What ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Can Teach Us About Blogging

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Have you ever attempted to read a novel by one of the famous Russian authors?

Even though the plot is brilliant, it can be almost impossible to keep track of the different names, and the sentences are so long that sometimes you can forget how one started out, in your effort to get to the end before taking a breath.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s obvious why writers like Tolstoy are celebrated, and writers like E L James with the ‘Fifty Shades’ trilogy aren’t. But in a way, it’s also obvious why Fifty Shades reached global popularity while ‘War and Peace’ languishes on Amazon like a rare wine that people appreciate, but don’t want to drink every day.

Fifty Shades may have been lambasted for all sorts of reasons, but being difficult to read really wasn’t one of them. People from teenagers to pensioners devoured the trilogy, showing that sometimes, readability can win out over style, content or even grammatical correctness.

So how do we capture readability on our blogs? And potentially enjoy the same success with our customers as Fifty Shades brought E L James? Here are my tips. You don’t have to be cuffed, blindfolded or spanked to use them. Bonus!

Make things easy on the eye

Just as women the world over have been swooning over the main character of Fifty Shades because he is supposed to be very good-looking, so a blog that is great to look at will make your customers respond better to what you have to say. Having a font size that is so small your readers need to squint to find out what you’re telling them is a definite mistake. As a general rule, use 14px font size as an absolute minimum. As the characters in Fifty Shades will attest, size really does matter!

Give your writing lots of space

It can be really offputting to try and read a page online that is crammed full of writing, with cramped line spacing and no paragraphs to break things up a bit. Unless you want your blog to be likened to a particularly unapproachable Russian epic novel, use lots of space between paragraphs to help your readers get your points easily and quickly. We automatically switch off when our brains encounter huge swathes of text, so avoid losing your readers by making sure the page looks accessible when they first open it. Try a line height of around 24px to let your words be read.

Check your colour scheme

Fifty shades of grey may be great for pulp novels, but it’s about as bad as it gets for a web page. The best possible shade for your blog is actually black on white, as it makes your text stand out in sharp contrast to the background of the page, making it easy to read. Low contrast is not only tough to read, it diminishes the power of your writing by making it fade and blend with the rest of the site.

Keep things short and sweet

Sentence length makes a huge difference to the readability of your blog. The reason why Russian novels are hard work to read is because most of them favour really long sentences without much punctuation that can leave the reader feeling frustrated at how long it takes to read them and doesn’t give them any opportunity to pause for breath in between each point as they naturally would if they were speaking or simply reading aloud to themselves. See what I mean? Much better to use shorter sentences, and reader-friendly punctuation.

Break your text up with headings

It’s much easier to read a large piece of writing if the author has split it in to natural sections, with sub-headings. Instead of presenting your customers with a large page of unbroken text, pop in headings that give them an idea of what is coming next, so they get comfortable with the rhythm of your writing.

Use images

Pictures are so much more easy for our brains to assimilate than text. With just a few well planned images, you can say a huge amount on your chosen subject without having to go in to reams of explanation. Think of how a cartoon gets its point across, even though there are very little words to go with each story. If you have complex ideas to impart, consider using images to explain what you mean. Even popping in a few pictures just to complement your text will make your pages more approachable and customer-friendly than plain old text.

I may not be a personal fan of the writing style and content in the Fifty Shades trilogy, but I do appreciate how the books came to be so popular. Easy to read, different, and approachable, they have a few qualities that every good blog owner should adopt. You may not get global success and worldwide fame through your blog writing, but you will make your blog easier to read and more informative for your customers by following these simple rules.

Spank your competitors in to submission by providing your customers with a great layout, simple writing, and an optimised font.

Have you read a great book that has inspired you to design / change your blog? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

photo credit: captain.orange

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38 Responses to What ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Can Teach Us About Blogging

  1. Corinne Edwards November 28, 2012 at 9:13 am #

    Dear Andrew –

    You read those books? I can’t believe it.

    But your point is well taken.

    I heard enough wierd sexual stories when I was doing a program for prostitues with the Chicago Court system.

    Any one of them could have written that trilogy. Even more so.

    • Andrew Rondeau November 28, 2012 at 11:13 am #

      Corinne,

      Yeah I bet they could have written them!

      But the marketing of the book and the way it went viral is a lesson that is worth following. Might be used for teachings purposes in the future!

      Andrew

  2. Tanya November 28, 2012 at 10:01 am #

    Ive never read that book before but your tips are brilliant! Using images are a great way to get people to come back. They pop out and attract more visitors.

    • Andrew Rondeau November 28, 2012 at 11:13 am #

      Tanya

      Well…I hope to see you back then!

