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Writing With Post Excerpts and Feed Excerpts in Mind

I recently described how to change full post displays to excerpts on multi-post views of your WordPress Theme. If you use post excerpts on your WordPress or WordPress.com blog and excerpts in your feeds, you need to think about writing with excerpts in mind.

An excerpt is one of two things. First, it is the first 100-200 words of your post or article. Second, it is a summary of your post or article, manually written by you, the author.

If you are using the the_excerpt() template tag in your WordPress Theme or the more quicktag button on your WordPress Write Post panel, you are using the top section of your post as the excerpt.

If you use the excerpt template tag, WordPress automatically displays the first 120 words of a post as the excerpt. If you use the more quicktag button, the excerpt ends where you put the more comment code tag in your post content. With this, you control the length of your excerpt, but it is still the top part of your post. If you use the Optional Excerpt section on your Write Post panel, whatever you write is the summary expert of your post.

Thus, the excerpt or the first few sentences of your post becomes what people will read when they see the excerpts on your blog or within the excerpts of your feeds.

Are you writing with excerpts in mind?

Writing With Excerpts in Mind

There are many ways of writing, including telling stories, journaling, pontificating, bragging, and providing technical or general information. Blog writing styles are also diverse. Some people write on only one point. Others try to cover two or four points. Others start with one subject, switch to a second, possibly a third, and finish with their fourth, fifth, or sixth point. Still others have no point at all, just rambling and sharing what comes out of their heads as it arrives through their fingers.

All begin with a form of introduction. An introduction can do many things.

  1. Tell the reader nothing at all about the topic.
  2. Tell people what you are going to tell them.
  3. Hint at what you are going to tell them.
  4. Following in the footsteps of Reader’s Digest magazine, the introduction can tell you a story as an example of what the story is about.
  5. In the footsteps of many great novels, the introduction can hand you a baited hook and lure you into the story without even knowing what is about.

When you understand that your readers are going to only see the first 120 or so words of your post, shouldn’t that change how you write those first 120 words? If you want to encourage people to read your blog, it better.

Hooking your readers and compelling them to click the “Continue Reading” link to the rest of the post is a challenge. It’s also the only way you will get people to click the button. You have to think about those precious first 120 words and make every word count towards motivating them to move their mouse and click.

How you do it is based upon your own writing style. Here are some examples of how I could have started this post. You can choose for yourself which ones might compel you to click the “Continue Reading” link to read to the end of the post. (Note: the continue reading links are fake.)

I’m going to talk about how to write excerpts for your posts. Excerpts are typically the first 100-200 words of your blog post. If your blog features excerpts, you may want to consider how to write excerpts to motivate people to [continue reading...]

With many blogs, you have the choice of displaying full content posts on pages with more than one post, or excerpts, abbreviated versions of the first paragraph or so of your post. Should your writing style change depending upon which one you use? [continue reading...]

Jessica writes long posts. Andrew writes short posts. Jessica gets more traffic on her blog. Andrew is envious and wants to know how she does it when her front page only shows the excerpts and not the full posts? Jessica explains that it is “all in the writing of the excerpt.” [continue reading...]

It’s short. To the point. It grabs your attention and hangs on. It pulls you in. You can’t resist. You…must…click it! It is…the well-written excerpt. [continue reading...]

Writing an Explicit Excerpt

The explicit excerpt is one you write yourself. It is not automatically created.

In WordPress, the Optional Excerpt is in a textarea box under the Image Upload section which you can expand to write your post summary or whatever you want the excerpt to be.

An explicit excerpt is typically a summary of what the post or article is about. This is a common practice for technical blogs to summarize a technical article, thesis, or report. It is also used by websites using a blogging program as a Content Management System (CMS), using the excerpt to promote a summary of the article.

Explicit excerpts typically offer a summation of what the article is about, with the beginning, middle, and end points summarized. In and of itself, it is an abbreviated version of your post or article. Whether or not the reader clicks through to the full post, they usually get the gist of the topic. If it says enough to interest them, they will click it to continue reading the whole article or post.

Effective writing of explicit excerpts must include keywords and phrases to help the reader decide if this is the information they are looking for.

An example of an explicit excerpt for this article could be:

Many blogs use excerpts on multi-post pages and in feeds to give readers a quick summary or introduction to the full post content. This article examines what to consider when writing blog post and excerpts. Techniques include recognizing the differences between different types of excerpts and introductions to posts and articles, how to write excerpts, and how to write excerpts that encourage readers to click the “continue reading” link to read the full post content.

Are there enough keywords in that summary to describe the topic? To encourage the reader to click through to read more?

Searching and Search Engine Excerpts

Think about the first 120 words of the last post you wrote. Will the first sentence or two help the reader to know what you are writing about? If they read it through an excerpt on your search, category, author, archives, or other multi-post pages featuring excerpts, will they have enough information to want to click through and read the whole post?

Google Search Engine results for Lorelle on WordPress showing how excerpts are usedIf you write technical, how-to, educational, or more fact-based articles on your blog, and you pick up a lot of traffic directly from search engines, give serious attention to what you write in the first sentences of each post. After all, you want to help them find the information they are seeking, right?

