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16 Rules of Blog Writing and Layout. Which Ones Are You Breaking?

Sue Dunlevie

Remember newspapers?

People used to get them delivered to their door and read them over breakfast. They're big, awkward to hold and they cover your fingers with black printer ink.

Plus, getting them to your doorstep takes hours so, by the time you read a newspaper, the news isn't all that new. Newspapers are going out of business because their news cannot keep up with the 24/7 news cycle that is so prevalent today.

Newspapers have their drawbacks but one thing they do right is to make sure their stories are easy to read. By that, I mean how they actually format and layout the newspaper and each individual story. Of course, first newspapers hit you with a headline that makes you really want to read more.

Something like this headline works wonders:

THE KING OF POP IS DEAD! How he really died! 10,000 pills in 6 months.

Sensational tabloids aside, the content in newspapers is usually good ~ the writing's high quality and they usually get their facts straight.

But quality content isn't all you expect when you buy a newspaper and it isn't enough for blog writing either.

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All newspapers make sure their content is easy to read by constraining the width of their columns and that's what their readers expect.

Blog writers need to do the same when writing blogs and format their blog posts so they're easy to read. Long narrow newspaper columns mean your eye can easily jump from the end of one line to the beginning of the next without losing its place.

If the column's too wide readers will keep getting lost unless they enlist their finger to help them keep track. Even if they do that they'll get frustrated and won't enjoy the reading experience.

This is just one element of traditional media and legibility knowledge that we can use on our blogs or website layout. Newspapers follow set rules for the formatting and layout, their stories to make them easy to read and bloggers need to follow some and have good writing examples.

Blog writing and formatting content for the Web is more complex than writing for print because how we read on a computer screen is different to how we read in print and more challenging.

Blog Rules are Based on Two Things:

People skim read when they read things on-screen

A website or blog is missing the usual cues that let us know how long an article is. Pick up a book or cast your eye over a newspaper article, and you'll instantly be able to gauge how long it is and how long it will take to read. Online the only way to find that out is to scroll down to the end of the blog post and that's what most people do. While they're at it, they'll also try to scan read the post. A long body of text is scary.

Even if the headline appeals to them, with no other clues about the content, people will be reluctant to start reading. By helping people scan your blog posts with a good layout and telling them more about what information they'll find in it,  you can entice them to read the post in full.

It's harder to read things on-screen than on print

Screen legibility is improving along with resolution and screen size but there are still some simple rules you need to know to help people read your blog more easily. If you want to make sure people enjoy reading your blog, tell their friends about it and subscribe then you need to make sure the very act of reading your blog is easy. No matter how great your blog content and blog writing is, if it's not easy to read, people won't enjoy it and won't come back for more.

Blog Writing Rules: The 16 Rules of Blog Writing and Layout

1. Format every blog post

Careful formatting will make your blog posts easier for people to scan. Write your posts with the page layout in mind or edit them to make sure they're well formatted for scan reading.

2. Constrain column width

Keep the blog post column width about 80 characters or less (including spaces) and your readers will thank you for it. Check out these before and after screenshots of Under the Mango Tree. I advised Stacyann to update her blog to make it easier to read and change the column width for the main body of text was one of the first things we sorted out. Wide columns of text are an instant turn off and very hard to read. The difference is incredible and it's such a simple change.

3. Types of Blog Writing: Use Headers and Sub-headers

Headers and sub-headers will break up long blog posts, help people scan read your blog and convince them to read the post. Read How to Write Hypnotic Headlines to read more about the importance of headlines and headers for blog writing.

4. Use lists

Numbered lists or bullet-pointed lists help people scan blog posts fast and find the information they're looking for quickly. Some blogs that do this well are Buzzfeed,  Nonstop Signs Blog, and Bored Panda.

5. Use punctuation

Use full stops, commas, dashes, and colons to break up each paragraph into smaller pieces of information that make sense quickly. No one wants to read the same sentence several times to try to make sense of it. If you're not confident about punctuation keep sentences short.

MY PERSONAL RECOMMENDATION FOR YOU  Blog Writing Magic Series: 5 Essential Posts

As you practice writing and start to improve you can experiment and lengthen your sentences, chucking in a long one here and there to keep things interesting for readers and make sure they're really paying attention. Long sentences are fine but check that every sentence makes sense and the meaning is clear.

6. Short paragraphs

Because reading is harder online it's best to break the text into manageable chunks. Paragraphs should be much shorter online than on paper with two to six sentences per paragraph a good guideline for blog posts.

