The most important part of any blog post is the content itself. However there’s more to content than words on a page. How your post appears visually contributes to its readability. It helps people decide quickly if they’ll stick around to read.
While I’m writing about this stage as a single step in the process, there are actually several smaller steps, which I often do over several days. And as I mentioned last week I continue to edit the post through this stage and up until the moment it’s published.
The Visual Layer of a Blog Post
Services like Instapaper and Readabilty, might suggest that people don’t want their posts designed. They strip out everything other than the content. It’s similar when reading in a feedreader. Many of your readers, will be consuming your content in something that doesn’t show off your design. Why take the time to design the post?
- People do respond to design. We simply haven’t given them good design.
- Repeat visitors may use Instapaper or a feedreader. New visitors are on your site and your design can convince them to stay and become repeat visitors.
I like when art direction is applied to blogs. It makes content more interesting and communicates more information than words alone. In an ideal world we’d all have time to craft a design around every post. The world, of course, isn’t ideal.
We can still do a few things to make our posts more visually appealing, some of which you do by default.
- Add a main headline
- Add several subheadings
- Separate paragraphs with a line space or indent
- Use lists, blockquotes, etc to create whitespace
- Add links for change in visual style from regular text
- Add images
All of these things help to create hierarchy and more interesting space. The first 4 items above I’ve typically done by the time I’ve reached this stage in the process, though I will pay attention to them here and make changes as necessary.
With this stage in the process I’m mostly concerned about the last 2 things above, adding links to the content and adding images to the post.
I add both internal and external links to posts for a few reasons.
- The visually add color and make a block of text more interesting
- They help readers find additional content here
- They help search engines find and understand your content
- They help search engines determine the original version when a post is copied
- They provide external resources for those wanting more
- They give credit where credit is due
How many links I add to a post depends on the post. Most will have at least a few links to other content here. How many links get added to other sites, depends on how much research I did in writing the post.
To add links I start with a round of editing with my sitemap open in a browser. As I read through the post and come across something I’ve written about before, I grab the url and add a link. At times I’ll rewrite a phrase or sentence so the link makes more sense, but usually I just wrap it around whatever words made me think of the post.
I do the same with the resources I’ve collected, though instead of looking to the sitemap, I have them there in the post. Ideally I’ll have them organized and located close to the content they refer to. Other times they’re all grouped at the bottom of the post.
Sometimes I start adding the links as I write the draft or edit, so many of the external links might already be set up before I ever get here.
I also consider how the links look visually. I’ll move a link out of a section that already has a lot and into one that doesn’t have any (assuming it makes sense in the content). I have rewritten a post slightly just to accommodate a link.
When I first started blogging I didn’t add images to posts. Both traffic and subscribers increased after I started and I don’t think it’s coincidence. We’re visual beings. Images attract our attention and keep us on the page.
Unfortunately I didn’t design the current version of the blog with images in posts in mind. I’ve experimented over the years for where to place them and settled on adding them above subheadings. I will add some in the middle of a long section and skip the occasional subhead when I don’t think an image is needed.
I get images from a small handful of sources.
- Created by me
- Flickr Creative Commons
- Deviant Art Creative Commons
The first two aren’t always necessary, but when they are I do what I can to create an image that either explains something in the post or that the post refers to.
Most images I find through the creative commons searches. Flickr is the main source with Deviant Art as a backup. Sometimes it’s easy to find images. Other times I have to be more creative with what I search for.
The process itself is simple.
- Create or collect images
- Resize and crop images
- Use MarsEdit to upload and add to post
- Add a link to the source (I collect urls while collecting the images)
- Write descriptive alt text
The creating and collecting takes the most time. How much is up to me. I probably spend more time than I need to looking for the perfect image that I won’t find. To save time I try to work on images for more than one post at a time.
Scheduling the Post
With very limited exception, every post here is scheduled a few days in advance of being published. Before sending the post to WordPress I give it one last read, mainly to catch any glaring mistakes or typos that have stuck around. They should be gone at this point, but they’re still present more than I want to admit.
At this point I try to write a better headline. Some people like writing it first, but I like saving it till the end, since I know better what the post is about and won’t offer a promise I can’t deliver in the headline.
I try to be consistent in when posts get scheduled. Outside of holidays, you can expect posts to go live Mondays and Thursdays at 8:30 AM Eastern Time. That’s 6:30 AM for me and I’m probably still sleeping. Another reason why I started scheduling posts.
The very last thing I do before clicking the button to schedule is take a quick look at the preview for the post. It’s a last look to make sure I haven’t made some kind of mess of the html. Assuming the post looks good it gets scheduled and I’m off to the next one.
Adding even a little bit of visuals to a post through better use of space, links, and images can go a long way in helping the post get read. I know it’s helped here. Adding links and images also gives me a couple more opportunities to further edit the post.
That’s the end of the process. Once a post is scheduled it’s done, though I still reserve the right to make changes before it actually gets published and sometimes after.
While the process is done, this series isn’t. There’s one more thing I want to talk about and that’s my reasons for blogging. I thought I’d share what motivates me to blog and what the blog does for me both personally and professionally.