You remember that time Justin Timberlake and Madonna teamed up for that song where they kept repeating the lyrics:

You only got 4 seconds to save the world!

Well as embarrassing as it may be to admit, it’s kinda my anthem for post writing. Like, it literally gets stuck in my head half the time I sit down to craft an article for this blog.

And it’s not because I’m a weirdo with a sometimes questionable taste in music. (Although…………………guilty as charged.)

It’s because 4 seconds is pretty close to the amount of time you have to convince a blog visitor to stick it out and read your entire post. I don’t say this to freak you out or add pressure, but because embracing this helps us begin to create the types of posts that will keep our blog visitors new friends reading.

You see, I happen to know you well enough by now to realize that you’re the type of person who truly cares about your content. Therefore I really, really want your blog visitors hanging onto your every word. Together, I know we can make that happen!

Which is why today, I’m going to share with you why you’re under the gun when someone clicks the link to your post and then 10 things you can do to make the type of first impression that will encourage those folks to hang in there with you until the end.

Let’s get started!

The Skim Test

So, here’s the low-down on what happens virtually every time you click a link to visit a person’s blog post.

You click —–> You skim —–> You decide if you’re in.

It’s not because you’re rude or super judgmental either. It’s because it’s human nature.

On the internet, there are a gazillion (that’s a factual number) things vying for our attention. Add to that the fact we’re busy people, and suddenly it’s easy to see why we (mostly subconsciously) skim an article before we commit to reading the entire thing.

I recently began paying closer attention to my own skimming habits, and I noticed a pattern. Here’s what I do almost consistently, and in this order:

1. I click on the pretty image you posted on Pinterest. (Who can blame me? It was a stunner!)

2. I get whisked away by the magical internet to your post.

3. Instantly, my eyes take in the overall aesthetic of your entire site.

4. I read the first line, and occasionally second, of your post.

5. I scroll down a ways to get a sense of what I’m in for.

6. If what I see during that glance puts me at ease, I scroll back to the top and DIVE IN.

And I’m willing to bet that whether you realize it or not, you probably do roughly the same thing.

So what exactly, are we skimming for? Good question…

One assumption is we’re checking ahead to see if the post is too long. However, that would be a myth. People actually gravitate towards slightly longer articles that have substance, value and are content rich. In this 140 character world we currently live in, I found it hard to believe too…but it’s true.

There’s been several studies out there that suggest there is a tipping point right around 1,600 words where posts are more likely to be read, engaged and shared. I’m going to share with you an article from Buffer’s blog, because the entire post if bubbling over with killer info beyond just this one tiny idea.

But in short, when they conducted a post audit, they too found that longer posts served them well, with their best performers containing 2,500+ word counts. Whoa nelly!

Word Count For Blog Posts by Buffer

But, how the heck are we supposed to write long, content packed posts that don’t overwhelm our visitors at first glance? I know, I was thinking the same thing.

While there are a ton of factors that go into our decision to continue reading or not, I have found three primary things to be true. While skimming, most people are seeking:

1. Value (which is why longer posts probably do so well)

2. Visual Comfort 

3. Engaging Text

Since we’ve already discussed word count, let’s get to the good stuff and tackle 10 more easy (yet powerful) tips and tricks for transforming your visitor into an actual reader.

10 Tricks

To Keep Your Readers Reading, Until “The End, Friend”

1. Chopping Paragraphs

Growing up, I LOVED most all of my English teachers. Truly.

However, while writing posts, I have to silence their collective voices as they scream at me:

Whitney! That is NOT a proper paragraph! It’s incomplete!

If any of my English teachers took one of those infamous red pens to my posts, they’d be marked all to hell and I’d be sure to get a D – … at best. But that’s okay, because I’m not writing posts for them; I am writing posts for YOU.

And since I am writing them for you, I am aware you get totally turned off by uber-long, text heavy paragraphs. Therefore, I rebel against my inner English teachers and begin chopping away. Regardless what they say about proper formatting…

It’s okay to isolate single sentences.

See what I did there? Breaking paragraphs down into bite-sized chunks will put your potential readers at ease and help you pass the skim test. (Even if it means you flunk the English exam.)

So what do you say? Let’s be rebels TOGETHER.


2. Character Spacing

If you haven’t already, I urge you to venture into your dashboard and play around with your character AND line space settings. Why?

Because scrunched text is harder on the eyes. Those crowded letters can negatively impact the readability of your writing, which can lead to a visitor throwing in the towel before they even start.

But the cool thing is, most people are often just a half a pixel away from experiencing “spacing-nirvana”. So get into those settings and start bumping those numbers up. Experiment. You’ll know when it feels right.


3. Padding

Padding is basically the distance between different elements throughout your website. The greater that distance, the more breathing room you allow for people’s eyes as they scan your page. It’s based on exactly the same principles we were chatting about in tip #2.

So, while you’re in your settings to tweak your character and line spacing, hang around for a bit and consider increasing your content padding, for instance. As you do, you should see a larger gap forming between your content and your sidebar. That little bit of extra white space can make all the difference in the world in regards to readability and visual appeal.

Like we did when we were kiddos, just keep chanting “Peanut butter jelly and spreeeeead out!” as you work on items 2 & 3. I mean….only if you want to.


4. Headings and Lists

I’m guessing you may already know this, but headings, bullets and lists are your friends. They are absolutely perfect for breaking up large blocks of texts and can be total eye candy!

And boy oh boy, they can be one of the quickest and best ways to pass that skim test we’ve been talking about.

When you’ve written a lengthy post that’s oozing over with rich and valuable content, it is so reassuring to your visitors when they see you took the time to break that info down into smaller, more digestible sections.