7. Font type

Sans-serif fonts (without the squiggly bits) are generally supposed to be easier to read on-screen, in particular, Verdana. Successful Blogging uses the sans-serif font Roboto (without the squiggly bits) which is also designed for easy reading on-screen.

8. Font size

Big is better. Teeny tiny writing is hard to read online, even for people with 20/20 vision like me. Make it bigger. Check out some of your favorite blogs, compare the font size they use and decide what works best for your readers. If they're older they might prefer even bigger text than the average blog reader.

Don't overuse bold text or it loses its effectiveness but make sure to use bold text to make a splash and highlight important sentences that will catch people's attention and draw them into, or on with, the blog post.

10. Drop the italics

Italics are hard to read in print. Couple that with on-screen reading already being challenging and banish italics from your blog writing. If you can avoid italics, please do.

11. Capital letters

Use capitals for proper nouns and at the beginning of sentences but avoid writing all in capitals because it's harder to read. PLUS USING CAPITAL LETTERS CONSTANT IS THE ONLINE EQUIVALENT OF BEING SHOUTED AT. (Sorry, just wanted to get the point across.)

12. Whitespace

Readers need somewhere to rest the eye and a good blog layout leaves plenty of blank space. Click To Tweet Make sure your blog isn't too busy or distracting and gives readers somewhere to rest their eye from time to time.

13. Background color

Most blogs and websites get the contrast between text color and background color right but make sure your blog background doesn't make the text hard to read. It makes me sad that a white background with black text has become the default for most blogs.

Bright yellow text on a black background is easiest to read but that's a confrontational look. Dark text on a light background has a wider appeal but consider using another light color for the background as white gives off a harsh glare. There are plenty of choices which look good and are still easy to read but without the glare of white: try light grey, minty green or pale yellow.

14. Use images

blog clothesline

Good use of images will draw readers into your blog posts. Sometimes I read a post purely because I like the image. Ideally, your images will add to your blog or emphasize your message.

Even if they can't do that use them to break up text, draw your reader's eye down the page and reward them for reading and spending time on your blog. Some blogs like Viperchill turn their headers and sub-headers into images which make the text look more attractive and helps people scan read.

15. Be consistent

You don't know how readers found your blog. You can't be sure if they arrived straight at your latest post, on your about page or via an archived post. You can't know which order people will read your blog in so every post you write needs to tell the same story about you, your message, your blog and your values.

16. Tell a story

Speaking of stories, every blog post needs to have a beginning, a middle and an end. Think of it as an introduction, the main information, and conclusion if you prefer. Even if you don't give use those sub-headings because, hopefully, you've come up with hotter ones, do follow the convention to avoid confusing your readers.

The Golden Rules Of Blogging: Wrap Up

You've probably noticed traditional media like newspapers are struggling and the Internet's taking over. It's amazing to think that in less than 10 years you may not be able to buy the L.A. Times or whatever your favorite newspaper is.

Instead, you'll download the thing to your iPad in a nanosecond and read it on the go. No dirty fingers, no struggling to read text that runs over a crease and no pages blowing down the street. I love newspapers, and I'll miss them, but I look forward to the day when every blog is formatted and laid out so it's as easy to read as one of those old newspapers.

Have I missed any blog writing and formatting rules?

Blog Writing Magic Practice

Pick one of your favorite old blog posts and rewrite it or revise the layout for easy reading on the web. Give it a new headline and repost it. Even if the blog content is the same, with a snappy new headline, some calls to action and some smart formatting, it should get more readers than it did the first time around.

Here's what to do next...

If you want to get an additional free guide to blog writing, I've got something special for you.

It's a book with more blog formatting and writing guidelines so you know the exact steps to take to write great blog posts that turn into more readers and more subscribers.

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16 Rules For Blog Writing And Layout. Which Of These Rules Are You Breaking?

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155 comments on “16 Rules of Blog Writing and Layout. Which Ones Are You Breaking?”

  1. A great Blog post crafted on the topic of Blog post formatting. I've not read too many Blog posts featuring such content. I agree with all the points you've raised in this Blog Post Sue Anne.

    For those who use M.S. Word, I have a suggestion.

    Create a user defined template in M.S. Word, (this will be a .dot or .dotx file not a .doc or docx file).

    Add all the rules that have been suggested in the Blog post above.

    i.e. Set the correct font family, font size for the Head line, sub-head lines and body text.

    Set the head line color's if you wish.

    Remember to set the width of the template to accommodate 80 characters as suggested by Sue Anne.

