When I was still a student a few years ago, I was looking for lazy ways to improve my grades.
I also loved the idea of understanding what a good or bad paper is in the head of my teachers.
One thing I learned at that time is that people judge you more on the appearances than they judge you on your character to start with.
You see it all the time right?
If you're well dressed, you can go in most places, no matter what your net worth is.
If you're in dirty shorts and flip flops with long hair though, you may be a millionaire and still not get in medium range venues without extensive justifications.
Because of that, I started learning how to use Microsoft Word extensively and deliver impeccably formatted papers.
And not surprisingly, without changing at all the way I was producing my papers, my grades went up 10-15%.
The only thing that changed was that I followed the layout the best students were using for their papers.
Why formatting is probably even more important than your content itself
Now I know what you're thinking. What does that have to do with online marketing and authority sites?
Well, if people are slowly catching up on the type of content they should be creating. One major thing that most people are still heavily overlooking is content formatting.
If your content is a dull wall of text, people WILL get distracted / not get impressed by your stuff and you'll lose out on potential conversions and revenue.
Let's get into the skin of the typical blog reader:
- Half of the time they're on a tiny mobile screen, in transport or somewhere with a lot of external stimulus to distract them.
- They have modern days ADHD and run after the new Facebook/Twitter/Skype/Whatsapp notification they get every minute or so.
- They've seen it all, incredible info graphics, free web apps, 3D movies etc. They're used to media rich highly engaging, easy to consume content.
All this means that if the content doesn't look appealing withing a few seconds, your readers will bounce somewhere else and never see how good your content even is. Ultimately, attention is the ultimate scarce resource and formatting earns you the first 30 seconds of it.
The good news is, there are also elements of formatting that can directly increase your bottom line and how much traffic you're getting. I'll get to these in a minute.
What is good content formatting?
While I can't say I have the absolute answer to that question, here's what I've learned on the subject by running my own authority sites:
- Your content must be scanable. Most people don't read full articles and you should help them find what they're looking for.
- Your content should be media rich. Nobody reads walls of text online unless they're your regular readers.
- Your content should contain offers and call to action. You need to guide people towards the next steps. It's often the occasion to monetize as well.
These objectives translated into the following edition guidelines for our sites:
Formatting Editorial Rules
- Paragraphs should be no longer than 3-4 lines for better readability.
- Use bullet points to describe processes and steps. (see what I did there)
- Break down the articles with sub titles every 3-4 paragraph.
- Use / Create relevant images, videos and sound files to enforce your point but avoid generic images.
- Link internally and externally to relevant resources when applicable.
- Include low engagement call to actions throughout the content. (Share, Email opt in etc)
- Include a final call to action, this should be the most meaningful call to action to you.
- Break any of the rules above if this makes the content more engaging and readable.
Learning from those who do it right
Let's first look at someone who cares about content formatting very much: Matthew Woodward. Actually, some of the actionable tips below come from him.
Despite the fact that he doesn't talk about it, Matthew has very meticulous formatting and makes sure his posts do not look like walls of text and are easy to read. Not surprising that his average time on site is over 5 minutes.
The main reason for that is that usually between the middle or the end of his posts, he will recommend products to people and he needs to make sure a maximum of people are following his thoughts until that point.
Actually increasing the amount of people scrolling down results in an increased revenue for him without the need to grow his traffic.
Case study: reformatting a post from basic to advanced formatting
I know you guys love practical case studies so I've dug around Health Ambition and found a post we've heavily reworked back in November .
The post used to be a good SEO performer that slowly shrunk in traffic and rankings to end up at the bottom of page one getting very little traffic.
We therefore worked on a complete overhaul of the page, we re edited the content, transformed a bit of it and most importantly made it look super nice and professional and follow the editorial/editing rules mentioned above.
We re promoted the page on Pinterest which allows us to gain some momentum around it and we started observing user metrics. Here's a screenshot of our analytics:
It took a bunch of work to revamp this page but we were super pleased with the results. We were able to retain people 224% longer on the site and the bounce rate decreased significantly. We also ended up making a lot more advertising revenue from this page.
The increase in traffic just after the redesign I'd say can largely be attributed to the Pinterest promotion we did, actually, the post went completely viral over there. Here's the current pin count at the time when I write this post:
Did the formatting help this happening? I can't say for sure but I'm confident it contributed to it a lot.
How about the SEO traffic? Well, in the next 4 weeks, the page went from being #10-11 to taking slot #2 above sites like the BBC, Live Strong and Fox News for a keyword getting 15,000 exact searched per month at $5 CPC plus the long tail.
Was that SEO win directly due to the reformatting and re editing of the content? I highly doubt it.
However, the fact that the post went viral on social media is probably highly correlated to the fact that it looked dashing. That in turn has turned into other blogs linking to us which in turn gave us higher rankings.
If you look at the analytics now, this page gets over 18,736 visits in the same 3 weeks period. That is a 92x increase in traffic for this page in just a few months. The time on site fell down to 5:25 but it is to be expected with such a steep traffic increase and social traffic surge.
This experiment led us to create more advanced articles with advanced formatting and while they did not all reach the success of this case study, they've all done very well and are a very worthy thing to spend our time on when building our authority sites these days.
Technical implementations of advanced formatting
Now that we know why formatting is important and what the main rules of good formatting are, the next logical question is usually: How do I apply this kind of formatting to my content without spending hours on it.
Nowadays, most WordPress themes offer plenty of short codes that allow you to somewhat create decent formatting but most of the time, these are cumbersome to use.
I personally use Thrive Content Builder (review) to create most of my pages and posts. Thrive is real What you see is what you get page builder and you do not need to keep reloading your pages to see what they're going to look like.
I've tried dozens of "visual editors" for WordPress, this one is the only one that doesn't require any abstraction and offers enough flexibility to build any kind of page you like. Here's a video overview where you will see me build this post using Thrive editor.
Wrapping it up
Believe it or not, a well formatted average piece of content tends to do better than a poorly formatted master piece. This is why I put a lot of care into trying to make our posts across all sites look above average.
This inspires trust, keeps people on your page, gets them sharing and take action. The only issue with advanced formatting was that it used to take a ton of time to build beautiful posts and it could not always be justified economically.
Now that something like Thrive editor is out there, it's incredibly easy (and fast!) to look better and more trustworthy than your competitors.