The WordPress publishing platform makes it incredibly easy to create readable, engaging pages, but only if you use all the editing bar bells and whistles to their fullest.
This post is going to show you how to make the most of the tools on the WordPress post (and page) editing bar.
By then end of it, you’ll understand how to create pages and posts that are interesting to look at, easy to read, and engaging to … even the most jaded web surfer.
Belly on up to the WordPress formatting bar, and let’s take a look at seven ways to polish up your posts and pages.
1. Be bold. And subtle.
Let’s start at the most basic level with the bold and italic formatting options.
When should you use them?
When designing for print, there are strict rules about how these formatting options are used. Bold text is reserved for unfamiliar terms that are subsequently defined. Italics are used for words from foreign languages, book and magazine titles, works of art or music, plays, and television series.
On the web, the rules are a bit more … flexible.
Used with restraint, bold and italic formatting can be a very effective way to break up big, grey blocks of text on your page. How can you use the WordPress B and I for maximum effect?
One way is to bold a first sentence that introduces an important concept in a paragraph of text. This draws your reader’s eyes to the concept you’re introducing, and serves as a visual break from the rest of the text. It’s more subtle than a subhead, but still stands out from the rest of your copy.
And when it comes to italics, you can add shades of meaning to your words by italicizing words within a sentence. This allows your voice to be heard, and helps with reading comprehension.
Again, restraint is key. Don’t go overboard, or you’ll just be annoying.
2. Create signposts with subheads
Whether you’re writing a page or a blog post, subheads are your friend.
Site visitors often skim your subheads before they decide whether or not to dig in to your text. Take your time and craft attention-getting subheads that hint at the content of your page. This will help engage skimmers and draw them into the rest of your copy.
When you’re deciding whether or not to capitalize your subheads, consistency is key. Here on Copyblogger, subheads are capitalized on the first letter only. On my blog, the Big Brand System, I like to Use Initial Caps.
It’s a matter of personal preference, and the most important thing is to be consistent within each page of your site. So don’t use Initial Caps on Some Subheads and not others.
3. Help your reader measure progress with numbers
It’s a proven fact that numbered blog posts do very well. Some people hate them, though, and others say they’re a crutch for lazy writers. The stats show that readers love them, and I have a theory about why they’re so popular.
I think numbered posts are a little like those progress bars you see on web pages when you’re filling out a long form. For every page you complete, the progress bar moves to the right.
On a numbered post, every section the reader consumes moves them to the next number. This is a satisfying way to consume information, and it’s a good reason to use numbered subheads on your posts and pages, especially if they’re long.
4. Break up those concepts with snappy bullets
Much has been written on this very blog about the humble but powerful bullet. I encourage you to explore all the resources here, especially when using bullets on your landing pages.
Bullets are a great way to lay out a series of concepts in a way that’s easy to digest, too.
If you find yourself writing a paragraph with multiple sentences and concepts — and it’s getting longer and longer — break out the bullet points.
- Explain concept one
- Move on to concept two
- Wrap it up with concept three
See, wasn’t that easy to skim?
5. Shrink your paragraphs to web-sized chunks
I’ve been designing for print for 25 years now, and one of the biggest transitions I had to make when I moved to the web was in my approach to paragraphs.
Not everyone is going to like this advice, but here goes …
A long web page is easier to get through if concepts are broken into short paragraphs — much shorter than you see in print. The rule of thumb I use is to stick to one topic per paragraph. If a paragraph approaches three sentences in length, I start looking for a way to start a new one.
On the other hand, a page full of ultra-short, one-sentence paragraphs starts to look like you’re reading stripes. Moderation is key (are you seeing a theme here?).
6. Highlight, emphasize and inspire with block quotes
The blockquote function in WordPress is easy to use and provides a wonderful way to highlight a chunk of text. You can use it to emphasize a famous quotation, a concept, or an important piece of information.
Setting it apart in a block quote helps draw your eyes directly to it. See?
One or two blockquotes per page is usually enough. More than that and they begin to become a distraction.
7. Start strong, finish strong
This isn’t exactly a formatting tip, but it’s an important idea to keep in mind as you put your pages and posts together in WordPress.
In my last year of art school, I took a course in my final semester about preparing my portfolio so I could show it to prospective employers as I looked for my first job. The professor drove one point home to us, and it was
Start strong and end strong.
In addition to editing our pieces relentlessly and only showing our very best work, he asked us to pick our two strongest pieces and place them at the beginning of our portfolio and at the end.
Doing this meant we made a great impression from the very first page, and we left the viewer with a positive impression at the end.
The same rule applies for WordPress pages and posts.
Your first sentence and the paragraph that follows it need to engage and pique the curiosity of your reader. It’s the only way to draw them in and keep them interested in absorbing the rest of your information.
Your last paragraph needs to do the same thing. It should end with a bang, and either:
- Tell the reader exactly what you’d like them to do next
- Ask a question to encourage comments, if you’re writing a blog post
- Propose a new way of thinking about a topic
- Encourage readers to click through to another page on your site
- Invite people to make a purchase
Make the most of the WordPress formatting bar
Jacok Nielson, the Danish researcher famous for his usability studies, has shown that the magic combination for maximum usability is:
- Using objective language and avoiding hyped-up marketing copy
- Writing one-topic, concise paragraphs
- Making your text scannable with formatting, subheads and bullets
Combining these three elements improves useability by 124%. Test subjects read faster, remembered what they read, and reported enjoying it more, too.
That kind of result is worth spending a little extra time at the (formatting) bar, isn’t it?
Do you have a favorite WordPress formatting tip to share? Cruise on down to the comment section and tell me all about it.