Tag Archives: blog layout

Your blog homepage: To excerpt or not to excerpt?

I manage a small coterie of blogs that on average receive about 20,000 page views per month. Somewhere between 16-19% of these visitors touch the homepage somewhere on their travels. The clear majority actually enter through the homepage. Bottom line: the homepage is pretty damned important.

This recently brought me onto an argument on what is the most effective way of displaying posts. Here I’m not talking about the intricacies of laying out the front page of your blog like a magazine or a photo gallery. Rather just talking the basics: what options do you have with the straight forward roller approach that originally was one of the key defining features of a blog and arguably still remains the most common blog format. It commonly looks something like this:

This opens up a big question: how much of each post do you show on the homepage?

Most blogging platforms, including WordPress, Blogger and the Lotus Connections platform we use here at IBM show the entire post on the homepage. However, you’ll also see many popular blogs abbreviating posts on the homepage with just an excerpt and a link to the individual post in its entirety, eg. Altimeter, Read Write Web and TechCrunch.

Which approach is better?

Here I my thoughts on the blog excerpting question:

Advantages of excerpting posts

  • Easy to scan many posts
  • Easy to track interest/engagement at the post level
  • Added Flexibility: decide on length of excerpt, inclusion of images
  • Works well for group blogs: you have a greater chance of seeing the multiplicity of views from different authors upfront

Advantages of listing full post on homepage

  • Remove an extra click between viewer and full blog post
  • Good for display of short posts (‘Read More…’ could link to only one more sentence)
  • Attracts more comments (visitors can often comment directly from the homepage)

As you can see, there is no clear-cut solution, but I favor the approach of displaying excerpts on the homepage with links to the full articles. Why? To appease the scanners. A homepage listing multiple excerpted posts makes it easy to move quickly through the content and see if you find something relevant. The caveat being if you are a blogger that tends to write short, pithy posts.

Am I over-fixating on a minor detail? Probably. As Mark Murnahan points out, content generally trumps structure. A well written, relevant piece will do well, whether or not it’s excerpted on the homepage. However, I would still contend that if you run a network of blogs and have to and have key objectives and targets to achieve (for instance average page views per article, number of comments per article) playing around with the homepage structure can have a dramatic effect.

How to excerpt with WordPress

If you are blogging using a standalone version of WordPress you can simply excerpt your homepage posts using the the_excerpt function within your homepage template. This will display the first 55 words and will strip out all images and HTML. If you want more control, you can use the Advanced Excerpt plugin which gives a lot more flexibility. I see the main advantages being the option to select which HTML tags to include and options over how much of the post to excerpt.

Online publishing models: the grid system

I’m in the process of redesigning CagedEther after inspiration following a Theme Framework session. On investigating different WordPress themes, I came across a system to that may well help me juggle and organize the various pieces I want to squeeze into my blog’s latest incarnation. First though, a minor detour into my personal history, to illustrate the system’s heritage.

Somewhere in my distant past I was a sub-editor on a monthly print publication and this took me back to something I’d learnt then: the grid used heavily in the newspaper industry to construct those front page formats we’re all so familiar with.

For instance, here’s an example of a 5-column grid used by the UK’s Guardian:

Some elements such as the headline and the main image cross multiple columns, but overall they are still bounded by the lines of the grid.

Then along came the web and rather than designing for broadsheet or tabloid format, we have a screen to fill. Still, the grid format translates over into this world. However, rather than a 5-column layout, many news publications and blogs rely on different column formats, as illustrated here by Mark Porter:

In this instance, Mark points out just how similar the 12-grid layout is between between the online version of the UK’s Guardian and Telegraph.

In terms of blog templates relying on the grid system, take a look at the beautifully functional Neutica WordPress template:

and the highly flexible Basic Maths theme:

So where did the grid system come from?

Graphic designer, lecturer and author Josef Müller-Brockmann is credited with being one of the strongest evangelists of the grid system back in the early 70’s. Interestingly, he is also the creator of the Akzidenz-Grotesk font: a precursor to what we now know as Helvetica. I say ‘interestingly’ because many of the grid system designs rely heavily on this efficient sans-serif block font: Helvetica is a great compliment to a tightly-defined grid.

For more information on designing using this system, check out The Grid System website: an excellent resource pulling together snippets from across the web. And yes, the site is a testament to the visual order and composure a grid system brings.

If you have any experiences of designing with a grid, please share them in the Comments section!