Style Versus Content in Your Blog

By Guest Author

This is a guest post by Ciprian Ginghina. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

The word on the street, or perhaps I should say ‘information superhighway’, is that certain text style options make website content and blogs ‘pop’ and are thereby more appealing to readers. The use of short sentences within short paragraphs decorated with bullet point lists and sub-headers apparently hold our attention in a vise grip, bewitched by the format. Blogging gurus peddle these presentation options as if they are some magical beguiling cloak for crap writing.

Yup, advertisers have discovered writing. The same people that compose commercial content for the Thigh Master*, penis enlargement cream and the Snuggie* have suddenly realized that rather than hire professional writers (y’know, people that read and write extensively and thereby have actual vocabularies and legitimate skills in idea communication), they can instead employ any old Duncan to throw together a few mismatched words, inject them into their online formatting template, and boom! Instant captivation.

(Oops, that middle sentence in the last paragraph was far too long! But you read it? Why? How did that happen? There were no bullet points, nor even a sub-header in bold!)

One thing a writer requires is faith in his or her readers’ smarts. You shouldn’t treat them like idiots, because:

  • They aren’t
  • A high proportion of them are actually more intelligent than you are
  • You have to respect that, or they can tell
  • Oh Christ, I’m using bullet points

The use of such style tricks is akin to using flashing lights as a distraction in a zombie movie. If you instead want to attract survivors to your fortified mall/pub/apartment (especially physically attractive ones that can read) it’s best to write a legible banner and illuminate it with a single lamp.

Yup, I used an extended zombie movie metaphor. Nope, it’s not in the manual. And guess what? You read that bit, too.

I’m sure, by now, you’ve guessed my point. Writing can be compelling by itself if you’re willing to spend a little time making it so. You don’t need to follow style guidelines from some self-appointed expert. Sure, Search Engine Optimization is a desirable focus; you want people to read your stuff, and SEO is a method to elevate your Google/Yahoo/etc. page rankings. Thankfully, search engine Spiders, the software that secretly explores your web content for relevancy, are getting wise to the ways of the keyword stuffers. As technology advances, so does the ability of the Spiders to avoid being fooled by the black hat brigade. They are starting to develop methods of recognizing quality writing for what it is, rather than a bunch of filler packed around keywords.

And thank goodness for that. Maybe one day I won’t ever again have to waste valuable minutes of my life wading through pointlessly decorated drivel. (Incidentally, is no one else a little perturbed that a machine can recognize talent when it examines a block of text? There’s another blog, right there…).

Note from Daniel: I don’t agree completely with the main point of this article, but I felt that having a different opinion was worth it, if nothing else to spark a discussion.

Ciprian Ginghina is a full time web developer. He has over five years of experience in web development. He specializes in LAMP platform and JQuery framework. He is also passionate about online marketing. His blog is an effort to share his insights on online marketing, blogging, personal development and personal finance.



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38 Responses to “Style Versus Content in Your Blog”

  • Ron – Sales Copy Writing | Content Publishing | Blogging

    Copywriting is understanding people, not fooling them!

  • Article Writer for Hire

    HA… I love it!!! I could not agree more… Sure, I differ with some of your metaphors but that is what this is all about. I totally agree that in your own blog, you want to be you. I have learned that people tend to react better to information you present them with, when you share what is going on in your head. I think it is a matter of preference and of course choice, deciding whether or not bullet points are necessary. When it comes to writing and personal style of writing, we choose the lesser of the evils, or at least what we believe the lesser of the evils to be.

    I think that if we respect our readers, give them substance to rely on or juicy content in an easy to digest form, it will be much better to keep them there, read through to the end of the post and come back for seconds. YES, this too was a long run-on sentence but it was intended nonetheless.

  • John Lewis

    What an important topic!

    Broadly, I agree with the sentiment of the article; and the comments that emphasise the importance of content make sense to me. Yet I sympathise with the comments that suggest that style leads.

    Surely, in general, it is not realistic to separate style and content? Other comments have described the importance of each somewhat independently; but they are not separate: the “style” is the style of the content.

    For blog posts, on a simply visual level, the layout style of each part of the text is its font, size, color, position, borders, etc.. Also, on a structural level, the use of headings, bullet points, etc. is also being considered here as part of the style, but is more closely related to the content.

    Yet, we also talk of writing style: the voice used, the sequence of revelation of topics and so on; have we crossed over into content or is this still style? I’ve both described the topic and tried to apply it here: http://observations.johnwlewis.info/subjects/learning/disclosure-sequence/

    Of course, a super-car which performs superbly but looks awful is likely be disappointing; but a beautiful-looking car with a weak engine and uncontrollable handling is perhaps even more so. After all, the visual attraction encourages engagement, but when you are driving the car, you cannot see the outside … although other people can!

    So both performance and looks are important, and the presentation style is most effective when it suits the content … it seems to me!

  • Ciprian

    Content Wins. Every Time.

    Content succeeds without format, but format goes nowhere without content. It is whimsical décor, nothing more. I ask you, when was the last time you finished reading a blog and thought, “Wow, nice formatting”?

    http://www.ciprianginghina.com/2010/01/31/content-wins-every-time/

    Thx. again for your comments.

  • Free Money Income

    I think, at first Design is more important as we all know “First impressions last” then after that Content will make them coming back to your site.

  • Man Overboard

    Pretty sure I soiled myself when I read the bullet list. Bravo good sir. This is the second to last place u ever expected a Zombie metaphor.

  • R Kumar

    A good topic to discuss about.
    How many times has it happened that I come to a blog and read a couple of lines and then browse away from it?
    Is it because I did not like the content or, is it because it is poorly presented?
    More often than not, my first impression of a blog is the way it looks. A neatly laid out design and a similar approach to the presentation of an article, with bullets, good headers, a few images etc, catches my attention and I get a feeling that this author(Blogger, I should say) knows how to say it. That creates a psychological impact and I start to love the content even before I have started reading it.
    Gradually as I read the article, even if it is about 40% good content and has only about 40% valuable message in it, I would read it from beginning till end.
    In contrast, if the layout was poor and I had a boring impression in the beginning itself, it is unlikely that I would spend more than a couple of seconds reading the content. Then what good is quality content.

  • Ciprian

    @Ben Collins – I concentrate first on content, on the message I want to transmit to my readers. When this step is done I can move to layout but I don’t spend too much time on this. You know KISS principle, right? So I use it as much as I can.

    If you want good content then you should:
    1) train yourself and provide quality materials for you audience
    2) learn from the best
    3) outsource content when you have no other option
    4) read, write, improve

    If you want a good layout:
    1) checkout your 10 ten competitors
    2) Find the KISS principle in their themes and apply to your needs
    3) If you can’t customize your theme hire a professional to do that
    4) don’t use default themes if you want to stand out from the crowd

    These are only a few ideas. I can digg for more, maybe in a new post based on this topic.

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