Wicked WordPress Archives in One Easy Step!

Design Tips at Pearsonified — Wicked WordPress Archives

If you’ve been blogging for any length of time, then odds are good your archives are stuffed with posts that people might find interesting or useful. Problem is, when your best articles disappear from the home page, they descend into the depths of your site, landing in a lonely place known as the archives.

We all know that people don’t actually read stuff on the Web — they scan it, looking for content that is not only pertinent to them but also offers a clear and distinct benefit. In most cases, this is a rapid-fire process, and if somebody has committed enough time to even get to your archives, you can bet on the fact that their willingness to hunt for relevant content is dropping every second.

Therefore, if you want your archives to be effective (because most archives are decidedly not), then you need to provide specialized archive views that place a premium on scannability. Fortunately, you can accomplish this with almost no effort in one easy step!

Over the last few months or so, I’ve seen and spoken about a couple of great ways to expose your readers to older content:

  1. Remix your site’s architecture a bit, providing static links to your best content that are visible throughout your site.
  2. Periodically link back to articles that either facilitate the current discussion or provide added value when consumed along with your newest material.

While I highly recommend both of these methods, we’re still left with one pesky problem — those darn archives.

Today, you can solve that problem by making your archives more appealing than ever.

How to Create Archives with Real Sex Appeal

Which one of these do you think would hold a reader’s attention longer?

  • These monotonous archives (edit: link removed), or…
  • These vibrant ones (edit: link removed)

If you said the first one, then I suppose you’re one of those types who “only reads it for the articles.”

But you’re not foolin’ me or anyone else around here :)

So, how do we change our boring archives into beautiful, unique pages with images that just beg to be scanned? The answer lies with the Optional Excerpt, a feature of WordPress that is utilized by most themes when displaying your archives 1.

All you have to do is copy and paste a paragraph or two 2 from your article into the Optional Excerpt box, and then for maximum appeal, be sure to add a descriptive image along with the text. Or, if you really want to get creative, you can type up a brief summary of your post — a teaser — to try and “sell” visitors on the merits of a particular post as they scan your archives.

The primary reason why you’d want to do this is because WordPress does not apply any styles to auto-generated excerpts.

In layman’s terms, this means you end up with big, ugly blocks of text that lose all semantic meaning — paragraph breaks, lists, links, bold, italics, you name it — it all gets nixed if you let WordPress auto-generate an excerpt. The results are not attractive, and you can probably see why users generally don’t respond well to archives (edit: link removed).

Simply put, unformatted information is extremely hard to scan, and if you’re serious about publishing on the Web, you need to do everything you can to improve the scannability and allure of your site.

So, do your visitors a favor and take back your archives by utilizing the Optional Excerpt field in your posts.

Oh, and did I mention that it gives you yet another avenue for producing properly-formatted text on pages that will get indexed by Google?

Heck, if you don’t want to do it for your readers, at least do it for your friends, the search engines!

1 This will only work if your archives are constructed with excerpts (the_excerpt()). Some themes, like K2 for instance, offer “live archives” or other alternative methods of display. In my opinion, these do nothing to solve the scannability problem, and the fact that they are so similar to regular blog pages makes me think that users would be less likely to delve into the content to find something of interest. If you’re on an architecture that doesn’t utilize excerpts for displaying archives, you may want to reconsider your options as far as themes go.

2 If you use the teaser approach to publishing like I do, I recommend simply copying and pasting everything that comes before the <!--more--> tag into the Optional Excerpt field.

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