Internet users are already notorious for fast browsing and scanning content by nature. It’s been long known that most people scan content and don’t actually read it word-for-word like a book.
This behavior greatly intensifies when Internet users are browsing through content on social media sites. A user going down the front page of a social news aggregation site, like Digg.com, will be cherry picking content they want to read. They are so overwhelmed by the variety of content that catches their interest that they are eager to consume one piece of content and move on to the next.
Creating compelling content is a major key to success in gaining a high amount of links, votes, and traffic to your content. However, styling and structuring your content, in an easily digestible fashion, is a major key to making your compelling content successful. Readability should never be overlooked.
Structuring the content
- Use Short Sentences. Long phrases tend to bore the reader and make them lose focus. By reading shorter sentences, the brain has more time to relax and process the information.
- Use Short Paragraphs. Social media users tend to get lost in large blocks of text. Break long paragraphs down into shorter points and your post is much more likely to be read in its entirety.
- One Idea Per Paragraph. Split the blog post into paragraphs and concentrate on one point per paragraph.
- Table of Contents. If the content is long in length then use a table of contents with jump links. This allows for quick navigation to certain sections within a post and provides that extra usability that can be very helpful to some users.
- Creating Visual Hierarchy. Hierarchy defines how to read through content. It shows the user where to start reading and where to read through. It differentiates headers from body text. Although colors of text boxes can be used to contrast headers and body text, hierarchy refers to the difference in size between these elements. Hierarchy plays a huge part in how scannable a layout is.
- Summarizing with Bullets and Lists. Readers will understand your message much more clearly if it’s separated into single elements. Content with bullet point lists in them get linked to more than similar length posts written in the form of an essay style.
- Have no more than 9 items in a single list.
- Keep lists to a maximum of two levels.
- Use numbered lists where the order of entries is important.
- Use bullet point lists where the sequence of entries isn’t important.
- Ensure each list is introduced by at least one line of text.
It’s important to note that at the top of the content, you should have the the most important information there to drive your main point across. Don’t wait until the end of the post to make your main point. You may run the high risk of users leaving your content before even getting to its main point.
The middle is additional information that supports your main points and adds additional value to it.
The bottom of the content is the nice-to-have section. This should be reserved for the people who are very into the subject matter and want to digest any additional piece of insight or content you have on the subject.
Following the inverted pyramid method, you can see how this would look visually in a piece of content.
Styling the content
Contributing to the hierarchy of the content, headers and sub-headers can greatly improve the user experience. It will help the readers get an idea of what the content is about before they actually read it and enable them to move back and forth between your ideas easily.
Keep them short though, a maximum length of 4-8 words is ideal.
Using photos in the content is an important technique to gain your readers attention, while content assures you keep it. Be sure to put matching photos that both catches the attention of the reader and is relevant to the content. Using images just to use images isn’t always a good thing. Make sure that the images actually enhance the content or the story being told.
Greg Finn’s post, How to Use Images Successfully on Social Media Sites, says it best.
While it might be tempting to use an assortment of colors in your text you may actually be chasing visitors away with too much. Black text with a white background is still the top choice if you want to present an article with a high level of readability. Contrast is the core factor in whether or not text is easy to read. Good contrasts will make text easy on the eyes, easy to scan quickly, and overall more readable. On the other hand, poor contrast will force the user to squint and make reading the body text almost painful, not to mention a lot slower.
Borders & boxes
Borders and boxes around quotes and key points can similarly get the attention of readers.
Font & Spacing
Use bold, CAPITALS, italics, and underlining to emphasize points. Use this sparingly though. Don’t go overboard as you run the risk of frustrating or overwhelming your reader. Also consider changing font size, color, and style to draw your readers eyes to your main points. Be careful on what you emphasize though. If too much is emphasized then nothing is emphasized.
- Line Height. Line height is a very common term meaning the space between individual lines of text. Line height that is too short will cause users to squint while reading. If it is too large, the text will seem like separate bodies instead of grouped together as one.
- Letter Spacing. Letter spacing is, as the name suggests, the space between each letter in words. In print layout, negative letter spacing is a common technique to add a more fun feel to the layout, but it should never be used in body text. In any text, letter spacing is an obvious factor in legibility.
- Line Length. Line length is the number of words per line. A good line length is one that allows the reader’s eyes to flow from the end of one line to the beginning of the next very easily and naturally. This largely depends on your current site layout.
In content-heavy layouts, spacing greatly contributes to the readability of content. White space helps to offset large amounts of text and helps the user’s eyes flow through the text. It also provides separation between elements in the layout, including graphics and text.
Maintaining consistency throughout a piece of content can be often overlooked and can make a great piece of content look unprofessional. Make sure you stick to a theme of styling and structure throughout the content. The devil is in the details.
Coding the content
This isn’t so much important to social media as it is to SEO. Semantic structure is important for bots and crawlers to understand the hierarchy of the content since they can’t visually see it. Proper semantic coding will ensure your content is understood properly and place emphasis on areas that need it the most. For SEO purposes, this is important to keywords emphasized and semantically work together in helping various on-page factors.
Use of Hx, UL, OL, LI, DL, DT, DD, P tags are all critical in proper HTML markup. Below is an example of putting some of these to good use in a typical piece of content.
<h1>Title of Article</h1>
Sub Header content area
<h4>Sub-Sub Header content</h4>
Sub Header content area
Social media users will judge the content at first glance before even reading it, so it’s important to have a good first impression. They will reward the extra work that goes into crafting and prepping content provided to them. Not only will they be more likely to vote on your content, but they’ll feel more comfortable sharing and linking to content that appears to be high-quality.
The overall goal of your content is to create the least amount of words or copy so that readers can leave the content at any point and understand it, even if they don’t have all the details.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.