When you get down to it, a blog has one overriding goal above all else. Namely, to provide readers with compelling and engaging content to read.
Thanks to poor designs, posts plastered with advertising and poor presentation, sometimes blogs tread an entirely different path, repelling rather than attracting readers.
Once you’ve captured a reader’s attention you can serve up advertising, but without readership a blog may as well not exist.
So how do you help rather than hinder your reader’s eye?
Fortunately there are many lessons we can learn particularly from that ancient of arts – magazine publishing. What bloggers are doing now, magazine production has been doing for years.
If you flick through the pages of most any major publication and you’ll see incredible thought is put into presenting content to catch your eye, to get you interested and to make the whole experience pleasant.
Font choice, font size, alignment and line spacing all contribute to how readable your text is. For most, much of this work is done for you by your blog template or stylesheet.
If you are making choices (even between different templates) the things you want to look out for are:
- Choose a nice clear font and size.
There was a time when small was cool and designers in particular push 9 and 10 point text on web users. That time was the 90’s and thankfully it has passed. Go for a readable font at a readable size.
- Space things out
A cardinal rule of design is that unless you really know what you are doing, text should never touch anything. Not borders, not images, not lines, not anything. Make sure there is space and padding keeping everything clean and separate.
- Make your line-height roomy … but not too roomy
The space between lines of text – leading (pronounced ‘ledding’) or in CSS terms ‘line-height’ – should be proportional to the font size you’ve chosen and generally speaking it should be more than the HTML defaults. If your lines are too close together then your eye can’t differentiate as well between them and you need to work harder. If they are too far apart then thats also harder for your eye as it gets lost when going from the end of one line to the beginning of the next. A medium, generous amount is perfect. This site talks about leading, how it works and how you can control it with CSS.
- Don’t Justify
When you lay out your paragraphs of text you have a choice of aligning left, centered, right or justifying it. The last – justification – tells your PC to auto-space words to make the end of each line of text line up with the others. At first it can look neat but its a bad idea. What can happen is you get odd sets of spacing between words forming up between lines called ‘rivers’ which disturb the eye and make reading harder. Unless you have good reason, always align left.
Nothing but uniform text down a page can look rather uninviting and so its a good idea to mix up your text as much as possible.
There are a variety of ways you can do this, the most basic being paragraph breaks. But since you already do that (I hope!) another idea to use is the trusty pull-quote.
Pull-quotes come from traditional publishing and are basically a part of the copy pulled out and magnified. Readers read the quote first and then are engaged enough to go and read the entire text.
For this reason its always best to use an interesting quote or line. You can produce a variety of styles of pull-quotes with CSS and if you are using WordPress you can even get a plugin that will do it for you.
In the same way that a pull-quote can break up a body of text and draw a readers eye to engage them, so too do images spice up your words.
The best way to use images is to use CSS to float your image to one side and add a margin around it so that the text wraps nicely.
You can purchase the rights to show images really cheaply these days at sites like iStockPhoto.com or even download some pretty good free images from sites like sxc.hu – so there really is no excuse for a dull page!
When selecting images, obviously you want the nicest photo quality you can find, but also try to get something which is interesting to the eye and matches your color palette.
Photos that are a little less obvious generally work better. For example if you were writing a post about business ethics, an obvious choice would be a photo of people shaking hands – since this seems to be the stock world’s idea of what business is – but a more interesting choice might be a photo showing a businessman half in shadow, half well lit.
Vary your text
Basic things like headings, italics, links and so on can make your text a little less monochromatic and a bit more visually interesting. But be careful, a little variation can go a long way, but a lot just makes a mess.
Another way to vary your text which is useful if you always have long blocks of copy is to have a lead in paragraph which is in a slightly larger font and possibly italicized.
The principle behind a lead-in is similar to a pull-quote, it literally is designed to be easier to read to draw in the reader and get them going.
Here on NorthxEast, we have a lead in section at the top which typically has a catchier block of copy to get the person interested before we get to the meat of the article.
Small columns of text
If you’ve ever had to read a line of text which just went on and on horizontally without line breaks then you’ll know how hard it is to read. Look at a newspaper or magazine and you’ll see that the columns of text are never very long horizontally. Rather usually shorter multi column layouts are employed.
Because the web is not naturally made for multicolumn text layouts, you probably shouldn’t attempt it unless you are a professional web developer. Shortish, single columns of text can do wonders in enhancing readability (like the one you’re reading right now!).
Of course you need to balance how much extra content you are placing in the form of advertising, pull quotes and so on.
If your column is too short for your content you can wind up with really thin bits of text wrapping around an ad or image, and this doesn’t look so good.
Look to Printed Materials for Inspiration
Getting a reader involved with text has been a mainstay issue in print design for a very long time and magazines and newspapers in particular are very good at it.
If you are looking for ideas about layout and how to present your material, they are an excellent reference for what to do to engage your reader, so get off your computer and pick up a paper tomorrow!