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If Content is King, Format is Queen

Since its momentous rise in the 1990s, many have cited the internet as the ultimate source for information. Endless petty disputes (such as ‘how many Star Trek movies have been made?’) have been swiftly settled with a simple smart phone Google search, and bricks-and-mortar libraries are quickly becoming establishments of yesteryear in the wake of the platform’s popularity, and society’s increased digitality.

The web would be a far less useful resource however, if all information within was presented incomprehensively. In fact, there are quite a number of web pages out there which would likely be considered more valuable by users if only their format had been properly considered.

In the sixth of our 'If Content is King' series, we'll explore how to choose the right format both for different audiences and to display various types of information. It will also offer some useful formatting tips for the production of text, and visual infographic and video formats.  All recommendations will be made with both users and search engine optimisation in mind.

Determine your audience to decide content format

Before you decide which format to employ for a particular piece of content, you need to determine who your target audience is. Once this has been established, you can explore the sites most used by your target demographic, and the search processes they use when seeking information related to your industry online. This can help you decide where your content should be placed, and perhaps even its format too.

If, for example, you are trying to promote a new hair styling tool online and use Google Ad Planner to discover your target audience (women aged 16-30 years) is seeking reviews of similar products most commonly through YouTube, you may decide to produce a video for uploading to this site, in order to compete with your competitors. You may also wish to embed this video into your onsite blog, to provide another avenue through which web users can find your content.

It’s often the case that a specific piece of content can be repurposed into a variety of different formats. Producing these different versions and publishing them in various places on the web could provide SEO benefit, as well as adding value for your target audience. A washing machine manufacturer or retailer might produce a YouTube video showing how to install a washing machine, in addition to a handy downloadable PDF comprising the same information and helpful images. The latter format would be ideal for those looking for instructions that can be printed out and kept at hand for reference whilst actually completing the job.

Best practice: copy, infographic and video formats

This section details some crucial formatting tips to note when producing content in text, infographic and video form, for inclusion on websites, or for use within related digital marketing campaigns.

Typed text format: top tips

Using pure copy to display information might not seem like the most exciting format option but it is often the most suitable (due to the nature of the content and/or time restrictions), especially when proper formatting has been employed.

"The truth is that if people are intrigued enough to read past your post title, they will first quickly scan your post before actually reading it. Therefore, you want to format your posts for easy scanning and visually compartmentalize blocks of content, a big turn off for Internet users.” Victoria Stankard, getfoundnow.com, 2011

The following tips should be followed when presenting information in text form to avoid high traffic bounce rates, resulting from visitors hitting the back button after being presented with a page of information that is hard to digest due to its format.

  • Always use H1 and H2 tags: Long paragraphs might be acceptable in books, but they are not favoured by those reading web pages! It’s important to split content into sections using header 2 tags (which, like header 1 tags, help search engines to determine the content of pages). Using these tags – which denote main and sub headings – will also lead readers through content and help them to find the most relevant parts;

  • Use bullet points: Break blocks of content down into smaller points, to make large amounts of information appear less daunting and easier to sift through;

  • Be consistent with your formatting:  Familiarity is important to many web surfers so you should ensure formatting is consistent across pages and/or blog series;

  • Never over-format: Bolding, italics and underlining (etc.) should be used sporadically, in order to clearly split up content for readers. Over-formatting can also confuse search engine crawlers who use it to determine the contents and relevancy of pages, in relation to certain search terms;

  • Check formatting across different browsers: A page might look exactly how you would like it to in Google Chrome, but it won’t necessarily look the same when accessed via Internet Explorer! Be sure to check aesthetics across a number of different browsers to avoid alienating any visitors.

Infographic format: top tips

Infographics are a great choice when it comes to presenting large amounts of numerical data. This visually stimulating format really can help to bring statistics alive and make them stick in readers’ minds. The increasing popularity of this format recently however, means many are attempting to produce infographics purely for SEO benefits.

“My dear friends, we are in infographic overload, and if we don’t do something now, it may be too late for us all. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against infographics completely [...] they do work — well. But more often than not, they fail— terribly.” Erin Everhart, searchengineland.com, 2012

A significant number of infographics have been produced with no consideration of the points below, meaning the time and money invested in their production is often wasted.

  • Keep infographic designs simple: The use of too many colours, arrows and pictures (etc.) can make an infographic very confusing and can distract from its overall point. There should be justification for every design element included. Remember you are trying to make data easier to absorb;

  • Avoid including too much data:  For the same reason cited above, only include statistics completely relevant to the message you are trying to present with your infographic (no matter how interesting that additional data might seem!);

  • Always cite your sources: Homer Simpson once said ‘Oh, people can come up with statistics to prove anything’ and he was right. What is the source of the information included in your infographic? If you can’t cite the origination (and reference this to the side or bottom of the graphic) then its authority and credibility will be reduced. This could be damaging for your brand’s reputation;

  • Don’t embed a back link: Google’s SEO expert Matt Cutts recently announced that the search engine is currently revising its algorithm, to de-value back links included within infographic embed codes. Including this type of link could then be detrimental to your campaign.

Video format: top tips

Producing a video can be a significant investment and as such, you need to ensure this is the right format for your content before commencing work. Arguably ‘uninteresting’ subjects can be made more interesting through a mix of moving pictures and audio, and video is ideal for items such as ‘How to’ guides and product directions (which could be too lengthy or complicated in text form). Following these tips will help to ensure your video has impact online.

  • Videos need to be both visually and aurally stimulating: One element cannot be sacrificed for the other. Be wary of royalty-free music, since it can often be repetitive and aggravating. Consider whether the inclusion of text or an audio narration (or both) would be best for clarifying what is portrayed;

  • Viewers need to be led through visual content too: Just as text needs to be broken down into headed sections for easy digestion, video content should also be split into sections or chapters (or steps, if it’s a ‘How to’ demonstration);

  • Be sure to comprehensively tag videos: Labelling your video with relevant keywords can help your target audience discover it through search engines;

  • Carefully consider video length: If your video is too long, it is unlikely viewers will watch it to its end, let alone share it with others online! Never over or under-explore topics in video format.

If you have any additional formatting tips of your own which have not included in this post, please share them with our readers in the comments below.



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