It’s not enough to be an excellent writer these days. You have to have an understanding of SEO, user experience and design.
Many bloggers are making the same mistake: they display the entire content of their post right on their home page, /blog page, category pages, and tag pages.
These pages can become exceptionally long even if your website has only a few posts. If you have multiple images or large images, you end up with monster web pages.
The best solution is to restrict the amount of copy that gets displayed on these “aggregation pages” by using a post excerpt. The excerpt shows the beginning of your post (or custom text) followed by a “read more” button so the user can click for the rest of the content.
The excerpt offers technical and user experience advantages that you shouldn’t ignore.
1. Your pages will load faster
Articles with images get 94% more views. Quality content creators use lots of images, embedded social media widgets (like Twitter tweets), and video. These elements can drag down a page’s load speed. We’re an impatient people and won’t wait very long for a page to load before we abandon it.
Plus, Google uses a page’s load speed as one of its primary ranking factors to determine where your site shows up on the search engine results. If you want your website to appear higher in the search results, you should be working to get your load times as low as possible.
If you’re creating quality content, a post of 1,000 to 1,500 words should have two to three supplementary images. If you can find a relevant video, that helps too.
Now imagine a home page or /blog page with ten full posts. That’s thirty images that will reduce the page’s load speed considerably. Videos cause even more delay. Oh, and hopefully your images are optimized for the page…
By displaying only the excerpt of the post, you move those supplementary materials to the post’s own page and spread out the burden.
2. You prevent duplicate content
Duplicate content is a serious SEO sin. When content appears in multiple places around the web (on your site or other sites), search engines become confused. They suspect the content has been illegitimately copied (because in most cases, it has), so they disregard all versions except the first.
(It’s worth noting that Google used to penalize a site for duplicating content by punishing you on the search results pages. Over the last few years, however, Google has done away with most of their penalties because there were always lots of false positives and genuine mistakes. Now they just ignore the offending page. Being disregarded by Google, however, is still quite damaging, especially if you’ve sunk time, effort and energy into that content.)
If you show the entire post on your home page or /blog page, you’re essentially creating your own duplicate content of every single post on your web site. Google will become suspicious that you’re trying to toy with their system by putting up multiple pages with the same information.
If you use a tagging system or category system (and many WordPress sites use both), the same posts could appear on your website in dozens of places.
By displaying only the excerpt, you’re limiting the amount of duplicative content and avoiding Google’s wrath. Yes, the excerpt will appear multiple times, but as long as you keep it to a paragraph or two, you won’t be displaying enough to trigger Google’s sensors.
3. Your analytics will be accurate
If you’re a smart marketer (and I know you are), you’re tracking your website’s analytics. This information is the bread-and-butter of a sound inbound strategy. It tells you how people are using your website, where they arrive, how they got there, where they spend the most time, and, most importantly, which pages are converting.
If you ever want to participate in a marketing campaign that involves another brand or website (like an ad buy or swap, a guest post, or PR opportunity), the other brand will often ask for screenshots from your analytics so they know the collaboration is worth their time.
Most importantly, you should be tracking analytics so you know how to improve your own site.
If you display your post entirely on the home page or /blog page, the user never clicks into the post itself. Why would they bother? All the information is already in front of them.
This means the post doesn’t get a page view, you don’t calculate how long they spent on the page, and you don’t know for sure if that page’s content caused the conversion or bounce. There are too many variables for you to draw any conclusions.
Basically, by showing your entire post on a page with other posts, your most valuable information is lost, which defeats the purpose of tracking analytics.
By forcing the user to click into the post’s dedicated page, you remove the other variables so you can get a clear picture of that content’s performance.
4. It’s just easier on readers
I’m a strong proponent of creating websites and content designed for users first. In most cases, you can enhance the user experience by making your content easy to find and read.
Post excerpts make your blog easier to browse by showing a variety of content in less space. I should be able to scroll quickly down your home page or /blog page and see multiple titles. If I have to scroll aimlessly past paragraphs of text just to see the next headline, I’ll become frustrated and leave your site.
Your most fervent readers probably aren’t browsing your website. The people who just love your content are following your social media pages and signed up to your email list. This means they’re traveling to your content from a referral link, not wandering around your site looking for updates.
So design to your site for the new fan; someone who is being exposed to your content for the first time. Show them a variety of content quickly to catch their attention and hook them in. If they become bored with your website after seeing just two pieces of content (because they had to scroll forever), you won’t collect new fans.
Adding an excerpt is simple. If you’re using WordPress, it’s as easy as clicking wherever you’d like the excerpt to end in WYSIWYG editor and using the “Insert read more tag” button. This will force WordPress to add a “Read More” button after the excerpt that links to the post itself (the title will also link, by default).
Most other content management systems have similar functions. You’ll have to look up how to do it specifically for your system.
If the idea is display only a portion of the post, how much is the right amount? That’s tough to answer. You’ll have to decide for yourself where to end your excerpt, but here are some guidelines I like to use.
- Make sure it’s after anything that would be enticing. The goal is to get folks to read more, so include anything intriguing or dramatic in your excerpt.
- Try to keep your excerpts around 50-60 words. WordPress’s default is 55 words and I rarely change it for any site I build. This means you have to say something enticing in the first couple paragraphs so it appears in the excerpt.
- Test multiple options. Always, always, always be testing your website. A/B test different designs, structures, and options. Don’t assume one way is better than any other unless you can point to data. You might find that excerpts of 25 words or 75 words get more clicks from your audience.
Depending on your theme and your familiarity editing theme files, you can also use a custom excerpt. This offers a unique advantage. For example, perhaps your blog post requires a few lines of set up, but those lines are boring on their own. You don’t want your site to automatically show boring copy in the excerpt, so you should supply your own.
Do you prefer to read blogs that show full posts or just excerpts?