A question I often hear from my clients is “I struggle to get my post to format how I want”. I understand. It’s very tempting after spending hours writing your post to become caught up in the display of your masterpiece. It’s what you do when you create something to be printed, right? In a rush? Jump straight to my seven post formatting tips.
The web is different. While you may want your written word to display the same for everyone, it’s not possible, or really fair on everyone to try to make that happen. If it really is important that page layout is exact then I suggest an image or PDF though those have some difficulties of their own.
This is the web. There are more browsers, screen ratios, window sizes, and assistive technologies than I can count. Add to that mix the ability to override most settings to your personal preference and all hope of guaranteed consistency is lost.
Should you give up and just post in straight plain text?
A well organized and formatted post will help all your readers no matter how they access your site and will help search engines.
Your HTML acts as signposts and stage directions. Headers are the outline. Too much direction and the formatting will becoming convoluted.
For more about headers please see the following articles:
- Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide
- Yoast’s article: Headings and why you should use them
Yes, you probably want that image right aligned and captioned just so. I get it. I like my posts to look a certain way too, but unless it’s incredibly misplaced, relax! (Don’t worry I’ll explain how to tidy that up in a bit).
There are many factors that can influence why your post isn’t formatting correctly, without having to learn to read fluent HTML.
What tools influence your post formatting?
If you use the Visual tab to edit your posts, you use the WYSIWYG editor, TinyMCE. This is a rich text editor which translates your text into the appropriate html attribute. If you want to know more about this editor and a plugin that will extend it, please read, WordPress Integration at TinyMCE.
Your (child) theme also influences how your post looks. This is why it’s important to choose a well designed parent theme. I’ll write more about themes and theme frameworks in the coming weeks. If your headings are not sized to your preference, there are several ways you can modify that.
Finally, some plugins will add their own css and formatting. Depending on how and where they do this, they can override settings and change how parts of your post are formatted. I’ve not seen as much of this in recent years as plugins improve in code quality, but I’ve seen it happen.
Seven tips to help your post to look its best
- Keep it simple. My first (and loudest) piece of advice is to leave all the layout formatting until the very end. Write good and well structured content. That will help your post have good SEO. Use formatting sparingly. Emphasis is helpful only if it adds to the piece.
- Reserve heading tags for the parts of your post that will benefit from a road sign. If you need text large to make a specific point, think long and hard about why.
- Choose a well developed parent theme. I’ll be covering themes and theme frameworks in a future post.
- Only use the plugins you absolutely need. How many and which depends entirely on your site.
- Size and name images wisely and nicely, img_4236.jpg isn’t helpful but cute_kitten.jpg is a better choice. When inserting images, don’t forget the alt tag, it’s useful for both accessibility and SEO. I’ll delve deeper into accessibility in a future post.
- If something looks weird, don’t panic. I wrote about it – at Why didn’t my copy & paste work?. When you are copying and pasting and highlighting text to apply formatting it’s easy to cause tags to go a bit awry. Please don’t panic. You can also use the “clear formatting” button and try again.
- Sometimes you don’t want the text to continue to wrap around your images. In this case you want to clear the float, the best way to do this is to switch to the text tab and type
where you want the text cleared. There are some plugins that add a button to the WYSIWYG editor toolbar but I have not yet finished a thorough review and do not feel comfortable recommending any of them broadly.
Do you have any formatting tips? Is there a part of WordPress that’s bothering you? Please let me know.