16 ways to grab readers for your blog (and keep them!)

Take advantage of your blog’s most important real estate: ‘Above the fold.’

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Location matters for blogs the way it matters for real estate. Your blog’s most valuable real estate is the space “above the fold,” a term borrowed from print newspapers in describing the top half of a broadsheet. It’s what appears to potential buyers at a newsstand. (Remember those?)

Above the fold is the top section of your blog. It’s important to consider what should go there when designing your blog. Unlike a newspaper, this space varies based on readers’ devices and other factors. Therefore, maximize the space’s ability to entice readers to click through.
Here are 16 above-the-fold blog elements.

Must-have elements

1. Branding. Include content and visual elements such as color and typeface. The goal is to identify your blog.

2. Navigation. This can be horizontal (across) or vertical (down). Give readers an idea of what’s available on your blog or other aspects of your offering. This is particularly useful if your blog is integrated with your company website.

3. Onsite search. This can be incorporated into your navigation. This is a crucial element to help readers quickly find the information they want. Make sure that it stands out and is easily identified. You don’t want readers to leave your blog for a search engine to find other information—because they might not return.

4. Contact information. How can readers and visitors contact you? Offer them a variety of options, including your phone number, e-mail address and social media links.

5. Call to Action. The action you ask readers to take. Besides reading your posts, invite your visitors to participate in some activity that furthers your relationship. There’s a broad variety of options such as: subscribing to your RSS feed, registering for an e-newsletter or connecting with you on social media.

6. Social media connections. Which options are you using, and how big are the buttons/text? Do you have a related call to action? Visitors are more likely to “like” you if you ask them to.

7. Sidebar content. Use the top-most widgets to draw readers in with options like recent posts, most popular posts and tag clouds. Given the limited room above the fold, these widgets may not be as effective in this context.

Blog content

This is important, because at least the first post appears above the fold.

8. Title. How catchy is your title or headline? Does it make sense to readers? To search-bots? This is one area where newspaper context doesn’t always translate well.

9. Strong content. This is the cheese that attracts readers and compels them to read further. Though it’s on every blogging how-to list, it’s the core of why people read blogs. (Having trouble with Blank Post Syndrome? Don’t sweat it, there are 125 free blog topics to help.) This can be the most recent post or a sticky post that remains at the top.

10. Photographs. Do you use a photograph to draw readers in? How large is it? Would a smaller thumbnail be as useful?

11. Tweets and likes. Do you have buttons on each post? Do they get readers to share your content? The wisdom of crowds rules. People will read your most popular posts, and this is one way they check.

12. Keywords. Do you emphasize important words and phrases in your content? Are these the same keywords your readers use to search for your information?

13. In-content links. Do you link to appropriate content in your post to draw readers into your blog?

14. Categories. Like tags, do your categories make sense to your readers?

15. Tags. Are your tags useful to readers? Do they complement your keywords?

16. Byline. Does the byline link to other columns to broaden readers’ ability to find more of the author’s work quickly?

Design-related above-the-fold factors

How much real estate exists above the fold depends on your blog’s design and on each user’s browser settings.

Blog design factors:

1. Font. The typeface and size of your text can have a big impact on how much content appears above the fold. Consider your readers and their ability to see and read the text in any given font.

2. Line spacing. How far apart are the lines in your content? Take headlines and bulleting into consideration.

3. Page width and margins. A wider page means more content above the fold, but if the page is wider than the visitor’s browser, he’ll have to use the horizontal scroll bar, which can be annoying. Your blog can be designed either with a fluid width so that the content area is as wide as the browser’s window, or it can have a fixed width with adjustable margins.

User-controlled factors:

1. Screen size or device. Don’t assume readers are using the same device (such as a computer, netbook, iPad, or smartphone) as you are, especially with the growth in smartphone use. Nor are they using a 27″ screen (as your Web designer does) with your blog reduced to fit (almost) on a tiny screen.

2. Screen resolution. This element is a bit wonky. It’s the number of pixels per screen inch. On desktop PCs, the user sets this using the display monitor’s control panel.

3. Text size. The user has the ability to set the browser’s default text size for text that is otherwise not styled in your design.

4. Brower toolbars. Screen space is reduced based on the number of toolbars the user has open. From a blogging perspective, this translates to less real estate.

Whether you’re building your blog from scratch or tinkering with an existing one, it’s important to maximize your above-the-fold real estate. The goal is to lure readers in and keep them engaged in your blog. It’s all about location, location, location.

Heidi Cohen is president of Riverside Marketing Strategies. Follow her on Twitter @heidicohen.

Photo courtesy of Irinia Slutsky via Flickr.


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