Readability is the name of the game in blogging. So what makes one blog post more “readable” than another? It’s about striking a casual, relate-able tone that goes down smooth and leaves the reader satisfied, sure. That’s a given. Great bloggers know readability, but they make it look easy because they start with an idea that takes hold of you and won’t let you go.
Is that all there is to it? Well, yes.
As you can imagine, however, I do have a bit more to say on the matter. 😉
Starting with a great idea, in fact, might be the first and last rule of readability. When I spend some time on my favorite blogs, I’m always glad I did because I was entertained, I enjoyed the feel of the content, like a conversation with a friend, and I’m a little smarter for having read the post. Great blogs promise immediate gratification because no matter the writer’s specific style, I know I’m going to be left with a solid idea. I know they won’t waste my time.
Busy-ness as a Form of Laziness
Too often, writers misconstrue the casual nature of blogging and create something more like lazy writing and therefore less readable content. Blogging can be casual, of course. But blogging isn’t always easy, even if the standards for tone and quality are not the same as they are for the Encyclopedia Britannica. Writer, you’ve got to bring the ideas. Don’t start an article without one.
As a former corporate trainer and business consultant, I’ve routinely run into an alarming number of people who claimed to be busy with lots of hard work. I believe that they believed they were actually working hard. What they weren’t doing, is getting something done. They weren’t making a difference in their businesses, despite their best efforts, because they played it safe and opted to be busy rather than productive. They ticked off lists of activities– lists that made me tired just seeing them– without results.
I see bloggers and writers of all stripes doing the same thing, ticking off posts as if filling a page with words actually accomplishes something. It doesn’t. A blog post without a good idea isn’t an article, it’s filler. And there is no mandate just to “publish something, anything,” anymore because search engines don’t care for filler, same as readers.
Form Follows Function
Having a real point to your post, a Golden Nugget, as I have previously written, is all you need to make a post worth a reader’s time. That’s its function, after all. The form of the post– its title and structure– comes next. When you commit to a catchy title before you know what to deliver in the body, your content is bound to disappoint. “X Ways to do What?” Why? List some obvious ideas or tell readers the boringest* basics of tying their shoes and you haven’t really written an article, so much as a meditation in futility.
Go in search of that compelling idea– that secret, that new insight, that special, helpful, useful, memorable tidbit readers will gladly eat up– then, and only then, should you decide what to title your article, the angle you’ll take, and the structure of the post.
Great ideas are out there, floating around for free. Trust me. I find them every day, and I’m 99% sure that you do, too. Search and ye shall find.
The Finer the Detail, the Better the Post
Assuming your topic idea is one that readers would like to know about, it’s critical that your article delivers something they didn’t actually know. Playing Mr. Obvious will not win you friends, repeat readers, or hosts for your guest content.
Find some expert quotes, statistics, specific steps, links or examples to illustrate your points and hand your reader a takeaway or two worth having. Often, the great idea for your post is the exact expert quote, statistics, specific steps, links or examples that turned on the light bulb for you in the first place. Use them. Elaborate on them. Pull in similar resources. And by all means, give credit where credit is due.
Being a smart consumer of online information who can curate and translate ideas into new articles for a new audience is perhaps the most under-appreciated aspect of a writer’s job. Of course, you don’t just want to write it, you want it to be read…
If a Title is Boring, does the Post Exist?
No, it does not. Feel good about yourself and your new post all you want. Know that you spent the afternoon writing and not watching Dr. Phil, but what’s the difference? Unread posts are like the unexplored depths of the ocean. Certainly great blog articles have been overlooked, like some crazy undiscovered sea creature, lurking in the dark depths of the internet. But most posts, well, they are the dark depths, literally nothing to see there.
Readability starts with the only line most surfers ever see: the title. Couple that with a curiosity-inducing intro and you’ll land many times the readers. Remember, titles aren’t labels, they’re lures, bait, hooks. Once you’ve got some content worth reading, take care of it with a title that gets attention.
Write Like You Talk, Not Like You Walk
Conversations ebb and flow. Some thoughts take time to develop and require you to hold your audience’s attention as you navigate the finer points of your positively mind-bending revelation. Some don’t. So write like it. Make your words, sentences and paragraphs fun and interesting to follow.
If you set your sentence structure to a metronome and state fact after fact, step after step in the same way with the same word count, no one will ever finish you posts. No one. Not even your Mom. Ouch. Yeah, I know.
Time was, I would write about the biggest ideas I could, with big complex sentences and a vocabulary that could have only been taken from an SAT prep course. That didn’t go over well, either. In time, I learned to find a balance that brought readers along with me. I learned to enjoy the writing process and have fun with my readers. I’m no pro, but I enjoy writing like I do a great conversation. That, my friends, is what readability is.
Before you publish your next post (heck, before you even start it), imagine explaining your topic to a friend over a drink. Or maybe to your mother. Better yet, don’t imagine it, try it! If you can explain your topic verbally, trigger some curiosity and hold your audience’s attention, you may have a good article on your hands. If you can play it out together, and answer some deeper questions, chances are good you have the beginning of a great article– one that new readers take, hook, line and sinker.
*Yes, I make up words. But you kinda liked it. You know you did.