Building a Better Blog: Guide Your Users

I like to write long posts. I’ve discovered that length doesn’t matter, so I write and write to my heart’s content until I feel like I’ve completed my thoughts and said what I want to say.

Quite often, though, this means I have a big block of solid text, a nearly unpenetrable slab of words that, as a reader, I would only penetrate if the topic or first few sentences drew me in. Some people are gifted storytellers and have that talent, but most of us need to make our writing navigable to our readers so that they can quickly find out what the point is and whether or not it’s worth digging into the details.

Writing for a blog is quite a bit different than writing for print media. With print media, you can assume that you at least have a bit of time to draw in the reader, but with online media, the reader has many, many other things that are just a mouse click away. You need to draw the reader’s attention quickly, or else they’ll leave.

In short, you have to be able to guide your readers. You need to not only guide them through your posts, but you need to also be able to guide them quickly to other posts of yours that will interest them. Rather than seeing the short attention span of a blog reader as a disadvantage, you can use it to your advantage and rack up lots of page views in the process.

Here are several tips for guiding your users through your posts and your site.

Use bold and emphasis to highlight key thoughts. Whenever you make a major point, particularly in longer posts, encase it in bold and emphasis tags. These will embolden or italicize those pieces and make them stand out to your readers, enabling them to quickly flip through your post, get the general message you’re providing, and dig into the areas that interest them. This enables your message to reach the reader within the constraints of a shorter attention span.

Arrange your post in a sensible order. Make sure your key points follow each other in an order that makes sense. Usually, this is best done by writing a draft of a post, saving it, and reading it again later; the appropriate order of the points will be much clearer when you read it again with fresh eyes.

Provide links to related materials. If you have posts on the same topic in your archives, make sure that you provide links to the older posts. This allows readers to quickly find more material on the subject if they’re interested.

Provide links to archives. Your site needs to have clear access to your archives. If readers enjoy your posts, they’re going to want to read more of what you’ve written.

Include some general highlights. It’s useful to create a page on your site that includes a number of your best posts. Make this page accessible on your menubar so that readers can quickly find a sampling of your best writing.

Building a Better Blog is a month-long series at The Simple Dollar, outlining steps you can take to build a long-term healthy blog that will attract readers. Jump ahead to the next essay, Leverage the Past, or back to the previous one, Be Lucky.

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