Well done. I’ve clicked on your latest blog post. But the battle is only half won. The odds still are that I won’t get to the end of it. Here’s why – and what you can do about it.
On an average day, I open 40-50 posts but only read to the end of a quarter of them. There are only so many hours in the day.
So what is it that has me reaching for the dreaded ‘close’ button 75% of the time? Beyond the old truism of ‘content is king’, here are my top ten triggers, most important first.
Make your blog and your posts look great.
1. Poor colour combinations. Certain screen/text colour combinations are easier to read. As a rule, light-on-light or dark-on-dark doesn’t work as there is insufficient contrast, while some dark/light combinations are more tiring on the eyes (think of black text on a bright yellow background).
There is a good reason why old-school computer terminals had green text on black backgrounds: the text stands out and doesn’t cause eye strain.
Mix light with dark and avoid bright text or screen colours. Black on a white background may seem dull, but it works.
2. Not enough white space. The balance between content and white space also impacts readability.
Just compare the extract below from a BBC article about April Fools jokes. The content is identical, but the left-hand side (which is as it appears on the website) is much easier to read, isn’t it?
3. Text too small. Your post may look great on your 27-inch iMac screen, but remember that many users read on laptop screens, tablets or smartphones.
If you use a small font that I can’t read easily on my iPhone while bumping along on the train, you’ve lost me.
4. Poor photography. Many experts will tell you that photos are a must because they are visually appealing and help break up the flow of posts. They’re right, but you’re still better off with no photos than bad ones.
Every photo you include should be in focus, have a visual hook to achieve stand-out and be as large as possible. No one wants to squint at a tiny thumbnail.
And if you don’t have a suitable photo of your own, there are plenty of sites such as Pixabay where you can legally download free high quality images (such as the one below).
Quality versus quantity.
5. Meandering. Many ‘how to’ guides tell you to reduce word count but the quality of your words is more important than the quantity. I will happily read a tightly constructed 1,500-word post but equally there are 500-word posts which take forever to make a single point.
Be focussed, be brief, be gone. Challenge yourself to cut out unnecessary text. I have a strict 10% rule – before I hit ‘publish’, I trim at least 10% of my word count and in many cases it’s closer to 20%. If you’re ruthless about it, it’s surprisingly easy to do. (For what it’s worth, the first draft of this post was 1,215 words long. It’s now 996.)
6. Long words for the sake of long words. Blogging is an exercise in telling stories and relating facts – it’s not an English exam. As a reader, the last thing I want to do is to be constantly reaching for my dictionary.
Is it necessary to say ‘she expostulated’ or is ‘she disagreed’ enough? In some cases, even ‘she said’ is sufficient. Be diverse with your vocabulary, by all means, but don’t overdo it and alienate readers.
7. Too many adjectives and adverbs. Inexperienced writers often cram their sentences full of adjectives and adverbs.
That’s not to say you should never use them, but be sparing. Do you need to say ‘ran quickly’ or could you just say ‘sprinted’? Does a baby have to be ‘very small’ or will ‘small’ suffice (or do you even need that much)?
Don’t use five words to describe something that could be done equally well with one or two.
Spelling, grammar and formatting
Get the fundamentals right.
8. Typos, typos everywhere. Even with the benefit of a spell-check, everyone misses the odd typo. That’s okay.
But when you find four in the opening paragraph – and, believe me, it happens – that suggests the blogger isn’t bothered about making their content as good as it can be.
If they can’t be bothered, why should I?
9. Too much emphasis. It’s tempting to use punctuation and formatting to emphasise every point you want to make. Don’t.
Probably the worst offender is the exclamation mark. I know! Wow! Who’d have thought it?!!!!!
A post where every other sentence ends in a ‘!’ feels like being trapped in a small room with an excitable puppy. Emphasis works best when used sparingly.
The same is true for bold type, italics or capital letters. Occasional use is effective for flagging up key words or points. Over-use makes it look as if you are shouting constantly.
10. Stray apostrophes. The rules of grammar concerning apostrophes are surprisingly straightforward, given how often people get them wrong.
They are used either to indicate an omitted letter in a contraction (e.g. did not is shortened to didn’t, not did’nt) or to denote possession. So, for instance, the difference between the boy’s shoes and the boys’ shoes is to distinguish between the shoes belonging to one boy (boy’s) and those belonging to multiple boys (boys’).
That’s really all there is to it.
So those are my ten filters, any of which reduces the probability of me reading to the end of a post. But what about you? Do you have any pet hates that cause you to turn away from a post you’ve started or do you always continue to the bitter end?