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Google+ | How to structure and format your lengthy posts

» A blogging platform
One of the appealing features of google+ is the ability to write lengthy posts. Combine that with the excellent commenting system and we get ourselves a very functional blogging platform. However, there is also another mis-used feature which all g+ content curators stand to benefit from if used properly: rich text formatting

Often times I see very long posts that are a giant block of text with no formatting or structure applied to them. They might contain top quality content but because they're not presented in an appealing way, mosts users do not bother to read through them. The lack of engagement then surprises the original author. This is even true for some of our power users.

Google+ offers us the chance to get rid of the ridiculous TL;DR (too long; didn't read) culture on the internet. That will only happen if we make our posts easier and simpler to read. Our readers should be able to take one look at the post and see exactly what it is about. The structure of the post should draw them in and encourage them to read all of it.


» The need for a template
It is always good to give examples when it comes to such things so I've created a sample template of a formatted post on g+. Hopefully fellow content publishers will be able to mold their posts into this template and consequently see an improvement in engagement.

That being said I've always maintained that no-one-size-fits-all. Everyone has their own tried and tested method that they rely on. Consistency is as important as structure and formatting. As such this template is only a guideline and should be used as you deem fit.


» Google+ formatting options
Before we look at the sample template, let's quickly recap the three different formatting options that are available to us on google+:
Bold: Any text between two asterisks (*) becomes bold when you post.
Italic: To make a piece of text italic, put it between two underscores (_).
Strikethrough: Text between two hyphens (-) gets the strike-through effect.


» The Template

—— [START] ——


Title of Post
optional tagline

» Introduction (paragraph heading) Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Praesent lacus magna, rutrum vel posuere et, sodales in orci. Nulla vel est ipsum, quis pharetra metus. Etiam interdum purus in sapien porttitor quis porttitor ipsum suscipit.


» Further introductory discussion
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Praesent lacus magna, rutrum vel posuere et, sodales in orci. Nulla vel est ipsum, quis pharetra metus. Etiam interdum purus in sapien porttitor quis porttitor ipsum suscipit.


» Main Body
The article/post/blog will be divided into sections as follows:
Section 1 | Section 2 | Section 3 | ...

1. Section 1 (section heading)
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Praesent lacus magna, rutrum vel posuere et, sodales in orci. Nulla vel est ipsum, quis pharetra metus. Etiam interdum purus in sapien porttitor quis porttitor ipsum suscipit. Cras fringilla, felis a pharetra fermentum, diam est feugiat turpis, sit amet convallis quam lorem eget dui:
• bullet 1
• bullet 2

2. Section 2
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Praesent lacus magna, rutrum vel posuere et, sodales in orci. Nulla vel est ipsum, quis pharetra metus. Etiam interdum purus in sapien porttitor quis porttitor ipsum suscipit. Cras fringilla, felis a pharetra fermentum, diam est feugiat turpis, sit amet convallis quam lorem eget dui.

3. Section 3
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Praesent lacus magna, rutrum vel posuere et, sodales in orci. Nulla vel est ipsum, quis pharetra metus. Etiam interdum purus in sapien porttitor quis porttitor ipsum suscipit. Cras fringilla, felis a pharetra fermentum, diam est feugiat turpis, sit amet convallis quam lorem eget dui.


» Conclusions
A brief summary of what was said together with closing remarks. Thank your readers and request them for feedback, etc.


Cheers/sincerely/regards,
+YourName (as a +tag)

****************************************
Permanlink to post: (use a URL shortner like bit.ly)
Relevant hash tags: #hashtag


—— [END] ——


» Download the template
I've created a Google Document as a Raw Template with text that you can paste directly into your Share box to format your posts exactly like above. You can grab it at bit.ly/gp_template_doc and then edit it accordingly to add your content. To see what a proper long post based on this template can look like please check out: bit.ly/gp_netiquettes


» Some more examples of formatting
As I mentioned at the beginning, everyone has their own method and style of formatting they use to publish their posts. If you're looking for more ideas and inspiration please scroll through the posts from these users: +Denis Labelle +M Sinclair Stevens +Alida Brandenburg +Mike Elgan +Robert Scoble +Jaana Nyström +Ryan Crowe +Gabriel Vasile +Johnathan Chung +Mike Alwill +Trey Ratcliff +Natalie Villalobos +Alireza Yavari +Cadbury UK


» Concluding remarks
The idea behind the template is simple: make your posts attractive and more readable for your readers. A well-formatted post stands out. This is why I almost always use a Title for my posts. If the articles are lengthy, I divide them into Sections and list the section headings as a table of contents at the beginning of the post so that users know exactly what's to come. A good Conclusion is always necessary in any form of writing so that readers can recap what they've read. Additionally it goes a long way to thank your audience for reading your post.

Finally, after publishing your post, try using a URL shortener like bit.ly to add a Permalink at the end. Not only will this give your readers a convenient and short URL for sharing your post but it'll also allow you to sign up for bit.ly to get detailed analytics on the number of clicks your post will receive.

Thank you for reading through. I hope the template will help users achieve effective and quality content publishing. As always your feedback is most welcome. If you know of any other users who have good formatting methods please mention them in the comments so I can add them to this post.

