When you surf blogs that you’ve never visited, how quickly do you decide whether to read on or go to another blog? By accident, I discovered that I was judging the blog in the first few seconds, and I began to pay closer attention to the emerging pattern of how I judged the blog.
While we all know that users judge sites in a short time, knowing what they look for in a blog as opposed to a web site helps us ensure that we address those areas.
The first five tips in this article came from my discovery of that pattern, and focus on how to hook the reader in those crucial first few seconds. These tips are cosmetic—addressing the shallow surface of the blog that you notice before reading its content.
The last five tips in this article help you to hang on to those readers who then look deeper into your blog.
Hook ’em Tips 1–5
For those scanners in my audience, here’s a peek into the "hook ’em" tips:
- Small banner/header
- Short entries
- Frequent postings
- No sound without user interaction
Now let’s focus on the details of these tips.
Tip 1: Keep the Banner/Header Small in Height
A banner gives a site "pop" and creates its look-and-feel. But what’s the purpose of a banner that’s 600 pixels long? Remember, you have menus, white space, blog name, date, and other items that push the content further down.
A person who mindlessly surfs blogs wants to get in, read, and get out. Scrolling down past the tall banner to get to the blog’s content disrupts the flow. Show the reader what you’ve got and ensure that your fresh content appears "above the fold"—in the area of the screen that requires no scrolling to see.
I’ve been to sites with a lot of static content taking up the entire screen, so that when you click on a menu item, you think nothing changed—when actually the content changed below the fold.
Let people get to the blog’s content with as little work as possible. Check to see how big the banner is by changing your monitor’s settings to 800x600 and viewing your blog.
Tip 2: Make Content More Readable
You might not read the paragraph contents of this article because you’re relying on skimming the bold headings to give you the info you need. You’re busy and there’s plenty of information out there, so you want the ten tips as fast as possible—therefore, I put them in bold to help you along.
Readability refers to font size, bold headings, white space, short paragraphs, and anything else that can facilitate easy scanning and reading with no squinting. Studies from Jakob Nielsen and the Stanford-Poynter Project show that most users scan content, as opposed to reading word-for-word.
The paragraphs in this article are also short. Remember the last time you got an email that made you wonder if the person’s Enter key was broken, because there were no paragraphs for easier readability? It’s easy to lose your place in a blur of pixels; short paragraphs keep you on track.
A growing trend in blogs and online content is the use of gray instead of black for the text color. Black is boring, but it’s more readable than gray, which gets lost in the sea of white. Businesses face more challenges in getting potential customers to come to their site and do what they want to do there. No one will fault your business for being uncreative in using old-fashioned black. They’re more interested in what you can do for them or what’s in it for them.
Use bold headers, short paragraphs, large-sized text, white space, and go easy on italics because italicized paragraphs are hard to read. Instead, enclose quotes in quotation marks ([dp][dp]).
Tip 3: Write Short Entries
Some business blogs frequently post entries with more than 800 words. Aim for 500 words or fewer. Use your longer articles in newsletters, magazines, and web pages that aren’t part of a blog.
Business blogs are often read during business hours. Our regular duties, meetings, other web sites, and phone calls are fighting for our time during the work day. Users could see a long blog post and not bother to start reading it because it’ll take too much time.
The occasional long entry is okay if it’s an original idea or topic. But try this first: Make a copy of the long entry, cut it in half, and see whether your important points can still come through. If so, use the shorter version for your blog and save the long entry for an article.
When you post a long entry, consider posting an excerpt on the blog’s main page with a link to the rest of the content. That way, no one is scared away, and users can scan past that entry for older entries.
Tip 4: Post Often
A colleague that I admire had posted to his blog frequently, but then slowly tapered off, and the posts became infrequent and inconsistent. I continued to check his blog once a month or so, but after a while I gave up and didn’t bother. In this case, because it was a friend, I tried longer than I normally would for any other blog.
Readers can tell immediately how consistent and frequent a blog is, just by scanning the dates. Some won’t bother when they see that the posts are old or there’s a long break between posts. Most bloggers aren’t lucky enough to have a following that will wait a year between entries.
Three to five posts a week should satisfy your readers’ thirst.
Tip 5: Let There Be No Sound
Unless you’re in the music business, having sound start playing when a visitor arrives on your site is more likely to annoy than impress.
Music makes a rare appearance on business sites, not counting audio or podcasts. Let the users get familiar with your site or blog without audio disruptions. Simply add a link and a speaker icon, and readers can decide whether or not they’re in a place to listen to audio or if they even have the capability.
Even a deaf person like me (I wear a cochlear implant) jumps when unexpectedly greeted with sound on a site, especially a business site.