A good content marketer knows content formatting plays an important role in content marketing strategies. Everything from text, images, calls to action (CTAs), videos, and graphics is organized so readers can consume content easily and pick out the important takeaways in your article.
I’ve been with Craft Your Content as a content producer for more than half a year, working alongside our Director of Production, Erika Rasso. Our job as content producers is to prepare articles for publishing into a content management system and lay out visual elements to make it more appealing.
I’ve worked with several clients who want to turn their blogs into content machines to rank better in search engines. Practically, they would need the help of a content manager to oversee this entire process, as it involves an editorial team that continuously produces articles. A content producer then readies it for publishing by formatting everything properly and applying necessary SEO practices and HTML tags.
But is it really just about aesthetics? Turns out, there are several reasons why you should take content formatting into consideration before publishing that article.
According to the article How Little Do Users Read? by Jakob Nielsen, on average, users read only about 28 percent of words on a page—and only if they dedicate some time to read it. A more realistic percentage would be only 20 percent.
So what does this tell us?
Site visitors have been found to only skim the content of a web page, often just picking out words or text they’re initially looking for. Applying the math, it gives us an idea that if you have a 1,500-word article, readers read only about 420 words of it.
This is why content formatting is more than just arranging text and images. An article needs an intentional strategy so readers can easily pick out the important information or takeaways.
Take, for example, a call to action (CTA) button. This kind of design element can help your CTA stand out better to a user—more particularly, one who’s just skimming the page—so they can easily spot and click on it.
Of course, we can only do so much in organizing the overall structure and style of the content we produce. But if there’s a way for us to improve the flow of an article so readers can easily extract the important things right away, then it helps the content serve its purpose.
Action Steps: Try using the inverted pyramid writing style similar to what is used in journalism to prioritize which types of information to place at the 20 percent mark. Break up the walls of text as much as possible by adding style elements between paragraphs, or dividing paragraphs into sections to make it easier to skim the content.
A brand is nothing without its identity. Every time I work with a new client looking for someone to make their blogs “look good,” I always ask if they already have a curated style guide or follow an editorial process to make every output stay cohesive with the brand. Surprisingly, less than 50 percent of them actually have one.
Think APA style formats. These guidelines help your writing style become more consistent—the margin size, indentions, numbers, etc. are all uniform. They exist to provide clarity and consistency to your writing, and the same goes for content formatting on the web.
Aside from getting your brand message across by having a voice and vision, it’s also important to have a cohesive look people can associate with your brand when they come across it anywhere on the web. This holds true for any online materials a business produces, and that includes their content.
Action Steps: Incorporate images or any other forms of media that align with your brand message. Here at CYC, our clients are mostly professional writers, editors, and entrepreneurs. When choosing the images we use for our articles, we keep our client avatar in mind and include images of writers, business persons, and entrepreneurs. Having a style guide also helps in the refining process to make sure the output is aligned with the brand.
In a previous article, I talked about having a humanistic approach to creating content that search engines will also love. If you want to up your game further, implementing basic formatting strategies can help your site rank better in search engines as well.
At this point, you may be starting to think that a 1,500-word article is at a disadvantage (remember how readers read only about 20 percent of words?). But according to Quicksprout, data has shown that longer articles (usually around 1,200 words or more) generally perform better. Basically, Google loves lengthy posts as long as there’s substance and people get value out of it.
Breaking up walls of text not only makes it more readable and comprehensible, but also provides a better and smoother reading experience. Here are some helpful text-formatting elements you can use:
Not only do heading tags divide several topics into different sections and help readers digest the article in smaller bites, but they also boost your SEO and provide structure to your content. They help search engines know the main topics of your article, making it easier to scan and identify which niche it belongs in. Also, it follows a top-down hierarchy, and combining everything gives you an outline of your entire content.
When there’s engagement, people will more likely share the article across social media, thus helping your content rank better in search engines. Sprinkle your article with different types of visual content aside from images and videos, like widgets, surveys, memes, and infographics, to keep more users engaged.
Improving the usability of your post boosts reading comprehension by 20 percent. White space gives your readers enough room to breathe, allowing them to take in only what’s necessary. It also helps shape up the look of your article, making it easier for them to read and jump from one paragraph to another.
If you’re a fan of long-form content, you may want to incorporate some content formatting tactics to encourage readers to read it from top to bottom. Despite the short-attention-span problem and length of an article, there are ways to keep them longer on the page.
Formatting your content in a way that readers can easily skim does not necessarily foster online reading habits that lessen serious reading. Nope.
Instead, it’s all about knowing how to direct your readers to important pieces of information by positioning them at the right places.
Of course, there are still readers who will go over every word on the page. But let’s face it, everybody is busy. Keeping in mind those who prefer to skim when organizing the text and media of your post can help determine which styling elements to use. This leads to more leads, better conversion rates, and reduced bounce rate.
We’re all about finding ways to spruce up our content, yes? Aside from breaking up text into smaller chunks by chopping it into sections, it’s nice to add some interactive style elements between them.
Examples are “tweetable quotes,” content boxes (may contain pros and cons, “Did You Know?” trivia, or tips), comparison tables, GIFs, and polls. Bulleted lists, block quotes, and bold and italicized words work as well.
Don’t overdo it with the styling elements, though. They serve their purpose well if used in sections that contain essential information you want to pop out to your readers.
For example, if you’re trying to compare different products and want the content to be more visual, you can add a comparison table complete with product images, descriptions, and links to take the readers to the product page. Or, if there’s a share-worthy quote, then using block quote elements or creating “tweetable quotes” will make it stand out more. Another plus on the engagement factor!
Incorporating these content formatting principles can be useful for writers and editors, too. Keeping these in mind can make writing and editing time more efficient, since they already have an idea of what content is suitable for certain types of styling elements or where to place it so it creates a big impact.
For example, a writer would know the appropriate heading tags to use in breaking up walls of text, or where to add that copy and turn it into an effective CTA. Furthermore, following a structure improves the overall flow and quality of an article.
It’s easy to get stuck trying to make sure your finalized post doesn’t have misaligned margins or too few images (I know because I’m guilty of that—it takes me almost four hours to format my own blog posts!).
So if frustration washes over you for not having the “visually appealing” look you’re trying to nail, just remember the purpose of your content and let that guide you.
Arnela Gonzales is a travel and food photographer and blogger at Chasing Bleu from Cebu, Philippines. When she’s not learning web programming, she pursues creative projects and travels as much as she can all across the country—continuously wandering and soaking up herself in new experiences and beautiful scenery.