    Finally, the way to do this is to create a normal M.S. Word file BUT at the time of saving the file to your hard disk save it as a .dot or .dotx file.

    M.S. Word will save the file you've created as a M.S. Word template file.

    Now whenever you feel like creating a Blog post, just use the template you've created and type away.

    The Blog post will look exactly like as what's recommended in this excellent Blog formatting post. Once done you can simply copy paste this into your WordPress Editor and you will be good to go.

    Hope this helps.

    1. Great way to cure the problem, Ivan! Thanks so much - I never knew how to do this before.

      Thanks for taking the time to teach us!
      Sue

  2. Hi, Ryan,

    I like the idea of "ugly" - Tony Shepherd always recommends it for landing pages/optin forms.

    Good to hear about the Hello Bar!
    Sue

  3. I have personally printed some of the blog posts from a well known blog. As a reader it is really helpful when the layout and other elements are perfectly optimized for printing. Thanks Sue for motivating me to apply the same on my blog.

  4. [ Smiles ] Sue Anne, I can relate well to your pointers.

    I also believe in using shorter paragraphs, because long ones can appear a bit daunting to some readers.

  5. Happy New Year, Sue Anne!

    I use italics, but not that frequently though.

    You may want to fix the link to your About page - the one from the sidebar. I got a 404 error because you missed your first name from the link 🙂

    1. I also use infrequent italics! Thanks for the advice on the sidebar issue - I've been tweaking somethings on the site but that tweak needs tweaking!

      Thanks for coming by and commenting!
      Sue

  6. Hello Sue.

    After reading this blog post I went to check my blog and I found out I break a lot of these rules. Is italic really so bad? I think you are right, it`s not so catchy. I also realized that my font is too small...and I don`t use bold too. 😀 I guess I`ll fix it as soon as I can, but what I wanted to say is that your blog post made me think constructively about my blog, which I really thank you for.

    I like your blog, Sue, and I love your podcast. 🙂 I started to listen to it while cooking and it`s inspiring, fun and full of information. I`m intrigued by the stories of other bloggers and how successful they became. Thank you so much for these interviews!

    Take care and have a very successful New Year. 😉

    1. Hi, Jane,

      Italics aren't that bad 🙂

      Derek Halpern says that "14 is the new 12" and '16 is the new 14" when it comes to fonts. Being easy to read is the key.

      Thanks for the compliment on the podcast! I love talking to these great bloggers.

      Happy and healthy New Year!
      Sue

  7. Hi, Sue, just catching up with this now. Many great tips. Especially the need for consistency – I usually find myself introducing a slight change to my formatting and the consequence is that everything that went before stands out as old, at least to me…

    Are italics really a problem? I find them so useful, I probably have a sprinkle of them in every post, they're not so 'loud' as bold is. Your view is clear but I rely on them so much I need someone to say I can keep using them!

    1. Hi, Donald,

      Italics are not that bad! I use them also in most of my posts. I was just saying not to overuse them. You can keep them 🙂

      Thanks for commenting today,
      Sue

    1. I want to know how to write a proper Blog .That includes the words to use ,style of writing, what sort of content to use. Can you suggest me some examples of blogs or some of the blog websites. which can be very important for an beginner like me

  8. Online readers vary a lot from offline readers but you can still give the examples of newspaper, as it fits very well. We can learn a lot from newspapers, such as The most important News gets the biggest heading and bold formatting in newspaper. So make your headlines prominent as they are shouting in the ears of reader.

    How important is your Blog Post Formatting?

    Actually you cannot count or measure its importance. I would just give you a clue to determine its important.

    Formatting is way more important than Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling.

    Using Images

    Don't make your Blog look like some sort of a newspaper or a course book. Online readers like visuals and attractive images. So go ahead and include them in your posts.

    One image can speak 1000 words

    Telling Story

    Stories, Examples, Case Studies & Success Stories.People like to read them, so it is always great to start your Blog post from them.

    Title of Post

    Title is the first thing that readers read. They are the only factor that bring visitors on your Blog. Long and short, they are make or break factor. So you better spend at least 10 minutes thinking of a nice, attractive and eye-catching title.

    Thanks for touching this important topic 🙂

  9. Yes writing blogging is the best way to get traffic on web sites,

    Most of the poeple are writing blogs with proper forms for their web sites,

    And the blog with above rules and regulations will be the best blog for readers.

    Thank you for kind informations

  10. An important thing about newspapers is that they have a date, often on every page. It can be instructive and entertaining to read old reports and editorials in the light of more recent findings. Dates give us a framework for our knowledge, but unfortunately many pages on the internet are undated, so they will probably sink into a grey soup of contextless goo.

