“Design content, then write it.”
We read this recently and pondered over it for quite some time. We’ve been writing content for years and have never followed this exact process. Sure, we always think about the layout of a blog post after we’ve written it, but we’ve never started with design. Until now.
Once we started digging into the “why” of this method, it makes sense. Content design describes how written content is laid out on your website. Think blogs, help sections, long-form guides with images and text, etc. While it’s almost required for your company to have a blog these days, many of these blogs are inaccessible to readers because of a poor user experience.
Consumers of content are impatient. We see up to 10,000 brand messages in any given day, so it’s no wonder we prefer to skim—rather than read—entire articles. There’s just not enough time!
So if someone shows up to your blog and sees one big chunk of never-ending text, they probably aren’t going to stay on your page very long. Instead, content writers should strive to engage their audience with creative content design encouraging the reader to spend more time on each page. Otherwise, what’s the point of all this writing?
Knowing that readers are going to scan anyway, how can we most effectively provide them with the most valuable information? This is where good content design comes in. So today, we’re going to take a stab at designing content before writing it, and we hope you’ll join us.
When thinking about your content strategy, remember to mix up the types of content you’re publishing. This includes:
Publishing different types of content helps you not only expand your reach, but also continuously provides value to your reader by giving them a variety of information. Additionally, it keeps the design of each piece of content fresh and interesting, grabbing the attention of your audience with each new blog post.
The most important part of any content is the headline. One technique we like to follow is to write headlines and subheads first, then fill in the body content. Headlines are vital to getting a reader to click on your link and should be unique, attention-grabbing, and informative. Subheads keep readers engaged and serve as mini headlines throughout your content, to keep the reader interested and moving through your entire post. The trick to writing a good subhead is to give away enough information to allow the reader to skim your content, while being intriguing enough to make them want to dive into the body copy. Our friends over at CoSchedule have a helpful guide for writing results-driven headlines and subheads.
Studies have shown that image captions are some of the most-read content on any given page. Take time writing these captions and consider utilizing “deep captions” that are 2-3 sentences long. Strong captions help the reader skim the page and determine if it’s worth their time to keep reading. Use each caption as an opportunity to hook the reader into diving deeper into the rest of your article. Space out images with captions and subheads, so the reader has any easy flow to follow throughout the entire article.
This is an example of a deep caption. It’s 2-3 sentence long and tells you that there’s a lot of good stuff in this post. Keep reading!
What’s a listacle, you ask? Why, it’s just what we created here. It’s the use of numbered or bulleted lists that serve as an easily scannable form of content to present multiple points on one topic. They are incredibly effective at capturing attention, keeping the reader oriented on your page and drawing your reader’s eye to a visual break in the text. You can use them as the entire overarching format for your content, or you can incorporate them in sections of longer form content pieces.
Relevant links can include internal linking back to content on your own site, or external links to other industry experts. Both are good and should be used moderately throughout your text. Internal links will keep people on your site longer; while external links show that you’ve done adequate research to become a thought leader on the topic, adding additional value for the reader.
Moderate use of formatting emphasizes parts of your content to draw in your reader. It highlights the most important information that your reader’s eye will jump to first. Use occasional bolding, italicizing or underlining so the reader can easily skim your content. Also consider the use of the line break. Complex content can be made much more reader-friendly with line breaks between big thoughts. You can use them to separate ideas, paragraphs, sections, etc. Lastly, keep your paragraphs short and experiment with writing one-sentence only paragraphs.
Anything that adds a little white space and provides a break in your copy makes for quality content design.
Above-the-fold content refers to the content that appears within the line of vision for the reader once the page loads, before the need to scroll down. Some users will use this content as a judgement on whether or not to continue reading your article. Hook them with snappy headlines, clean formatting and an intriguing image.
Pro tip: Don’t make the headline too large. The reader has already seen the headline, after all, because they chose to open your article.
Typography comes into play with readability and legibility. Have you chosen a font that’s easy to read? What about your font size? Does your font match the tone and style of your content? You could spend days researching typography online (guilty), but think about these things at the bare minimum:
Pro tip: Test it out! There’s no set of industry standards for typography, just a whole lot of recommendations. Design it first to fit your needs, then do some user testing and see how your readers react.
Once you’ve successfully written killer captions and subheads, bolded when necessary, included a list or two, and linked to expert sources, then you can begin filling in the content between the design. Ask yourself: Have I called special attention to the most important parts of my article? Is the reader able to successfully scan my article and does he/she feel compelled to dive in?