Forget SEO for a second.  You can be the beacon of knowledge for a niche, have all the answers for the most difficult questions and if you don’t have “it“, chances are good it will never be shared and the best you will be able to do is revel in your own obscurity.

Readability, scannability and overall user experience on your website matter more now that the link graph is moving more toward a social setting.  In other words, most likely in the near future, the ability to game search with links is going to be reduced as ranking in search is determined more by who you know than what you can do.

This will be extremely important if you are marketing yourself via content that you create.  Here are 5 design tips that will help you engage your visitors and keep them engaged from start to finish.

I am the world’s worst headline creator when it comes to building headlines for this blog.  However, considering the fact that the headline is the first thing that a visitor will consider before committing the time to read, it is very important.

This is extremely important if this is in a first time engagement setting.

There are tons of articles that address formatting a captivating headline but none do it as much justice as Brian Clark from copyblogger.

The general consensus of headlines that work are:

  • How to headlines
  • List headlines
  • Headlines in the form of a question.
  • Direct headlines (for segmenting & defining your audience)
  • Reason Why headlines

That’s doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t deviate away from these.  What it does mean is that headline concepts such as the ones above do a very good job at attracting eyes.

I used to write rather longish articles (2,000+ words) for SEO and long tail keywords, lots of words matter.  In terms of user engagement trying to get the visitor to sit down and consume an article that is going to take them 15 minutes to read is another story altogether.

In fact, a 400 word article with poor page elements can be extremely hard to get through for most.  Even novels may be going in the direction of brevity to keep our attention.

So when is long, too long?  Chris Brogan has some great points in relation to the length of an article or post.  The most popular, basic (and vague) advice out there is this-  Make it long enough to get the point across and then when you are finished, edit out anything that you can without losing the point.

One of my clients who publishes articles for lawyers who advertise with her is a perfect example of what NOT to do:

  • Drawn out introductions that read like a thesis paper.
  • An even longer middle with long paragraphs and nothing but text to gravitate toward.
  • A summarized conclusion that once again, reads like a journal entry.

One day, I casually mentioned to her that chances are good no one is getting through the articles and perhaps she should mention to her clients that if they want their stuff to get read, they should consider changing their writing style to a more web based style.

Long paragraphs tend to make the reader lose focus.  In this day and age, audiences need something other than text to move the eye.  A great, basic tutorial on this can be found here.

If you must use long paragraphs, then you need other design elements to help keep the visitor engaged.

  • Bullet Points.
  • Horizontal lines
  • Images.
  • Emphasized, Emboldened, or Underlined Words used sparingly.

The longer the article, the more design elements need to be considered.

So, you have been brief and to the point, and your content is scannable with great on page elements.  Still, your bounce rate is high and user engagement is low.  What gives?

Your problem may not be with the actual article but the way it is presented.  Fonts as well as size and line space matter.  Because once again it’s the biggest part of the presentation.

I have been playing around with fonts more often since I have been designing for others and this has made me pay more attention to what I am doing, personally.  I have always been amazed at how some of the bigger websites like thinktraffic, SocialMouths, & JeffGoins do such a good job with fonts and white space.  I am equally astounded at how much the writer community gets it wrong (shouldn’t they be the leaders here?)

The first step is understanding that the standard font size reads differently to the visitor so to make blanket statements such as a web font should be 16 px is a misguided recommendation.  16 px should be the minimum though. For instance, for this website, I use the Verdana font at 17 px.  My line height is 190%.  I’ve played around with the numbers here and found what I believe to be a very readable format.

The framework matters as well because if you have a website, chances are good you not only want your visitor to read your article, you also want them to do something else afterwards.

Framework ties in your article to your motivations for writing the article.  Derek Halpern, from socialtriggers kind of innovated and refined the process of website forms and as a result, most of the bigger webmasters have followed suit.  Great examples include DannyBrown & Amy Clover.  A commercial example would be Hubspot’s blog.