A lot of blogs make it a point to avoid including entire posts right on the home page. Limiting the amount of content that appears on your homepage is an important tactic for a handful of reasons. First and foremost, having the full content of ten different posts is going to make for an extremely long page, which few people are likely to take the time to read down to the bottom of anyway.
Secondly is the fear of duplicate content. By displaying your entire post on both the home page and the post’s individual page, you are providing Google with an additional URL where it can find the same content. Limiting the homepage to excerpts limits the amount of identical content that will be found in two different places.
A third reason is simply exposure. Think about it… when someone visits the home page of your blog, if you are displaying entire posts they’ll only see one piece of content at first. Excerpts minimize the amount of real estate each post takes up on the page and allows your readers to see not just one interesting headline, but two, or three. They also don’t have to scroll anywhere near as far to check out additional posts on the page. Excerpts basically make it much easier for someone to see a handful if interesting headlines all at once, which will convince them to make a note of your site, or bookmark it, or ideally subscribe to it. Always, remember, you want to give your readers as many reasons to stick around and come back soon, and you want to give them those reasons as quickly and consistently as possible.
Now, some themes automatically use the excerpt for your posts if you create one. Other themes will only use that excerpt on Category, Tag, and Archive pages; while others still might not use the excerpt at all. If your theme doesn’t make use of excerpts automatically, there are a couple of ways you can make it happen on your own.
More Tags – The “Easy Way”
The fine folks over at WordPress are very much aware of the above, which is why they’ve made it as easy as possible by using the “More Tag” when you’re writing a post. Simply place your cursor at the point where you want to cut off the post on your home page and click the “Insert More Tag” button (picture to the left).
This will end the post on the home page of your blog with a link to the rest of the post and insert a “Read More” link for your visitors to click on. Your theme might not use the words “Read More,” and if you want you can customize the the Read More tag, but that’s a topic for another day. In any event, this creates a nice little “teaser” for your readers. You’ll be able to streamline the front page of your blog and reap most of the benefits I mentioned at the beginning this article.
Now, while I don’t personally use the More tag, I’m not saying no one should. It’s a really simple way to control the content on your homepage. Plenty of blogs make use of the More Tag without any issue, and it really is up to you. It is easier than excerpts, and it ultimately will work just fine for most situations.
There’s another post over in the Code Hacks & Tricks section on how to customize the Read More link to display whatever text or images you want (you can always do a quick search up in the navigation bar if you have trouble finding it :))
Why You Might Want To Consider Excerpts Instead
Manual Excerpts afford you a lot more control. While the More tag is limited to actual post content, your excerpt can be anything you desire. It doesn’t have to be the first paragraph, or even any paragraph. You could write a totally separate summary with a list of topics if you wanted to. Creating them is easy. All you need to do is enter (or copy and paste) the text you want into the excerpt field directly below the post editor (unless you’ve moved it, of course). Note: You can include HTML in your excerpt, so if you want to include an image, you can.
The biggest reason to use excerpts on your blog is that occasionally sites other than your own will want to use them. A good example of this is Aweber. If you use Aweber’s Blog Broadcast feature to send blog updates out to your list of subscribers, excerpts can come in pretty handy. Like many RSS readers, Aweber won’t grab the whole post. It just looks for a description or summary of the article (not all readers do this, but many have an option to, and your readers could very well want it that way.) If you don’t create that description by filling in an excerpt, the RSS reader will come up with one on its own. Usually this means the first 155 words of the post.
While that may not sound like a big deal, it robs you of a lot of control. When using excerpts (or More Tags) you want to be careful to close on a note that will have your reader curious for more. The first 155 words might not deliver that perfect “teaser line” to get the click you want (both from blog readers and from RSS/Newsletter subscribers).
Another time that this matters is if you are using the All-In-One-SEO Pack plugin, or some other method of controlling your post’s meta-data. This plugin has the option to use your manual excerpt as the meta-description, which is usually what will appear as the site description in the organic search results on Google. Having the option to control what searchers see as the summary of each and every article on your blog is an incredibly powerful opportunity that excerpts make it much easier to harness.
The real trick to this is whether or not your theme will use that excerpt. You could go into your theme’s index.php file and look at the code, but it would honestly be a lot easier to just create a post with an excerpt and publish it to see what happens.
If your theme does use excerpts when they are provided, it may or may not supply your readers with a “Read More” link. If this is the case, they can obviously click on the title to be take to the entire post, but depending on how the excerpt ends, it may not be clear that there is more to read. Now, if your theme doesn’t already use excerpts, or if it doesn’t place a “Read More” link for you, you can make a simple change to your theme’s code to accomplish both of those things pretty easily – and I’ll make sure I post instructions on how to do that for you real soon (I think we can both agree that this post doesn’t need to be too much longer ;))
Can I Use More Tags And Excerpts At The Same Time?
Of course you can. 🙂 If your theme doesn’t use the excerpt, or create a link like you want it to, you can certainly create a More Tag to get around the issue. You can then add an excerpt in to take care of any of the RSS issues we discussed above.
The question I would ask is this: Why? I actually used to do things this way myself, and I quickly found that approximately 99% of the time I was using the More Tag and the excerpt to display the exact same text. The More Tag controlled the content on my home page, while the excerpt controlled what displayed in my feed descriptions – and the two were always identical! The entire process seemed a bit redundant to me, so I switched to using excerpts alone.
Bottom line is, whichever method you decide to use, shortening the content on your home page is a good way to capitalize on as much of your front page as possible. Add in some of the other benefits we’ve just discussed, and it’s really a no-brainer!