Cheers,
+Ahmed Zeeshan

****************************************
Permalink to post: bit.ly/gp_formatting
Raw template file: bit.ly/gp_template_doc

Hash tags: #googleplustips #googleplustutorials #plustips
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35 comments
 
I consider G+ to be best for short-to-moderate informal posts. The formatting options and consistent response to the Enter key (in contrast to Facebook) makes it more useful for posts longer than on FB, but its standard font, absence of any formatting options beyond the ones you mention here, and inconsistent application of those options (there are contexts where they don't work) make it non-competitive with serious blogging platforms like WordPress.
 
No doubt +Paul Hartzer. Google+ still has a long way to go before it becomes a feature-rich blogging platform. I guess my point was to highlight the flexibility google+ offers as compared to other social networks strictly. If you have a large audience here then instead of linking them to external blogs you could in theory format and publish your posts within this network. This would not be possible on other platforms such as facebook and twitter.
 
The lack of formatting and ability to link stuff I find to be one of the largest failings with g+ as a communications format. That said; it's made me want to brush off one of my moldering domains and use it to post content that I can link to from g+ for posts where I have multiple links. I find that discussion still continues on g+, but I don't sacrifice usability or readability.

Given the sheer volume of talent in google's UI team and information architecture team, I've been really surprised at the limited feature set of g+. I'm still not sure how google envisioned it being used.
 
The URL shortener idea is excellent. I never thought to use it on Google+.

The designer in me shudders when people put a double-space between a bolded heading and the text it covers. Poor, lonely floating heading separated from its mate.

Nor am I a big fan of extraneous characters to show level of heading. (>>, __ ) If one's post is so complicated that simple bold headings and subheadings cannot convey the structure, then just go ahead and use outline numbering or military manual numbering.

As you say, the most important thing is to focus on the visual readability of your post, not just the semantic readability.
 
+DeAnne D. I think this is because google+ is inherently a social network competing with the likes of facebook. On that scale google+ definitely packs more features for publishing in comparison.

But like +Paul Hartzer mentioned above, if google+ is taken as a blogging platform then it does have a long way to go. At the moment I am glad it offers a bit of both worlds.
 
+M Sinclair Stevens couldn't agree more. In fact this is the main reason why I follow you. Your lengthy posts are easy on the eyes. As long as the sections stand out and give a clear visual representation of the structure then yes style of headings does not matter.
 
+Ahmed Zeeshan I'm one of those weird-not-on-FB people, so I can't really compare the two with any authority. But it seems to me that g+ is used more like livejournal, and less like blogger. (I realize that invoking the name of either of those sites is close to heresy and may brand me an infidel, but stay with me...)

Superficially, LJ and Blogger seem to address the same thing: posting content on the web; but in reality, they were used considerably differently. Sort of the difference between standing on soapbox shouting into the wilderness, and standing in a union hall speaking to Your People.

I posit the idea that G+ handles the whole "Your People" thing really well via circles. And, because of circle interactions, and sharing and whatnot, "Your People" becomes an increasingly larger set, as you meet, read and interact with people you would otherwise have never discovered. (Example, this conversation we're having now. :)

I further suggest that what makes interactions work so well on a platform like this, by and for the digerati, is the ability to use standard HTML, and that google is making a mistake by not allowing its use.
 
+DeAnne D. Indeed. When G+ first came out and people started speaking about the innovation of circles, I came to realize how fringe LiveJournal had become. The circles are great and all, but LJ definitely came up with it earlier (even if G+ handles it better, using a visual interface). (Edit to add: I'm not claiming, by the way, that LJ came up with the concept either. I don't know. I just know I was using "G+ Circles" as a concept on LJ years before G+ existed.)
 
This is a beautiful post Ahmed, but people still don't read anything. Only a few do.. and that's fine with me.
 
Sadly you're right +Jennifer Bailey. Actually I noticed you don't use much formatting but it still works out well for you. Shows that the content itself also matters.
 
Great stuff again, +Ahmed Zeeshan. As it seems G+ becomes more and more of a visual medium, I wish it had the ability to insert pictures within posts. It's getting harder and harder to compete with streams full of unbelievable HDR images and shared albums. Even the best formatted posts in the world can hardly stand out against that.
 
Hmm yes, that would be ideal +Sam Rothermel. We might have to wait a long time for that feature to come to google+ though :)
 
+Ahmed Zeeshan What a great post! I have been asking WYSIWYG for a long time... +Natalie Villalobos PING!
However I think you have forgotten an essential addition to a post that will be noticed:

The picture!
I never post anything without a good pic or photo. With the text tool it's so simple to take your own photograph, add the relevant text and voila: You have your tl;dr right there!

An example: A boring etiquette post but with a good, eye-catching pic by +Robin Slater https://plus.google.com/107742059751171695340/posts/F9xmcA2yVxi
Another one where I used my boys' pic: https://plus.google.com/u/0/107742059751171695340/posts/dSzeq1atwg1
Here I asked to use the pic from the artist and added my own text: https://plus.google.com/107742059751171695340/posts/ei7zkgpi78B

You don't have to take my word for it: Like +Guy Kawasaki states in his book 'What the Plus', the picture is very important.

