What differentiates a professional online article from just another blog post? Nothing? Both are published contents that just utilize a different writing style. If that is your answer, let me challenge and show you how many differences there can be between a "typical" blog post and what I would call a professionally written and formatted web article.
Photo credit: Konstantinos Kokkinis
What is the purpose of this analysis? Understanding more of the variables at play for web content publishers. While getting content out may be the first frontier for many, other key elements do come into play when you want to make the jump from amateur to pro.
The unique characteristic and peculiar original advantage of blog posts is that they are easy to publish and therefore allow for great immediacy when you have hot news and do not want to wait a day or a few hours for the whole "newspaper" wheel to get in motion.
And that is all true and fine. If you are breaking the news and utilize the blog as a means to let the information you uncover get more rapidly to your readers, then that it is certainly a proper use of a blog unique strengths.
Same applies for the writing and formatting style. If you are in a rush to write some breaking news, it matters a lot less if you have a spelling mistakes, formatting overlooks, missing or no images to complement your writing. The immediacy of that breaking news is what matters to us readers, and your ability to get it out fast to us is probably what in many cases we value most.
But are all online publishers, bloggers and web reporters all in this same, "breaking news", high immediacy situation?
I don't think so.
I find it rather a lack of professionality, or better yet a lack of appreciation for what makes published information valuable that often limits the opportunities and potential of many otherwise talented bloggers and web publishers.
For such small publishers a "typical" blog is often all they have been exposed to in their short online publisher careers and the fact that they have been seeing professionally built publications and media for all of their lives seems to be completely oblivious to them.
Not that printed publications or other more established online media have always something to teach in terms of writing and formatting, but utilizing their evident strengths and weaknesses to create a more effective way of communicating and publishing information online, should be a natural for anyone claiming to be a pro web communication publisher.
1) Content Formatting
Photo credit: Norebbo
Blog post: Formatting inside most blog posts is practically non-existent. Text is just rolled down the blog text column as it comes. A rare sprinkle of bolds and a few links generally complete the standard post.
Professional web article: Takes advantage of all available information design variables to create content that is more legible, better organized and easier to scan. Utilizes spacing, bold, links, line length, text size and style to make the content reading experience as effective as possible. It may go often unnoticed but when you compare an article from a pro site and one from a typical blog the difference is evident.
2) Spelling and Grammar Mistakes
Photo credit: Head-off
Blog post: Often characterized by many uncorrected spelling mistakes.
Professional web article: Error free. With the free tools available today to check your content, even as you type, there is really no excuse even for someone running with a bomb in his ass not to correct his words before pressing the publish button.
3) Use of Images
Photo credit: Hypermania
Blog post: Makes rare use of images. When images are used they are often decorative or not immediately relevant / matching the subject being exposed. Quality of images is mediocre. When utilizing multiple images in the same post they are generally very dissimilar in quality, shooting style, framing and more. In general, it appears most obvious in this area than in the writing that skill in selecting and placing quality images that complement and enrich the value of the content is not water.
Professional web article: Uses quality stock or custom shot images to complement and / or illustrate the points presented in the article. Images are always accompanied by a photo credit. Images well complement, inform and enrich the article by providing additional information to the one presented in the text. Images are rarely decorative. Images are high quality and generally consistent in quality, framing and shooting style. Images are generally published in a larger format (than on blogs).
Photo credit: Norebbo
Blog post: Text is often cramped in many consecutive paragraphs with little or no spacing between them. In my memory, only handwritten in-class school assignments done under time restrictions were worst than these. Little attention is given to spacing within content and around it as if content by itself could win no matter how badly served.
Professional web article: Content is properly spaced as to clearly guide the readers to easily find separate sections at a glance. Ample space around content makes the readers experience less demanding and more focused / enjoyable.
Photo credit: Mike Flippo
Blog post: Text size is often set ot the minimum legible dimensions, usually with the rationale of "it does look nice" as the only logic driving it. Little or no attention is planning for optimum legibility, and audience needs and characteristics generally come in only as a second thought.
Professional web article: Attention is paid to all relevant variables that make text more legible and easy to read. Line length, font style, typeface, type size, titles and sub-titles dimensions and style are all evaluated with careful attention in order to create an easy to browse through continuum.
Photo credit: Norebbo
Blog post: Unstructured. Generally inspired and written on the spur of the moment. Emotional. Gut driven.
Professional web article: Structured. Follows a precise formula to deliver information in the most effective way. Content of an article is divided into various components, from introduction to recommendations, conclusion, reference and each one serves an orderly specific purpose. Very rational. Driven by logic.
Photo credit: Norebbo
Blog post: Inconsistent. Some references offered. Often utilizes poor linking strategy by not leveraging text anchors and not helping new readers dwell and understand unfamiliar terms, tech or buzzwords.
Professional web article: Good, many references offered. All events, people, products and services, tech terms and buzzwords are systematically linked for reference to explanatory articles.
Photo credit: Robert Mizerek
The above are just some of the most important and visible differences between quality web content and the typical, run-of-the-mill, average blog posts.
Again, content does a play a key vital role in all this, but since an increasing number of bloggers and small web publishers are really not operating under an "extreme immediacy" or "urgency" need, it is for these very publishers that it is particularly important, to recognize the extra value that the above components can provide to their readers.
In the growing sea of content that the Web represents, the ability to provide a high-quality, rich and "professional" user experience is right now a very valuable factor. Due to the large number of "improvised", "just-in-time" bloggers and web publishers, getting above the mediocrity of their publishing skills is not that difficult. And while it is definitely true that people will NOT find you online thanks to your "professional" layout or cool content delivery format, it is also true that often what I find by doing a Google search is not worth more than a glance after landing on it. The appearance of a blog or site with short content, lots of advertising and an improvised look conjures immediately ideas of amateurish, approximate work. You may read some of its contents, but it is likely you will not bookmark or come back to that site.
If you are not breaking news, (and even there, as competition rapidly increases, you will soon have to start paying attention to this staff) you need to understand that there can be more to publishing information than just typing the latest news and posting them out on the web.
If you are into creating a growing community of loyal readers who appreciate the extra-mile you go to offer them not only the info they want but also the way in which you deliver it to them, then paying growing attention to this otherwise apparently secondary elements can pay back nicely in building the toughest side of your online business: its credibility.
Yes, by placing greater emphasis on the quality, accessibility and usability of the content you deliver to your readers, you automatically place yourself/ site on a step higher than competing blogs who do nothing but spitting out breaking news of new tools at every breath. A better and more in demand publisher is not automatically the one that puts out the most content or news, or is it? Not everyone is looking for the latest news only.
Many of those who are seriously searching for information, advice, help, products, want generally something more than the shallowness of a short breaking news and a link. Yes, that is useful to get moving, but right after discovery of something interesting there is the need to know more in depth the issue at hand, and to have a variety of options viewpoints to consult.
And that is where a blog site that wants to stand out in terms of quality and "professionality" can more intelligently direct itself. Toward greater content quality, depth and presentation effectiveness. These three are the areas that offer the greatest margin of creating a tangible market advantage over much of the existing web publishers.
Originally written by Robin Good for Master New Media and first published on August 4th 2008 as "What Differentiates Yet Another Blog Post From A Professionally Web Published Article?"