    I notice that your page has a copyright of 2012, but not may people would have looked that far.

    Regarding the discussion on British or American English which was introduced by someone not quite writing in either, all languages are evolving and each world region brings it's own flavours into the simmering pot that is loosely termed English.

    1. Yes, this is an older post that was updated. Everyone has their own ideas on dates on evergreen blog posts.

      Thanks for your comment today.
      Sue

  11. Hello Sue,

    Thanks for the informative post. I was unaware of the tip about sans serif. but luckily, as I am new to blogging, I have not needed to edit many posts to change the fonts.

    Having made the changes I can already see an improvement. However, the links obstinately remain in a serif font. I need to go back now and try to sort it out, but I was wondering if anyone knows why this should be and could suggest a fix?

    By the way, I've never seen yellow type on a black background but it sounds pretty startling. I think I shall search for blogs using this combination and see if I can find any examples!

    1. Hi, Robert,

      Good for you for changing the font on all your posts! You may need to get a coder to fix the links - or clear your cache. Try clearing the cache on your site (there are free plug-ins for that) and see if you need a WP person after that.

      Thanks for your comment!
      Sue

  12. HI Sue,

    Great list!

    The two points i agree on most here are: font size and page background.

    Some blogs (as much as i would love to read them), make it so difficult with either bright colours or miniature text size.

    I use personally use black on a light grey background. I find it easy on the eyes compared to the brighter white.

    I am however breaking rule no. 10: I use italics a lot - so i will need to reduce that habit!

    James

  13. You are right with all this. Lately i have been to several sites that have used bright colours for backgrounds and it has really turned me away, as much i would have liked to continue reading. I use a very pale colour for website background; as it not only helps the theme (war) but keeps away from bright colours. Font size is also a big one. I like to read easily.

  14. Thanks for this wonderful article, Few things that I feel, everyone should keep in mind while writing a blog post, First recommendation is very important, always mention source of content, quote, images along with your content. Secondly never forget to use alt text tag in your content images, Alt-Txt will help google searches in indexing your blog post image into google image searches. Third point, keep doing interlinking your other related blog post among each other, so your traffic juice can transmit to other related posts as well.

    Hope you will add these points in your next topi :), Your knowledge is a clear mirror of your experiences.

  15. I teach a lot of high school students how to write for the web. This post was so excellent, I'm going to use it to teach with in my classroom. You did a great job of sharing and organizing the process. I wish there was a way I could turn your infographic into a large poster for my classroom; it was most excellent as well.

    Thanks so much for sharing!

    Mark "Elmo" Ellis

  16. Thanks for the post. Awesome guide for beginners. All the points you mentioned are correct. I knew some points before but also got new ones. Write post which provides informative, quality, motivating information which makes your blog an ultimate.

    Moreover, the headlines matter, it's true. That’s why, try to always check my headlines. But I think On page SEO is one of the important points to remember while writing the high-quality blog post. Also, don't forget to make your keyword research, and you need to have your own blogging/writing style.

    I believe that the quality of the content you write is more important than the number of posts or the number of words. Quality, Grammar, Easy Reading and Long text are the four pillar of a high-quality post.

    Anyways, it's a great article and great tips for newbie bloggers...

  17. Hi sue,

    i am a beginner blogger who has been having troubles with formatting my blog posts.

    i found this post to be more than helpful,

    its like a new light shined upon my day

    thank u very much...

  18. Hey Sue,

    Great post thank you!

    Regarding column width, I've been recommended to do that by someone before but I have absolutely no idea how to change that in my blog theme, is there an easy way to go about changing the column width in WordPress.org that I've missed or do I need to pay someone who knows more code to fix this within my theme for me?

    Thanks,

    Gemma x

  19. Some claim that posting at least once every day is better. Some also say that three quick posts a day are far more effective than one long post every three days. So please tell me Sue Anne Dunlevie is that right? Should I follow the same ?

    1. I believe you would burn out doing even one post a day, Tarun! Once a week or every other week when you are a new blogger is enough. If you are already blogging once a week, the most I would recommend is twice a week.

      Thanks for your comment and question.
      Sue

  20. Blogging seems quite easy but as you mentioned, many factors must be considered before working on the blog. The deep you find yourself in the world of blogging, the more you are gonna find it difficult. That's what I have learned from my experience.

    Thanks for the great piece of information.

  21. Hi Tarun,

    Think of how many articles on the same topic posted every day?