See my most popular posts, all with pics: http://www.googleplussuomi.com/photos.php?id=107742059751171695340
You can change your own G+ ID to the URL and watch the magic happen...
 
An excellent point +Jaana Nyström and a fantastic idea. I'll incorporate it into the post when I get home :)
 
Yeah I almost always add a picture. If I'm just making a general observation about something, I'll dig up a logo of it and toss that in there.
 
+Jaana Nyström Was +Ahmed Zeeshan writing about how to get a post noticed? I hadn't noticed. I thought this post was about making long content readable. The goal, to encourage people to read a post that they might have dismissed with tl;dr.

For me (and I know I'm in the minority), the content has to be about the picture. Otherwise a picture is just an ad. And if it's one of those generic clip art pictures only vaguely related to the content, I tend to ignore it and the post. But I'm a reader of The New Yorker not People magazine. I have nothing against the latter or people who people who prefer posts with pictures.

One formatting trick involving pictures that I've taken to lately is a picture of quoted text that is used as a callout. That really catches my attention on what the post is about.

The bottom line is, format your post to attract the appropriate audience for your content.
---------------
+Jennifer Bailey There are many of us on Google+ who not only read long posts, we get into long discussion threads and write long comments.
 
+M Sinclair Stevens Sorry, I'm not familiar with either: "I'm a reader of The New Yorker not People magazine" - so your comparison is lost here...

I only wanted to point out that many people forget the power of a picture attached to a post. Of course, the more it ties with the content, the better. But with imagination you can connect surprisingly many pics to different topics.

When the stream is a torrent, the posts that catch your attention are the ones people read. No photo, no attention is my opinion.
In my examples I did not use the Clipart pics but my own and other people's creations with the addition of texts.
Helping an artist at the same time, I hope.

This is another one I'm struggling with: "The bottom line is, format your post to attract the appropriate audience for your content."

What is the appropriate audience on Google+?
 
+Jaana Nyström asked, "What is the appropriate audience on Google+?"

It is the audience you are addressing. A post can be anything from a letter, to a chat, to a status update to friends, to a personal philosophical post, to a "how to" tutorial...and so on. Anything.

That's the plus in Google+. It is not just another blogging platform. It is not just another Facebook. It is a mechanism for sharing. You can share with no one or everyone and anyone in between. Google+'s power comes from its simplicity and plasticity. The complaints that Google+ doesn't provide bloggers with enough tools points to one of its underlying strengths; that is, posts can contain content beyond the constraints of a blog post.

When you write a post, you should have your audience in mind. Is it yourself (bookmarks), your mother, your mates, your work colleagues, people who share a common hobby? Google+ lets you narrow your focus to the audience who most cares about that particular message.

And if you are standing on a soap box, addressing the world at large, whose attention do you want to attract? And isn't the answer to that different depending on the topic?

The person whose attention you are trying to attract is the appropriate audience. And we should be aware of the various ways of attracting different types of people. One solution does not fit all.
 
Yeah +M Sinclair Stevens I didn't say noone reads posts. I said most do not. I am well aware that there are some people who like to converse. 
 
Than U A- Clear and concise, opens the box for detailed inspection. For a newbie you provide a solid platform and point of deprture. It is very possible that with good folks like U this medium can be de-riggor.
 
This is what I love about Google+. The comments are often as (if not more) informative that the original post. (Not to say this post isn't highly informative, +Ahmed Zeeshan :-)
 
I'm a noob on Google+ and nobody even reads my content, but just to throw out a suggestion here: Google+ also allows Unicode characters as well such as the checkmark ✔ heart ❤ and ❝extra large quotation marks❞ so it can make it a little more visually appealing as long as someone doesn't go overboard with it. However, on FB people go really overboard with that stuff and no one dislikes the writer for it. The ability to write long posts opens the door to both opportunity for good and abuse.
 
Very new to google+ as I only have a guy kawasaki book under my belt. Just wanted to thank Ahmed for writing this post it was very informative.
 
+Ahmed Zeeshan If a user doesn't want to use another website with another login, Google has a shortening service under http://goo.gl. The caveat being that any links shortened there are automatically public.

I understand that with bit.ly you can create private shortened links and groupings of links.

Hope this tibit of information helps.

P.S. - You also get some analytics with goo.gl and a QR code under a link's details page!
 
An excellent post full of all sorts of things I didn't know about G+ editing.  It would all be very helpful if I actually found G+ to be worth the bother compared to a central blog that allows automated distribution of posts (articles, news, or just brief opinions) to mulitple social systems. That definitely isn't G+.

One recent visual change at G+ is more telling for Google's attitude: the new banner on G+ "pages" takes up a whole screen. If people are reading less (thereby learning / knowing less), then what about those who give up if they have to scroll a full screen even get to real content every where they go in the same system?

G+'s focus is obviously elsewhere when it comes to what they are doing with this system. All the organization, structure, and meaningful formatting you recommend will matter little if our readers are too frustrated with extra clicks/taps/scrolls everywhere they go.
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