Help them by wording that first paragraph carefully so their scanning eye can catch the words that will help them solve their problem or answer their question.

Search engines display the first 100 words or less of the post. As your eye scans down the list of search engine search results, it is looking for your search term keywords but also keywords associated with your search goal. If they are there, the searcher will click on that link to your blog looking for answers.

Some search engines only feature the first 25 or so words of a post in their search results. You rarely get more than two or three lines to influence someone that your blog post has the answers they seek. Google offers two versions: the first 100 or less words of the post or article plus the 5-15 words wrapped around the keyword search terms.

For example, based upon search results for “Lorelle on WordPress” in Google, you will find the following two examples:

Write Mom: Great WordPress Resource – Lorelle on WordPress
I found this blog over at Lorelle on WordPress. It’s a great resource for all things WordPress, written in easy to understand language. …

Tailrank – Posts for ‘Lorelle on WordPress’
Lorelle on WordPress mentions a few “bugs” that she has noticed. … Lorelle on WordPress has an article up that talks about the technical side of …

The first example is the first few words of the post. The second examples shows the first few words of the post, and then shows the keywords searched for, “Lorelle on WordPress”, highlighted deeper down into the post.

Checking out what excerpts search engines showcase from your blog will help you understand a little more about (Search Engine Optimization) techniques, and the critical value of excerpts and well written introductory paragraphs.

Now that you know a little more about what it means to write with excerpts in mind, how will this change your blog writing style?

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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen, member of the 9Rules Network

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18 Comments

  1. Posted July 21, 2006 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    (Side-note: I am puzzled by the term ‘explicit excerpt': if you write a dedicated summary, is is no more an excerpt, it becomes an abstract.)

    When we scientists publish serious material, the abstract is of primary importance. It generally takes much more writing effort than any other portion of the publication. It has to convey the context, the problem at stake, the argumentation or proof or experimental results, and the main conclusion message. In less than 300 words, we are giving away most of what the whole paper is about – this is very frustrating but extremely efficient as an open-sesame.

    I therefore would highy recommend using the ‘optional excerpt’ functionality for all informative blogging – but be aware that (as I said above) it will take almost as much time to write it as for the rest of the post. For ranting and personal diaries, I doubt there is much value added in writing a dedicated summary though – using the ‘more’ comment code tag (especially in the middle of a key sentence) is quite enough to hook the reader.

  2. Posted July 21, 2006 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    “Explicit excerpt” is more of a WordPress Community reference. We came up with that term to distinguish the automatic excerpt from an explicitly written excerpt when putting together the WordPress documentation. It just stuck. Since the “optional excerpt” can be anything, including photographs or graphic images and not just summaries or abstracts, that’s the term we came up with. It’s a lot of work to define these things without defining them. ;-)

    It is amazing what people have done with the excerpt and excerpt coding on their blogs, so we used “explicit” as an adjective to define it rather than a proper name. It’s just an “excerpt”, call it whatever else you will.

    And you are very right. The process of writing an “abstract”, especially for technical publishing, is a major writing effort. Which is why I felt that we all needed to think about what an excerpt is, how it works (or doesn’t work) for us if we chose to use excerpts on our blogs.

    Many think of full posts on multi-post views as clutter. So when they switch to excerpts only, how much thought goes into the new value those excerpt’s content takes on? Apply this to search engines, and excerpts become even more important. Worthy of consideration and discussion, don’t you think?

  3. Posted July 21, 2006 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    Indeed.

  4. Posted July 21, 2006 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad someone else mentioned abstract. The classic guide is
    Scrutiny of the Abstract by Landes,
    SCRUTINY OF THE ABSTRACT

    there is a companion,
    Scrutiny of the introduction

    Now I have to look up “squib”

  5. Posted July 23, 2006 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    I am so happy to have stumbled upon this post. I made some excerpts on some posts and it really cleaned up the front page on one of my blogs. I have a question for you: is there a way to change “Continue reading” to “Continue reading [name of post]“? I have figured out that I need to modify the home.php file, but I am guessing that I can’t put a the_title tag inside a the_content tag. When I put the the_title tag outside the the_content tag, I get a line break.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  6. Posted July 23, 2006 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    I’d love to point you to the specific article that explains how to configure your “read more” link on the WordPress Codex, but it appears to be down right now. It is found under WordPress Lessons. This is the Google cached version of the article with the info you need.

    To change the “read more”, you put it in the content() template tag:

    <?php the_content('<span class="readmore">CONTINUE READING</span>'); ?>

    You can change the wording to whatever you want. If you want to put the actual link in there, it’s a little more complicated, and yes, does involve the use of the title tag:

    <?php the_content("...continue reading the story called " . the_title('', '', false)); ?>

    The text in between the double quote marks is where you change your “read more” text. The rest of the code will continue with the title of the post.

    Let me know if this works for you.

  7. Posted July 23, 2006 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    Thanks so much, Lorelle!

    I took a look at the Codex “read more” page and used that code, but then I got really picky and decided that I needed to have quotation marks around my titles. After fooling around a bit and searching around in the Codex, I figured out what the code needed to be. Here it is in case anyone else needs to have quotation marks around their titles in their “read more” links:

    Thanks again, Lorelle! Your site rocks and I am learning so much from you!