      Andrew

  3. Debbie November 28, 2012 at 10:28 am #

    Great tips here Andrew. Easy reading is for me. i have not picked up the book yet, but maybe I better read Fifty Shades.

    I do have to say I like the Font that you have changed too.
    Thanks for sharing the font size. This really helps me.

    Short sentences is another good one. Love the long sentence you put it. You sure made your point on that one.

    thanks again and have a great evening over there accross the pond.
    Debbie

    • Andrew Rondeau November 28, 2012 at 11:15 am #

      Debbie,

      ‘White space’ is important and so is font size. I hate it when I can hardly read the print of when there are no paragraphs.

      Andrew

      • Debbie November 28, 2012 at 11:28 am #

        I agree with you ‘white spaces’ are very important. No paragraphs drive me nuts. Or really long ones.

        Debbie

  4. Joel Williams November 28, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

    I haven’t read the books, I tried and didn’t think it was worth my time. But they are great tips for bloggers to apply to their sites, much appreciated!

    • Andrew Rondeau November 29, 2012 at 3:00 am #

      Joel,

      I understand what you mean about the books. Rubbish content really!

      Andrew

  5. Evan November 28, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

    The writing of 50 Shades is plain awful.

    For simply sensational writing of great simplicity check out Simenon’s Maigret novellas.

    The idea that you have to trade off quality for popularity is simply wrong. There are many high quality quite accessible writers, John Fowles (mostly), Helen Garner, P G Wodheouse . . . the list goes on and on.

    Soft core porn has always done well. The 50 Shades phenomenon (like Jacqueline Sussan in an earlier age) is due to marketing. Ie. it is not only to do with readability.

    • Andrew Rondeau November 29, 2012 at 2:50 am #

      Evan

      In this post, ‘readability’ is not about the content. I feel you are talking about the content/writing of 50 Shades.

      Perhaps I’m wrong?

      Andrew

      • Evan November 29, 2012 at 2:59 am #

        You’re right.

        Because you started off comparing 50 Shades to the great Russian novelists.

  6. Bina Besiege November 28, 2012 at 10:47 pm #

    Never really heard about 50 Shade.. But yes, loved the post. The points you have made look pretty basic, but when you pick up what you have written and follow these points, you will know what Andrew is trying to say here. I did the same with my latest written article, trust me I made around 40 changes!

    Thank you Andrew for the wonderful post :)!

    • Andrew Rondeau November 29, 2012 at 2:48 am #

      Bina

      It’s great you made some changes…taking action is what most people DON’T do!

      Andrew

  7. Laurie November 29, 2012 at 5:00 am #

    Good points Andrew, but is it easy to change the font sizes and colours in WordPress? I should like to change my font size to 14 as you say, but there isn’t a facility to do that on my set up as far as I can tell.

    Do you know of a tutorial video link for this, please, by any chance?

    Id like to change the font type to maybe Arial or Verdana?

    Also would you be able to suggest a free image source which allows us to add images to our text in our blogs?

    I must say, you’ve reminded me about shortening sentences in my blog posts. It does make their reading easier. Thank you 🙂

    • Andrew Rondeau November 29, 2012 at 9:14 am #

      Laurie

      To change the font size and font in a theme can take seconds or 30 minutes! It all depends upon the theme you are using. Email us on our IBG email – as you are a member- we can help with that sort of thing.

      Free image source: try this one: http://www.sxc.hu/

      Andrew

  8. Laurie November 29, 2012 at 9:19 am #

    Thanks so much Andrew. I’ll email you.:) All the best, Laurie.

  9. Justin November 29, 2012 at 8:14 pm #

    Hi Andrew,
    So true. I definitely prefer to read a blog with a white background and 14px. The worst blogs to read are black backgrounds and small font.

  10. Lawrence November 30, 2012 at 6:46 am #

    Andrew, I just tried switching my blog to 14point, and I must say, it does look a lot better, so thanks for that tip. I am one of those rare individuals who has never heard of Fifty Shades of Grey, so I’m also glad to find out about this author today.

    • Andrew Rondeau December 3, 2012 at 7:31 am #

      Lawrence

      Great – glad the blog post helped!

      Andrew

  11. Martin November 30, 2012 at 8:02 am #

    I haven’t read the book, but I’ve heard about (who haven’t yet). Amazing how you can pick the important features. I like your blog and as I’m building one right now, I will use some tips. I like the estimated time of reading 😉

    • Andrew Rondeau December 3, 2012 at 7:32 am #

      Thanks, Martin. Good luck with your new adventure!

