How to design your blog for a reading experience visitors love (and more website traffic)

By Brittany Taylor

I would fit in well at Cheers or Central Perk. I like a place where I can linger, you see, a place where everyone knows my name, my standard order, and my “it’s time to escape, please bring me the check” face.

My favorite real-life haunts have an advantage over my digital picks. Why? Because when waiters or shopkeepers or sales associates notice that something’s amiss, that I’m not hanging around or I’m not looking particularly happy with my experience, they have the chance to rectify it, then and there.

Website owners have no such opportunity. That’s why it’s essential to design your blog for a good reading experience from day-one and to audit that experience regularly throughout the year.

audit your blog

how to use web traffic analytics to audit your blog's reading experience

It’s hard to pick a favorite Google-made tool, but Google Analytics is certainly high on my list. Invest time in setting up reports and delving through the different features, and you’ll see exactly how powerful and useful it is. But logging dozens of hours learning GA isn’t necessary to get the basics down.

Want to see if your readers are enjoying their on-site experience? Here are the three Google Analytics measurements you need to understand and track:

Time on page

The time-on-page statistic means exactly what it says: It’s how much time, in minutes and seconds, that the average visitor to a certain page spends actively looking at that page. “Actively” means that there’s some sort of interaction with the page, whether that’s scrolling, clicking, hovering, or highlighting.

For example, if you opened 10 tabs and left each of them up in the background while you read through them, the last one you read wouldn’t begin tracking the time you spent on that page until you began interacting with it.

It takes about 2 minutes for a normal person to read and absorb 500 to 750 words. If you’re publishing longer posts, you want to see a “time on page” statistic greater than 2 minutes. That would suggest that users are actually reading what you’ve published.

Pages per session

Another term that is named appropriately is pages per session. It is how many pages on your website the average user looks at during a single visit. The more pages they visit, the more you can assume that they’re interested in your content—and that you’ve made it easy for them to access additional pages.

Some websites inflate this number by breaking their blog posts (or their comment threads) up over multiple pages. About.com was notorious for it back in its heyday. While it can be an effective way to increase traffic statistics, it typically makes for a frustrating reading experience, particularly if the quality of the content doesn’t justify continually clicking through new pages to get to the end of it. Keep that sort of trade-off in mind as you design your blog.

Bounce rate

This term tends to throw people, but it’s not complex. Your bounce rate is the number (or percentage) of users who view only one page when they visit your website. Google likes to call these “single-page sessions.” Think of it this way: a “bounce” is a reader who pops in, reads a single post, and then “bounces” back out without clicking on another link and viewing another page.

The goal is to have a low bounce rate. The lower your bounce rate is, the larger the share of visitors you have visiting more than one page on your website. A high bounce rate = more single-page sessions. A low bounce rate = more multiple-page sessions. But what is a low bounce rate? No one has a definitive number. A bounce rate near or below 35 percent is quite good, in my experience.

action plan

how to design your blog so that readers stick around longer and read more posts per visit

I want to preface this by saying that I’m not a web designer or a graphic designer or a brand designer. What I am is a business owner who reads a lot of blog posts. And what I have discovered in my journey as a visitor to many boss’ websites is that you can have the best content in the world, but if you make it difficult or frustrating for me to read it, I’ll “bounce” right off your site—and I won’t come back.

The tips I’m including below are notes from the field. They’re culled from mistakes I’ve seen clicking around business blogs and attempting to read content that sounds fantastic but is impossible to enjoy. Each of them has led me to ditch a blog (and, in some cases, add it to my “don’t return”/“don’t re-pin” list).

Here are 9 actions to take today to improve your blog’s reading experience:

Increase your font size

The closer I get to 30—just 30! Not 60! Not 80!—the more I loathe “normal” font sizes. 16 pt. is the recommended minimum. The font you see here is set at 26 pt. and, in my opinion, this larger font size makes for a much more comfortable reading experience, especially for eyes that are tired of looking at screens all day.

Let’s see what my standard font size looks like in comparison to smaller norms:

This is 16 pt.

This is 18 pt.

This is 20 pt.

This is 22 pt.

This is 24 pt.

This is 26 pt.

Check your contrast

Most websites feature black type on a white background. Some businesses are choosing to soften their look by using a charcoal or lighter gray font color on a white or beige background. The farther you stray from the standard black-and-white, the more contrast you give up.

Typically, a deep charcoal on a still-pale background is acceptable to most readers, especially if the font size is larger than the recommended minimum of 16 pt. However, if you’re using a delicate font, an italic style, or something more scripty or with thinner adornments, your readers might have trouble reading your blog posts.

Reconsider your pop-ups

I loathe pop-ups and would rather they all die a fiery death. (FYI: Google hates them, too.) They are proven converters, though, so I do understand why so many bosses use them.

Still, if you use them, you should do so judiciously. For example, a pop-up on mobile interrupts the reading experience entirely and can force the reader to abandon the post entirely just to close the darn thing. Another example: Pop-ups that are triggered when the reader reaches a certain point in the blog post can disrupt the flow of the piece.

Limit the disruptions

It can be tempting to shove as much as you can into sidebars and in the white space between paragraphs. Resist the urge. The more ads and links and graphics and widgets and banners you give readers to look at, the less attention they’ll pay to the content you’ve worked so hard to publish.

Instead, create content strategically so that it serves your goals. Make it exceptionally entertaining and helpful, and visitors will be eager to read more—and to sign up and purchase whatever you have to offer. A single call to action at the end of a great piece of content will work better than 20 buttons between the introduction and the conclusion.