  8. Posted July 23, 2006 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, WordPress.com strips out code. If you want to post it, you will have to turn every < into &lt; in order for it to work. Quotes are a pain, so I’d love to see this. Thanks.

  9. Posted July 24, 2006 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    I didn’t even look at my post after I submitted it. Sorry about that!

    <?php the_content(‘<br /&rt;Continue reading "’. get_the_title().’"’); ?&rt;

  10. Posted July 24, 2006 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    That’s not it. The &rt; should be the character, and the quotation marks should be the code. When I used actual quotation marks, it did not work.

    <?php the_content(’<br />Continue reading “’. get_the_title().’”’); ?>

    (Pretend the quotes are code.)

    You do not need the line break for this code to work. I put it in because I wanted to put the [more] tag inside a list and I didn’t want the post page to have a paragraph’s worth of space between the list items. I put the break tag before the end tag for the list item for this to work. You can see what this looks like here:

    http://www.celebrityenglish.com/tips/

  11. Posted February 24, 2007 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    How do I put a thumbnail photo in the excerpt box so that it shows on the home page?

  12. Posted July 24, 2007 at 6:07 am | Permalink

    Lorelle, what are your thoughts on using excerpts vs. full posts in feeds?

  13. Posted July 24, 2007 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    You use the ones that serve you the best. I use both, depending upon the importance of the content of the specific post and its length.

    I really prefer that aggregators ONLY feature titles and excerpts, leaving personal feed readers to be customized to allow titles, excerpts, or full posts depending upon the user’s preferences. But feed scraping should be limited to only titles and excerpts at most.

    Honestly, as much as there are hard core folks who claim one or the other as the ONLY way, there is no ONLY. There is what works for you and your blog. Try them both for a while or mix things up and see how it works for your readers.

  14. David W
    Posted January 11, 2008 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    I have some situations where we are getting traffic from some particular searches, however the page which is in the google results is the blog homepage, NOT the blog post itself. This is lame, because I’ve tracked some of these down to realize that the article may be long-gone from viewing on the blog homepage…. searcher finds a result they like… click to our blog homepage… post buried in archives.

    Question: do you think it will help solve this to use Excerpt instead of full post display ?

  15. Posted January 11, 2008 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    @ David W:

    Depends. This is a problem with WordPress and other similar sites with content on various pageviews. You’ll find some of these link to your categories and archives, too. Yes, excerpts help, but if the keywords are in the excerpts, it will still do the same thing. There is no easy solution to this. Make sure your help file is obvious and easy to use, and consider adding a landing page to help direct people to other resources if they land on multi-post pages.

  16. Jaime
    Posted August 5, 2010 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    How does this all relate to writing? It’s so very technical.

    • Posted August 6, 2010 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      The article has nothing to do with “writing” except that if you are going to use excerpts, you better understand the importance of what you are writing that will end up in the excerpt. If it doesn’t compel people to click through to read the rest, you’re missing out and losing traffic big time.


14 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Writing With Post Excerpts and Feed Excerpts in Mind [...]

  2. [...] Writing With Post Excerpts and Feed Excerpts in Mind « Lorelle on WordPress [...]

  3. [...] Excerpts can have a huge impact on driving traffic.  When comparing pages in which I had written the excerpt vs pages where I let it default I found that I got over 50% more search engine traffic when I wrote the excerpt.  This tells you that searchers tend to go for hand written summaries rather than machine generated ones. Lorelle has also written about how and why you should write post excerpts.  [...]

  4. [...] Writing With Post Excerpts and Feed Excerpts in Mind [...]

  5. [...] Lorelle on WordPress: Writing With Post Excerpts and Feed Excerpts in Mind [...]

  6. [...] Writing With Post Excerpts and Feed Excerpts in Mind [...]

  7. [...] Writing With Post Excerpts and Feed Excerpts in Mind [...]

  8. [...] Writing With Post Excerpts and Feed Excerpts in Mind [...]

  9. […] Writing With Post Excerpts and Feed Excerpts in Mind […]

  10. […] The paranoia of the duplicated content issue for Google PageRank has turned attention on using post excerpts on multi-post page views, which drove a lot of people to my technical article on Display Post Excerpts Only in WordPress. The idea is that you can avoid duplicated content by restricting full post views to only the single post page, and/or how to write explicit excerpts that are different from your post content. For those who choose the latter, I also recommend Writing With Post Excerpts and Feed Excerpts in Mind. […]

  11. […] highly recommend reading Writing With Post Excerpts and Feed Excerpts in Mind to help you understand how to increase readership when you write with attention-getting excerpts. […]

  12. […] Writing With Post Excerpts and Feed Excerpts in Mind […]

  13. […] Writing With Post Excerpts and Feed Excerpts in Mind […]

  14. […] you are ready to turn over some of your multi-post pages to excerpts, then also take time to read Writing With Post Excerpts and Feed Excerpts in Mind to help you think about how you write when your blog displays […]

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