In terms of wording, your headline should be compelling and offer the reader a clear benefit if they read the post.
If you want some help with writing great headlines, check out Episode 156 of the ProBlogger podcast, or Seven Easy Ways to Write Better Headlines for Your Blog Posts.
#2: Write a Great Opening Line
Aside from your headline, the most read part of your blog post will be your first line. You want this to communicate a benefit, or create some curiosity. In your first line, you need to give people a good reason to read more.
If you need some help coming up with a strong opening line, check out 10 Tips for Opening Your Next Blog Post.
#3: Keep Your Paragraphs Short
Large slabs of text will turn readers off. If you keep your paragraphs short, it gives readers a visual clue that your content will be easy to read and put into action. If they see huge, daunting chunks of text, it’ll all seem too hard.
Stick to one idea per paragraph, and keep those paragraphs short.
#4: Keep Your Sentences Short
Short, clear sentences help readers feel your content is accessible. If your opening sentence is 40 or 50 words long and confusing to follow, they won’t want to read on.
I once heard a suggestion that you should keep your sentences to no more than 16 words, which sounds like a good rule of thumb.
For more on both short sentences and short paragraphs, check out How to Write Short Sentences and Paragraphs the Right Way (and Why It Matters).
#5: Choose Simple Words
Back in high school, my English teacher once commented on my essay saying that while words with four or more syllables may sound impressive, they make the writing inaccessible to anyone reading it. (I pointed out to her that the word “inaccessible” is a five-syllable word. That didn’t go down too well.)
Aim to write like you speak, and choose words that simply and accurately convey your meaning. Don’t use big words to try and sound impressive.
#6: Use Lists
On both ProBlogger and Digital Photography School, I’ve found that posts written in a list format do much better than essay-style content.
When readers can see your content is structured as a list, they know you’ve broken it down to make it easy for them.
You don’t necessarily have to create your whole post as a list, though. Even using bullet points throughout a post can help people scan your content.
For more on lists, check out How to Create a List Post (a podcast episode) and How to Use Lists Effectively in Your Blog Posts.
#7: Use Subheadings to Break Up Your Post
If people come to your site and just see text (even if it’s broken up into short paragraphs), nothing will stand out to them. This makes it harder for them to figure out what your post actually covers.
You want to break that post into four or five sections and give each a subheading that clearly communicates what the section is about. That way your readers have a visual cue about what’s coming up, and whether there’s a section of your post that’s particularly relevant to them.
For more on subheadings, check out How to Use Subheadings to Add Structure to Your Blog Posts.
#8: Add Other Types of Formatting
Beyond subheadings, there are other types of formatting you can use. You might use bold, italics, or even all-caps to emphasise key points. You might even change the size or colour of the text.
These things can really draw your reader’s eyes to important points in your post.
But show some restraint with this type of formatting. You don’t want your content to become a mismatch of these different techniques, or it’ll just look a mess.
If you’re not sure how to add formatting, check out our post How to Use the WordPress WYSIWYG Toolbar to Format Your Blog Posts Like a Pro.
#9: Use Images
You might already be using a featured image at the top of your posts. But are you using images within the posts?
Research shows that readers’ eyes are drawn to images. So putting images beside your key points – especially when those images closely relate to the content – increases the chance of readers getting to the end of your post.
However, make sure you’re not infringing anyone’s copyright. If you’re not sure how to find images you can legally use, take a look at How to Find Images for Your Blog That Won’t Get You Sued.
#10: Use Image Captions
In WordPress, it’s really easy to insert a caption for your image. Just click on the image to edit it, and type whatever you want into the “Caption” box. The caption will then appear just below the image in your post.
People naturally look at the descriptions below images. I suspect they’re one of the most read parts of your post (after your subheadings). So you could use an image caption that emphasises a point you’re trying to make, or even one that includes a call to action.
#11: Use Other Visual Content
Images are great. But there are other types of visual content you could create. For instance, you might use charts or even tables in your post to show information.
Anything that’s visual and conveys information differently can help draw the eye. It shows readers you’ve got something for them to look at – not just text for them to read.
You could even take a key quote from your post, create a nice image with it layered over a photo, and put in into your content to act like a subheader. This gives readers a reason to read more.
#12: Use Blockquotes
Almost all WordPress themes have a “blockquotes” style. This allows you to highlight a particular part of your content in some way. It’s normally used to highlight a quote, but you can use it in different ways if you want.
With WordPress, you can apply blockquotes formatting by highlighting the paragraph in question and clicking the “Blockquotes” icon in the visual editor.
If you want more help using quotes on your blog, check out The Why, How and When of Using Quotations on Your Blog.
#13: Use Whitespace
You don’t have to fill every inch of the screen. Creating space within and around your content means your readers won’t feel so overwhelmed.
Again, space can draw the reader’s eye down the page. While this is partly affected by design, you can also add more line breaks to create short paragraphs (which we looked at earlier) and space things out a bit more.
#14: Use a Good Design
Often, blogs are difficult to read simply because their design is cluttered. SImplifying things, or even switching to a different theme (template), can really help.
Two key things you can do are:
- choose fonts that aren’t too small
- add a little distance between the lines of your content.
Getting the advice of a good designer can also help.
If you’d like to dig into blog design, try our podcast episode How to Give Your Blog Design a Spring Clean.
#15: Make Your Main Point(s) Clear
One trap many bloggers fall into is burying their main point deep within their content where it probably won’t be noticed.
If there’s a key point you want your readers to understand or remember, just say it upfront.
If you’re writing a long post (say 2,000–3,000 words), try using summary statements underneath each subheading to help readers see what the point of that section is.
This gives readers an immediate reason to read the rest of that section. It’s like using a title and opening line, but throughout your post rather than just at the start.
#16: Repeat Your Important Points
Hopefully, you’ve got a clear idea of what you want people to get from your content. Repeat it – more than once.
Most people aren’t reading word for word. So you need to emphasise your key point several times throughout your content.
You’ll probably want to have it in your opening, in some of your summary statements, in your conclusion, and maybe in a piece of visual content as well. That way, your readers are much more likely to get that main point or call to action.
#17: Don’t Introduce Too Many Ideas in One Post
If you’ve got a lot of ideas you want to cover, it might be worth breaking them up into a series of posts.
While long pieces of content can work well, they can also be overwhelming for readers. The more points you make within a post, the less likely your readers will actually get all of them.
For more about structuring your content as a series of posts, check out How to Write a Series for Your Blog (and Why You’ll Want To).
#18: Write Like a Human Being
The more human-like your writing is, the better. People are more likely to keep reading if they feel a sense of connection with you.
That means you could tell stories, show readers who you are in some way, and write in a more conversational style.
For help with that, I recommend listening to 10 Writing Tips to Help You Sound More Human, where I interview Beth Dunn, the Product Editor-in-Chief at HubSpot.
We’ve covered a lot of different techniques in this post. You won’t necessarily want to use all of them for every piece of content you write. But using a handful of them could make a huge difference to how scannable your content is, and and how much it gets read.
Here’s the list of techniques again:
- Write great headlines
- Write a great opening line
- Keep your paragraphs short
- Keep your sentences short
- Choose simple words
- Use lists
- Use subheadings to break up your post
- Add other types of formatting
- Use images
- Use image captions
- Use other visual content
- Use blockquotes
- Use whitespace
- Use a good design
- Make your main point(s) clear
- Repeat your important points
- Don’t introduce too many ideas
- Write like a human being
Give some of these a try with your next post. And leave a comment below to tell us how you got on.