Lists and headings instantly make your content more approachable and less intimidating.


5. Get Graphic

Relax. I don’t mean “witnessing the circle of life in all its horror on the Discovery Channel” kind of graphic.

I mean, when it makes sense, it’s a great idea to occasionally insert a graphic element within the body of your posts. It can be a chart (like I added earlier in this post), an embedded Tweet or a picture – whatever you like.

Just as long as it coordinates well with the context of your writing, it’ll be an eye-catching way to transform your posts from blah to beautiful. Plus, it can be far more engaging.

Take for instance the feature image for this post. Remember what it is? (If not, feel free to scroll to the top and take a look. I’ll hold your place.)

Currently the feature image is of a woman looking downwards as if she’s reading the blog title. BUT, before I rebranded my site the image contained a picture of a boxer dog wearing glasses. Hey, I thought it was cute at the time and I simply couldn’t resist using it. And you wanna know why I found it to be so irresistible? Because the too-cute-for-words pup below is my baby girl. See?

Boxer Dog on the BlogBoxerDog on the Blog

That’s my home-dog Reagan, and if I could have coaxed that crazy creature into wearing spectacles for me, she would’ve been in the feature image instead. She could have been a cover girl!

Your loss Reagan. Your loss.


6. Inject Mental Pause Buttons

A mental pause button can come in many forms, but most are commonly created when you ask your reader a question or request them to think about or visualize something for a moment.

Just a second ago, I asked you to try and remember what my feature image looked like.

Bam! That was a pause button.

Questions and call-to-actions such as these may only distract your reader for a millisecond, but it’s all the time you need to give them an itsy bits break from reading. In that brief moment, you give them an opportunity to go into their own head and connect to what you’re writing in a slightly different way.


7. Horizontal Lines

Most post editors include the option to add a horizontal line within your article with a mere click of a button.

If you glance through any of my prior posts, you’ll probably notice that I use this technique fairly often. I see it as just another tool in my kit to create space and subconscious breaks between my post elements.

Like headings, horizontal lines are nice for isolating ideas, putting some separation between points and telling your reader that you’re moving on to another subject.


8. Click To Tweet

One of my favorite ways to break up long strands of text is by inserting a “click-to-tweet” (CTT) feature within my posts.

It’s a personal fave because you’re killing a ton of birds with one stone!

(Which is probably a horrific analogy, considering Twitter’s logo is a dang bird, but oh well.)

Just like a graphic, CTT’s are a visually appealing way to chop up text. But in addition to that, your readers can actually interact with them.  Without losing their spot in your article, they can share your words via Twitter in two clicks. Nice!

This feature also allows you to highlight a particular point you desire to make. Suddenly, that quote is standing alone and impossible not to notice. Yay!

Click-to-tweets are just one of many ways to punch up your posts and keep visitors reading!Click To Tweet

There are several free plug-ins out there that will allow you to use this incredibly yummy feature on your own blog. All you have to do is search and find the one you like the best!


9. Write For A Person, Not A PC

You know how I told you at the very beginning that I often read the first couple lines of someone’s post before deciding to read further? Part of what I want to know is if you’re writing like a user manual or like a person.

Now please don’t mistake what I’m saying. You don’t have to start your posts with:

Yo, yo yo. I’m gonna give y’all the 411 on how to get your peeps to think you’re alllllll that and a bag o’ chips for REALS! Let’s DO THIS, baby!

I mean, I unfortunately could quite possibly see me doing this, but that’s not the point.

The point is, really dry/formal writing is just not as enjoyable for most people to consume. We read manuals because we have to. Most of the time, we read blog posts because we want to.

I go way more in depth about how to achieve a bit of this balance and flavor your content with personality in this post. Go give it a read! (Skim first though, of course. I get it.)


10. Try The Scroll Check

Finally, I’ll leave you with a test I personally put all my posts through before I hit the publish button.

Before any of my posts go live, I preview them first just like you do. I give my content a final edit and check to see if everything is looking like intended…just like you.

But after all that, I start to scroll, very slowly, down the page. What am I looking for?

I’m testing to see if there are any instances where if you happened to pause your scrolling, all you would see is teeny tiny text. If so, that might freak you out…and I DO NOT want to freak you out!

The scroll check isn’t perfect, I understand that. People read things from mobile devices and use a variety of different screen resolutions and browsers. However, my screen is large and I’m willing to bet that if I pause at a point in my scrolling and I see a gigantic section of text that has nothing breaking it up visually, most others will experience that as well.

I simply use this technique as an indicator that I may possibly want to reconsider that particular section and see if there are any opportunities to create some visual interest.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t just starting spraying around a bunch of horizontal lines all willy-nilly for no dang reason at all. But I will stop to think if a new heading is justified. Or maybe a picture. Or, might that paragraph be better understood as a bulleted list?


Bottom Line

Take a moment to visit your blog and put it through your own skim test. If possible, have a friend or colleague do the same. Keep these points in mind as you do.

And remember, it often only takes  1 or 2 small tweaks to make a big difference in the readability and engagement of our posts. That’s it! So relax, have fun with it and test out different methods until you find what works for you.

And as always, let me know how it goes!

Now guess what? If you made it THIS far, that means you made it to…

>>> The End, Friend! <<<

And that makes you wonderful, fantastic and completely rad in my book.

And to thank you for such radness, here’s a post to help you create blog post titles that people will actually click. I mean, you just learned how to up your content game so I definitely want people to see it!


Have any reader-engagement tips to share?

I’d LOVE you to add your ideas to the conversation below!