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How to display a blog listing page

If you publish blog posts then you'll also publish at least one listing page. How best to display this page? What approaches can you use?

What are you trying to do?

Simple, non? You’re providing a list of articles you’ve published. While that’s obviously true, think about two things this list is attempting:

  • To expose more of your content to your reader
  • To provide your reader with more information and/or enjoyment

These aren’t (necessarily) the same thing, but they should be. Your reader should come first, so think about how they’re probably reading the list.

A list of titles

Simple, to the point: this is what I favour. Why? Well, the first tenet of reading on the web is that people don’t read on the web. Or rather, they don’t read in the same way they might read a novel. Instead, they jump around the text, looking for information relevant to them. A title is the single most obvious pointer to what a post is about.

Think your reader is lapping up every golden word you’ve committed to the screen? Unlikely. Don’t believe me? Ask a reader to find out about a particular subject on your site and watch them do it. You’ll soon see how irrelevant decorative images and words are.

That means you need to write good titles. A good title is descriptive and (maybe) front loads the important keywords. It’s dumb, not punny, unless your reader is expecting something smart from you and is willing to put the extra effort in to interpret it. In which case, lucky you.

You may need a little more information than just a title. The date’s often important, especially if you’re writing something technical. That super CSS technique you wrote about in 2008 is probably irrelevant to your reader now – don’t waste their time. You could even delete the post.

A list of titles and an excerpt

This fairly common pattern involves placing the first few words of the article under the title, or (better still) a handcrafted summary. See the iA site for an example. I think there are three reasons for this approach.

Firstly, it’s nicer than a stark list of titles. If you’re looking at a page rather than using it, long, smooth paragraphs are more pleasing than bitty titles and dates.

There may be some benefits for your reader. Excerpts break the page up in the same way images do; so a paragraph of any text might ease their cognitive load.

Finally, if your reader is bothering to interpret the excerpt, they may gain clues as to what the article’s about. As with titles, that means you need to put some effort into the excerpt: use lots of keywords and don’t digress.

Whole articles in a list

My least favourite method. Scanning 20 5-1000 word articles for sense involves a lot of scrolling, especially if 19 are of no interest to the reader. Example: Marco Arment.

You probably see this method because it’s what WordPress defaults to (at least I think it does; it’s been a while since I built a WordPress archive page). Maybe the thinking is that readers just want to dive into articles and enjoy your luxurious prose. Again, you may be lucky enough to enjoy this kind of relationship with your readers.

As with most things, if you’ve made it a different set of rules may apply. People may approach your prose differently.

But most of us need to take a slightly less indulgent approach and acknowledge that our readers don’t really care about us or our prose. Stuff your listing page with lots of relevant information and you’ll make them happy. They may even read more of your posts (or articles).