The more I have been writing online, the more I questioned if I was formatting everything correctly. When I had a client start blogging with zero knowledge of formatting best practices, I decided I needed to create a quick reference.
Guide to Formatting Online Writing
Do you blog or publish articles online? This guide will help you format your writing correctly and engage your audience better, making more of your content read.
- Short and eye-catching. Keep it under 60 characters.
- Spell everything out. Do not use abbreviations, acronyms and characters like $, &, @, %, and !.
- Use keywords for strong Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
- Use images if possible and have them be relative to the content (Unsplash.com is a great resource) and photos.
- Make sure the resolution is high enough to be clear. I try and keep them around 800 pixels wide at 72dpi so they load quickly.
- Landscape oriented images work best.
- Credit the photo with the source if necessary.
- Short, 150-160 characters (3 – 4 lines, typically one sentence) as a summary of the content.
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is key here.
- Avoid clever and cute writing.
- No formatting of text. (no links, bold or breaks)
- Use them. They will act as an outline and will allow the reader to scan faster and stay engaged longer.
- Be short and direct, but they should be able to stand on their own and understood out of context.
- Avoid jargon, technical words, abbreviations and cleverness.
- Keep Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in mind when writing these.
- Use formatting headings and subheadings. Do not just use bold text.
- Subheadings should only be used if there is a pre-existing heading.
- The first paragraph should contain the content most important to your reader. This is a technique called the inverted pyramid. You are starting with the conclusion so if you lose your reader, they still got the point you are trying to make.
- Break up your text into small paragraphs. A paragraph should be about 70 words.
- Sentence structure should be varied.
- Readers will read about 20 of content on your page. Be concise, write short sentences and use action verbs.
- Bullet points are the king on online content. They make it easy to digest chunks of information and to understand that information better.
- If you have a sentence with a series of items separated by commas, use a bulleted list.
- Do not use a numbered list unless the order of the actions is necessary.
Bold, Italics and Highlighted Text
- Use to define keywords and phrases, but use sparingly.
- Do not use bold, italics or underlines unless necessary as it’s hard for text scanners for the visually impaired to pick up.
- Use hyperlinks.
- Have all links open in a new window (you want to keep the reader on your page!).
- If writing an email address, make sure it’s an active link.
- Verify that all links work.
- Don’t make people search for something. If you mention another post you wrote, or an article or site, link to it.
- Make your links contextual instead of using “click here”. Use part of your sentence as the link, keeping it to 4-8 words.
Write to Your Audience
- Know who you are writing to. Use the language and words they use. Do not use technical jargon if they will not know it.
- Content should be written in concise, conversational style.
- In web writing, the tone should be personal and upbeat.
- Use active voice. James read the book. Not: The book was read by James.
Length of Text
- A rule of thumb is when you are finished writing to delete half the words. Then delete half of that.
- A normal post or article should be 300 – 700 words. (Below 300 words and google considers them “thin content”)
- The best blog length in 2019 for Search Engine Optimation (SEO) is 1,705 words.
- Typically an online article would be half the length of the offline counterpart.
- If you write over 10 pages, it should be a downloadable pdf or broken up into a series of posts or articles.
Other Best Practises
- If using acronyms in the body text, write out the full title first, followed by the abbreviation in parenthesis.
- Never use all CAPS to highlight text. Instead, use bold font.
- Use one space after a period.
- Spell out words instead of abbreviations. Septemeber not Sept. Syracuse University, not SU.
- Be consistent with time formatting.
- Do not copy and paste from Microsoft Word. It will include weird formatting in your code. Instead, use a pure text editor.