Add on-site text links that explain your content

We’ve all clicked on enough bad links to be wary of that bright blue underline. It’s also why it’s hard to make website visitors take notice of buttons and banners that aren’t pop-ups; it’s hard to shake the habitual instinct to ignore them.

However, linking words and phrases in your blog post to direct readers to other pieces of content that further explain what you’re talking about can be a boon for a business blog. When readers take a chance and click that link—and they’re directed to a solid piece of content that is what the linked words suggest—their trust in you increases. On your end, you’ll see your pageviews and pages-per-visit rise while your bounce rate declines. Win, win, win!

Adopt a useful tagging system

A blog’s taxonomy starts with a category and funnels down into tags. To get an idea of how it works, imagine that you’re looking at a cook book index. There are categories for the different types of food (think: dinner, dessert, egg dishes, pastries). Then, in each category, there are more declensions (under “dinner,” think: casseroles, stews, roasts). In the blogging world, these more specific categories are called tags.

Many blogs assign posts to multiple categories. So, when visitors click on each category, they find the same list of posts. That’s a waste of time for the user. When this happens regularly, it means that the blog’s categories are too similar, or that the blog owner is categorizing their posts incorrectly to beef up each category’s post count.

To set up a taxonomy that’s useful for your readers, you want to start with strategy in mind. Write down the core subjects you discuss (or intend to discuss). These are your categories. Aim to have somewhere between three and five categories for your blog. They should be different enough that most of your content falls into only one category.

Then, brainstorm a list of words or phrases that drill down on each of these topics. These are your tags. If your blog is small, you might only have one post for each tag. That’s fine. Continue to build your archive thoughtfully, and those tags will grow.

Suggest appropriate related content

Related content plugins and widgets fall somewhere on the spectrum of terrible to not very good. Sometimes, their poorness is a reflection on the blogger who installs them. These bits of tech rely on tags and categories to generate their suggestions. When you have a taxonomy that’s not specific enough or you tag and categorize blog posts injudiciously, they tend to suggest the same pieces of content for each blog post. A visitor might click on the first set of suggestions, but they won’t click on them again. That’s a wasted opportunity.

If you do use a related content plugin or widget, ensure that you’re using your taxonomy appropriately—and expanding your categories and tags when you need to.

If you aren’t using a plugin or widget (or want to customize your suggestions the DIY way), I recommend taking a minute or two as you finish each post to include links to three to five other blog posts that work well with the content you’re getting ready to publish.

Check for broken links

Remember all the trust you built a few sections ago? Well, just one broken link can tank the relationship you built with your readers using quality linking practices. A series of them is enough to kill it stone dead.

The thing is, you’re in complete control of the broken links on your website. Most website hosts offer link checking tools on their dashboards. If they don’t, you can always use a plugin or a third-party program. The easiest way to avoid broken links is to not change your URLs. Or, if you do, to redirect them immediately.

Create a header formatting style guide

I’ve established already that I’m a person who collects pet peeves. Inconsistent and clunky header formatting is one of them.

You’ve seen it: Blog posts that have an H1 in one font, an H2 in another, and an H3 in a third. Blog posts with long chunks of bolded paragraphs and then random italics and highlights and colors. It’s distracting! You pay more attention to the bizarre overall picture it presents than to the content itself. Or, you do as I do: Click the “x” and get the hell out of there.

Remember, formatting is meant to make your post and your points easier to read. Keep your headers simple and uniform, and your font styles reserve for occasional impact.

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- Brittany Taylor

If you want your website to be a place your target audience loves to linger—and send your traffic statistics soaring—start by focusing on the way it reads. Here’s how to design your blog to gain fans and increase pageviews. | by Brittany Taylor | Brand stories, blog posts, and bios for professional people
If you want your website to be a place your target audience loves to linger—and send your traffic statistics soaring—start by focusing on the way it reads. Here’s how to design your blog to gain fans and increase pageviews. | by Brittany Taylor | Brand stories, blog posts, and bios for professional people
If you want your website to be a place your target audience loves to linger—and send your traffic statistics soaring—start by focusing on the way it reads. Here’s how to design your blog to gain fans and increase pageviews. | by Brittany Taylor | Brand stories, blog posts, and bios for professional people
If you want your website to be a place your target audience loves to linger—and send your traffic statistics soaring—start by focusing on the way it reads. Here’s how to design your blog to gain fans and increase pageviews. | by Brittany Taylor | Brand stories, blog posts, and bios for professional people
If you want your website to be a place your target audience loves to linger—and send your traffic statistics soaring—start by focusing on the way it reads. Here’s how to design your blog to gain fans and increase pageviews. | by Brittany Taylor | Brand stories, blog posts, and bios for professional people
If you want your website to be a place your target audience loves to linger—and send your traffic statistics soaring—start by focusing on the way it reads. Here’s how to design your blog to gain fans and increase pageviews. | by Brittany Taylor | Brand stories, blog posts, and bios for professional people
If you want your website to be a place your target audience loves to linger—and send your traffic statistics soaring—start by focusing on the way it reads. Here’s how to design your blog to gain fans and increase pageviews. | by Brittany Taylor | Brand stories, blog posts, and bios for professional people
If you want your website to be a place your target audience loves to linger—and send your traffic statistics soaring—start by focusing on the way it reads. Here’s how to design your blog to gain fans and increase pageviews. | by Brittany Taylor | Brand stories, blog posts, and bios for professional people