    If we create articles in average quality or less, then our articles will be difficult to compete.

    To stand out among the others, you should provide topnotch articles.

    Can you provide great articles if you create 3 articles per day?

    Once a week is moderate, twice is better. Quality is much more important than quantity.

  22. When I started doing freelance writing, I went with who I knew locally. Hooking up with some marketing companies and website designers who always had a need for copywriting really helped get me started.

  23. Hello,

    I have started blogging myself. I am trying to find out the basic problems that my blog is having and looking for solutions. Also, I'm searching for some basic things like themes and other stuff.

    I have read your whole article, I am looking forward to getting a positive result after performing this myself.

    Can you suggest me any basic idea that I might need in the future as a new blogger?

    Thank you

  24. Hi Sue,

    Very interesting and helpful post!

    Thanks for sharing!

    I'm just wondering if there is a right amount of images for a post?

    Also, I have seen that most bloggers use one large image instead of let's say 3-4 smaller at a time. We wanted to create posts with quite a lot photos but now that we saw most of the successful bloggers use one large in between the sentences at a time (so it looks like text image, text, image...), instead of more smaller, got a little insecure about our idea...

    I hope I could clearly explain what my issue is... ?

    Thank you for your help on advance!

    Best regards,

    Benjamin

  25. I just noted down a few tips from your article and will try to implement them. I think I have small fonts which I am going to increase and also make the background colour somewhat like off-white. It's truly a good article. I was just comparing my page and your page and I didn't want to read my articles just because they were looking horrible compared to your layout. Now I understand how conversion works. Thank you so much! 🙂

  26. For me, you need to make sure the very act of reading your blog is easy. No matter how great your blog content and blog writing is, if it’s not easy to read, people won’t enjoy it and won’t come back for more.

  27. Hi Sue,

    Amazing tips. Here you presented the most important points and I'm sure I will pass for all these. Thanks a lot for sharing this.

  28. Hello Sue. This is 2018, about 8 years after this article was published, and it still has so much to teach.

    I thought I was the only person who skimmed read, now I know I'm not alone(judging by the previous comments above).

    It is true formatting our blog posts helps improve readability, I realize the posts I read the most are those well formatted.

    Also, the importance of the art of storytelling cannot be overemphasized. This is because most things happening to us somehow happens to others(or at least similar things) this makes our posts look as though we are talking about them which further compels them to listen (read what we've written).

    I've found your blog very helpful and joined your list, thanks so much.

  29. Hi!

    The best thing that I like to do is making lists or tables using plugins to present long content. Whenever I write an article like TOP 100 or BEST 50, I always use to provide a quick summary of all the Top products using tables. Presentation of data becomes more visually appealing when it is presented using tables. Also, thanks for the other tips.

    Thank You

  30. I just found your blog and I’ve found every article I’ve read very helpful. My problem is that I get lots of visitors, but very few comments!

    1. Make sure you ask for comments and get a small group of blogger friends to start the conversation off.

      Thanks for your comment and question.
      Sue

  31. Thanks for sharing your tips Sue! I was getting ready to make a post on my blog and searched for "why do first few lines in blog editor look different" and some how ended up here.

    It wasn't exactly what I was searching for but I'm really glad I found it. I'm fairly new to blogging and I've know a few of these tips but not all of them.

    There's some real good info on this list and I'm about to use some of it.

    I wasn't expecting to read the whole post but I did and I'm glad I did!

    Thanks again!

  32. Hi Sue,

    Thank you for sharing your valuable piece of advice with us. Being a blogger, I know some of these tips but not all of them. I will definitely apply this to my blog and see if can hit the bull's eye! (:

    Once again, thank you!

    Regards,
    Akshay Chugh

  33. Hi Sue,
    Very informative blog, things have been explained well and minute details have been covered. Lot of things to carry from this, Like font type, using bold letters with restraint, dropping italics and using images.
    Surely innovative and a topic-focused blog are some more takes for a good blog.
    Thank you so much, keep up your good work
    With Warm Regards
    Atul Sachdeva

  34. This Very interesting and helpful post!

    Thank you for sharing post!

    I'm just wondering if there is a right amount of images for a post?

    Also, I have seen that most bloggers use one large image instead. We wanted to create posts with quite a lot photos but now that we saw most of the successful bloggers use one large in between the sentences at a time (so it looks like text image, text, image...), instead of more smaller, got a little insecure about our idea...

    I hope clearly explain what my issue is... ?

    Thank you for Share helpfully Advice

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