Writing Tips Series – Formatting Content for the Web

Oddly Formatted TextWriting content for websites is quite a bit different than it would be for a newspaper, magazine, book or even a newsletter.  While the quality of the content itself is the most important thing, the formatting of the page is also absolutely essential.  There have been some proven techniques which help get people to read more than just the first few lines of a website, and learning them is essential for any writer.

Whether you’re a freelance writer, producing content for clients, or you have your own blog, you should always try to format the content in the best way possible.  People aren’t going to be likely to read through, much less share, what you write if they don’t read it.  Fortunately, formatting content for the web isn’t that difficult, and with a little practice it will be like second nature.

Tips for Formatting content for the Web

The following tips were developed based on my experience as well as the recommendations from some of my clients.  Some of these clients are (extremely) successful with online marketing and getting people to read their sites, so they know what they are talking about.  Much of this may seem like common sense, but if you can even learn one new trick, it can dramatically improve the way your writing looks, and the number of people who read it through.  So, without further ado, the tips:

  • Use Sub-Headlines – Sub headings or section titles are a great way to break up the page so it looks less like a wall of text, and more like something the reader can easily get through.  They also give readers a way to quickly scan through the content to see if it is something they want to read, so make sure the headlines are both descriptive and eye catching.
  • Use Lists – Bullet-point lists like this, for example, help to further break up a page into more manageable chunks, which readers typically prefer.  You can format a list like this, with the main point bolded, and an explanation after.  Or simply use the bullet points only.
  • Images – Images should be included with most types of web content.  The image can be something which will help get the point across, or just a cute picture of something which is quasi-related to the topic at hand.  The point of the image is often more to cause a change in the formatting so it doesn’t look the same all the way down the page.  Typically, you’ll want about one image per 1000 words, unless the images are a critical part of the post, in which case use as many as are needed.
  • Shorter Paragraphs – This is one which I often struggle with.  Using paragraphs which are shorter will add more white space, which has been shown to increase the amount of reading people do.  2-4 sentence paragraphs are ideal.
  • Bold, Italic, Underline – Use these formatting tools, but DO NOT over do it.  If you start having words or even sentences formatted using these things in every paragraph, they will lose their meaning.  1-3 bold items per 500 words is about the limit (this applies to using bold for emphasis, not for section headers or bullet points).  Italics typically has a specific purpose, so don’t use it unless it is appropriate.  Underlining can get confusing because many people will think it is a link, so only use occasionally.
  • Colors – Using colored text can be helpful in certain circumstances.  Just keep in mind, however, that different colored text can be difficult to read for certain people.  Sticking with traditional colors like black text on white background is typically going to be best.
  • Font – There are thousands of fonts available to choose from, but the handful that have become standard are the standard for a reason.  People can read them easily, and they can be displayed in all browsers without a problem.  Unless you have a compelling reason not to, always use a standard font.

If you can think of any additional tips and techniques for formatting content for websites, please post them in the comments, and I’ll update this thread.  I hope these simple formatting tips will help you get your content read by more people!

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  1. says

    I would say the most important aspect of writing online is to “write like you speak” because it becomes a conversation rather than just another article.

    If you can hook people with words, simply by how you express yourself verbally, I find they’ll generally read the article to the end.

    Write to ONE person, not to a crowd is the second suggestion. You want every person who reads the piece to feel as if you’ve written especially TO THEM.

    Again, this helps to keep the eyeballs glued and read until the very end.
    Bonnie Gean recently posted…Video Sunday – Episode #35My Profile

  2. says

    Bonnie Gean you are spot on with your observation. I too feel that the writer should be able to write as if he/she is actually conversing with the audience face to face.

    This is a very good habit which not many of the writers are implementing.

  3. says

    Great post! I just posted a blog on my site today in fact and I think I may need to go back and reformat a few things to follow some of these. I’m guilty of producing giant “wall of text” quite frequently. These are great ideas to break it up and make it more interesting to read. Thanks!
    Misty recently posted…1 Year to 16 Niche SitesMy Profile

    • says

      I should really write a full post on this, but the short answer is Bing. If you do a Bing search (not Google) and then click on image at the top, you’ll be presented with tons of pictures (just like Google). The difference, however, is that you can filter by license type. Just click license, and choose ‘free to share and use commercially.’ Then find an image you like, save it to your computer and you’re all set.

  4. Mike Aguilar says

    I get all my imagery that I don’t take myself from either Photopin or Wikimedia Commons.

    You made a request that if we had more ideas for how to make content more “read-worthy”, to post them down here.

    I would HIGHLY recommend manually checking spelling and grammar and then getting an even finer-tooth comb and screening out all the incorrect word usage (Example: I guess you wanted to say sentence, but you wrote “sustenance).

    • says

      Thanks! Catching my own spelling & grammar problems is a shortcoming of mine. To make it worse, I don’t take the time to triple check every post I make. The reality is, however, that you don’t have to be 100% perfect to make money as a writer online (and I’m living proof). I do appreciate you identifying that mistake I made though, and will go correct it now!


      • Mike Aguilar says

        It depends on your target audience. My highly technical audience wouldn’t appreciate spelling or grammar errors at all. My business clients would drop me immediately. I think my car crowd clients would also be highly disappointed and begin looking for another contributor.

        But, if you’re blogging, no, it isn’t all that important, as long as you can get your point across.


        • says

          Ahh, yes. You are 100% correct. I have some clients who demand perfection as well. For those clients, I read through the content carefully several times, and either hire an experienced proof-reader to double check my work, or ask my wife or mother to do it. 🙂 For most people I write for, however, they aren’t quite so picky. Those that demand perfection, naturally, have to pay a bit more to get it, and they are happy to do so.

          In addition, for all my writing clients I am a bit more careful to proof-read my work. Since this blog is slightly more informal (by design) I’m not as concerned about it. Whether that will prove to be a mistake on my part or not, we will have to wait and see. lol.

          Thank you for your insightful comments!


          • Mike Aguilar says

            I blogged. Two or three times. 😀 So, I really can’t say about on a blog.

            Always happy.

  5. says

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    Heather recently posted…HeatherMy Profile


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