      Andrew

  12. Alison Moore Smith November 30, 2012 at 10:50 am #

    Haven’t read 50 Shades. Wont’ be reading 50 shades. As my mom told me, unless/until I’ve read all the amazing, decent literature out there, I probably don’t have time to read skank.

    OK, she didn’t use the word “skank.” That was my own special embellishment. But accurate.

    • Andrew Rondeau December 3, 2012 at 7:33 am #

      Alison

      So what have you read so far?

      How do you know it’s skank?

      Andrew

      • Alison Moore Smith December 3, 2012 at 12:16 pm #

        Andrew, come on. I haven’t t watched Deep Throat, either. And I still know it’s porn.

        I’m one of those old fashioned prudes who’d rather have sex than read about it.

        Do you want to me list all the books I’ve read in the last 45 years? 😉 Probably not.

        • Andrew Rondeau December 4, 2012 at 12:09 pm #

          Deep Throat? Never heard of it!

          What’s your best book…you could read again and again?

          Andrew

          • Alison Moore Smith December 4, 2012 at 2:11 pm #

            Andrew, dear, you’re just too young. 😉

            Best book? I’ll have to take a picture of our library for you to understand the gravity of that question. 🙂

            Most of the books I read are non-fiction, which is kind of hard to reread, unless you have dementia, because the info doesn’t change. 🙂 Some of my favorites this year:

            4-Hour Workweek
            Outliers
            Getting Things Done
            Road to Serfdom
            The Happiness Advantage

            If I had to choose one book to reread it would be Austen’s Sense and Sensibility or Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Also Dickens and Twain are geniuses. And Ogden Nash, well, let’s just say it’s a family thing. OK, and Orson Scott Card anything.

  13. Elena Anne December 3, 2012 at 9:17 pm #

    What? No global success for me?! 😉 Interesting take on the book, and on the way the style can be applied to writing a blog. You make some very good points here. Thanks!

  14. Andrew December 5, 2012 at 1:47 am #

    @Alison

    Most of what I read is non fiction as well and I love your list.

    4-Hour Workweek
    Outliers
    Getting Things Done
    Road to Serfdom
    The Happiness Advantage

    I’ve not read Outliers or Road to Serfdom – I shall add to my wishlist.

    I’m currently re-reading a book by Lou Tice (he changed my life). It’s called “Smart Talk for Achieving Your Potential: 5 Steps to Get You from Here to There”

    Andrew

  15. Jeet December 9, 2012 at 6:29 am #

    @Andrew: Well, I haven’t read the book (yet) but you make a really good point. I often tell new members in my writing team that Isaac Asimov won’t be considered a literary genius but is popular because of awesome content his books offered.

    Good ideas presented in a readable manner would always trump even better ideas written in a boring style.

  16. Andrei December 9, 2012 at 4:22 pm #

    Funny but interesting approach on how you relate the book with a blog – but I think you’re right! It’s the modern age, people don’t appreciate War and Peace any more or other books that are written in the same way – we like them to be easy to read and to follow the plot. Better to make 3-4 volumes of this than 1 volume of something that is hard to read – the same goes with the blog right ? 🙂

    • Andrew Rondeau December 14, 2012 at 2:31 am #

      Andrei

      As you can see by the comments – we are all different. Some would not read such a book. Others would read such a book becasue it is easy to read and flows well.

      Andrew

  17. Ashraf December 27, 2012 at 10:09 am #

    I didn’t read fifty shades of grey, but those are great tips for everyone planning to write a blog post , bloggers should always remember that they are writing to humans.

    • Andrew Rondeau January 15, 2013 at 2:45 am #

      Ashraf

      I agree – writing for humans rather than the search engines.

      Andrew

  18. Silas December 29, 2012 at 2:59 am #

    Just used this article as a checklist to update my website, My Biggest fault was trying to make my website a rainbow schemed looked which was to b honest unappealing especially to the target audience so i resorted to the usual black and white for now with lots of space.

    • Andrew Rondeau January 15, 2013 at 2:50 am #

      Silas

      How has the changed gone down with your visitors?

      Andrew

  19. Ardiv Jauhari January 27, 2013 at 12:58 pm #

    Thanks for the tips Andrew, I have always been a firm believer of simplicity and this post reaffirms me to that belief! Short and simple is just how I’ll go with my future posts for now, I just can’t seem to write 1000+ articles anyways.. (English not being my first language doesn’t help either)

    • Andrew Rondeau February 4, 2013 at 5:37 am #

      Ardiv

      We have to write for our audience. Mine like short, actionable posts. I’m sure other niches like longer ones.

      Andrew

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