When I’m asked what the difference between a blog and a website is, I usually make this drawing to explain it.
It’s not perfect, but it helps. With a “traditional” topic-based website, you have a site structure which looks like a tree, with different pages on different topics. With a blog, you have a succession of posts organized chronologically (inverse chronologically, actually) on one page. Then each post has its page, and it’s archived forever in the back-office.
The two models tend to blend — more and more sites have characteristics of both.
There are two trends, however, which irritate the hell out of me. (If I know you and you’re doing this, please don’t take it personally — I don’t hate you for it. Really. But it annoys me.) They are:
- the blogazine
- systematic teasers or partial posts on the main blog page.
Prepare for the rant. I’m putting on my flame-proof underwear.
First of all, let me say that there is nothing wrong with making a magazine with a blog CMS. But Lord, why do blogs have to try to pretend they’re all magazines? It feels like bloggers are trying to make themselves look “high-profile”, because top “blogs” like TC, RWW, etc. are actually magazines. They might have started out as humble blogs, but they are not anymore.
“Media-blogs” are a special breed of blogs. Their content is there to generate revenue directly, through advertising and sponsorships. That has an impact on their content, and on the place they try to occupy, alongside old media. Why would everybody want to look like one? Dressing like a movie-star does not make you be one — and why would everybody want to be mistaken for one? If you’re a geek or a businessman or an entrepreneur, why don’t you just be that? There’s nothing wrong with being yourself and making you approachable.
There’s nothing wrong with having a blog that looks like a blog.
Coming to practicalities, there is a real concrete reason for me, as a user, to not like it when one of the blogs I read turns into a blogazine: very often, this transformation goes with the disappearance of the “main blog page”, the page which gave blogs the place they have in the publishing world of today, the unique stable page which you could go to at any time, confident that you would find the last 10 or so things the blogger you were reading had written.
The blogazine goes with excessive categorization and silofication of blog content. And I think that’s a real shame for most bloggers who take that route. Hey, even if all your last posts are on a big mixed-up main blog page, you can still point people to individual categories if you like. That’s what category pages are for, right?
People put forward all sorts of good reasons to display only partial posts on their main blog page (or archive pages) — roughly the following:
- improved SEO
- more page views
- increased scannability
Until somebody shows me convincing data for either of these three claims, I am going to simply say “bullshit!” (and I’m remaining polite). I’m going to put the culprits on the stage one by one and tell you why I think my reaction is justified. I don’t have any research to back me up (am planning to do some though, so if you want to lend a hand, get in touch) but I do have some reasoning which I believe holds together.
I have to admit I’m biased against SEO. For me, most SEO aside from “markup your stuff properly (be search-engine friendly) and have great content” is a pile of rubbish. I mean, there are some very obvious things one needs to do for SEO, but they are “common sense” more than “secret tricks”.
If a search engine is doing its job correctly, it will pull out the page that is most relevant for the human being who typed the keywords it based the search on. Make it good for humans, roughly, and it’ll be good for search engines.
When SEO gets in the way of the human experience, I have a big problem with it. And partial posts on the blog page does get in the way of a good reader experience. Why do I know that? Because of what I call the “closed door” phenomenon. A link to click, like a folder to open, is a closed door. You don’t know what’s behind it. You don’t know if it’s worth your while. Chances are you won’t click. Chances are you won’t read the rest of the post.
Even if you know the post is going to be worth it, to read the ten posts on the home page of such a blog, you’re going to have to click on each title (all ten of them), and open them in different tabs, or go back and forth, and maybe get lost in the process.
The original blog format puts all the articles neatly one beneath the other. You start reading at the top, scroll down as needed, and before you know it you’ve read the ten articles.
So, if it really does improve SEO to display only partial articles, I would say that the problem is with the way the search engines work. We should never be creating bad user experiences for the sake of SEO.
(I’m aware that what I claim about the “bad user experience” of partial articles on the main blog page needs to be demonstrated. Working on it. Get in touch if you want to help — or if you can save us the work by showing somebody has already done it.)
How exactly are the partial articles supposed to improve SEO? Well, as you can tell, I’m no expert, but based on what I’ve heard it has to do with duplicate content. Yeah, Google is supposed to penalize duplicate content. And of course, if you publish whole posts on your main blog page, and in your archives, then you’re duplicating the content from the post page — the one you want people to land on directly when they put the magic words into the search engine.
Only… I remember very clearly, in 2007, when Matt Cutts was asked about duplicate content on blogs. (And Matt, if I’m misremembering because it feeds my theory, please set me straight.) He didn’t seem to be saying that it was really a problem. And for what it’s worth, make a note that he’s providing complete posts on his main blog page — not excerpts.
The way I understand it, the duplicate content penalty is a weapon in the war against spammers and link-farms and splogs etc. Having 2-3 copies of the same post lying around do not make your blog sploggy.
Enough for the SEO.
More page views
What can I say about this? First, the reason people obsess about page views is because of advertising. If you’re rewarded for each ad impression, the more pages are viewed, the more money you get.
But this begs the question: how much are you willing to sacrifice of the user experience (see above) for a few dollars? Most advertising revenue on blogs is miniscule.
People imagine that “more page views = more articles read”. Nope. I can read ten articles on your home page for only one page view if you publish whole articles. So of course, if you switch to excerpts only, you’ll see an increase in page views. But it doesn’t mean you’re being read more. Don’t be fooled. (This would need to be proved, of course — but the so-called proof that the excerpt method increases page views is worthless in my book, because it’s measuring something that isn’t really meaningful, unless your purpose in life is to sell ads on your blog rather than be read, which is your right, but in which case maybe I’m not going to be that interested in reading you anymore.)
I don’t care about my page views. I just want people to read my articles.
This one is easy to deal with. Of course, it makes it easier to scan the articles on the first page, if it’s kept short by trimming the articles. Personally, I’m all for a display option that will allow you to see just a list of post names, or a list of post names plus excerpts. Feedly allows this kind of thing.
But do you want to be read, or scanned? Do you want people to read the first two paragraphs of your articles, or the whole articles? Do you prefer to have them scan more headlines, but click less to access the whole articles?
Again, the choice is a non-choice as far as I’m concerned.
The blog is not dead
For the last years, we’ve seen the “blog is dead” meme pop up regularly. I was recently interviewed on this topic by the Swiss National TV — just to show you it’s still around. Aside from the rise of Twitter and Facebook, the rise of the blogzine is often cited as proof of the death of blogs.
Bullshit. The bloggers are still there. We’re still there. We’re not going anywhere. (I need to write more about the so-called death of blogs.)
Now, please go and get rid of those partial articles on your blog pages.