For any website, your goal is to have visitors stick around and engage, not just scan the home page and leave. Navigation is not so difficult for a basic five page website, but when you have a blog with five posts published every single week, it’s much more difficult to guide readers to some of your older writing, even if it might be the most relevant to them. Here are a few things you’ll want to consider when thinking about organizing a blog.
1. Create Informative Static Pages
First, you want to take advantage of static pages in addition to your posts and display them prominently. Just about all trustworthy websites have a horizontal navigation bar somewhere near the top with key information, so why should your blog be any different?
About Me and Contact pages are absolute necessities, as they provide readers with vital information and help you build credibility. One of the first things a typical blog visitor will do after scanning over your landing page is head to the About page to see who you are and what you have to offer them. Write this section very carefully as it might be the only chance you have to make your visitor stick around.
2. Lead Readers to Relevant Content by Highlighting Older Posts
In addition to this, there are a wide variety of ways for bloggers to direct readers to their older posts, including sidebar widgets, categories in the top navigation bar and plugins that link to relevant content after each post.
Here are my thoughts on a few different navigation strategies, including some might stand to get rid of and a couple you should consider adding.
Category Organization = Proceed With Caution
Grouping your posts into categories can be very helpful, if you do it correctly. If you take care to keep them to a relatively low number, (I think more than 5-7 starts getting too cluttered), you can include them in your sidebar or even top navigation bar.
Many times, however, I see way too many categories or even worse, posts that actually have very little to do with the topics in which they are grouped. Try actually clicking on some of your categories or tags and ask yourself if a reader would likely get much out of those archive pages.
Also, the writing style of many blogs doesn’t neatly correspond to a tidy list of topics, so trying to force it into a category system is going to end up doing a disservice to that blog.
Posts Widgets in Sidebar = Top/Featured Is Better Than Recent
Many blogs use a widget listing your latest five posts, but I’ve found that this doesn’t really add much. Readers will know they can simply head to your blog home page to see these posts, and I think this takes up space that could be much better used.
I prefer to see a Popular Posts widget which gives readers a chance to read your blog’s best posts, the “pillar” content. If you use WordPress, there are a variety of plugins that can do this by measuring the number of comments, or using some combination of other metrics, but I think the best thing to do is just pick the posts you’d most like your audience to read and manually insert links to them. If you decide to do this, however, you should remember to update the list from time to time.
Monthly Archives/Calendar = Outdated
It’s standard for many themes to have a monthly archive or even a calendar. While some people like to structure their blogs this way, I think this type of archive is primarily a holdover from when all blogs were personal diaries.
For most projects, I don’t think this is a very effective way to organize your posts and it takes up a lot of space. I’m probably not going to suddenly want to read everything you happened to write during April of last year. And if your posting schedule isn’t perfectly consistent, this will quickly reveal that to everyone.
But, on the other hand, there might be a few advantages in certain contexts. For more personal blogs intimately tied to their author, this could be a good way showcase particular experiences or journey as a blogger. Also, if you have posted on your blog consistently for a long period of time, seeing all of these months and years might help build your authority in the eyes of the reader.
Search Box = Not Optimal for Most Blogs
For the majority of blogs, I doubt the first things users will want to do when they land on your blog is to search by keyword, yet many themes feature a search box in a prominent location.
Blog readers typically browse in a more exploratory manner: they don’t know exactly what they are going to find or even what they are looking for. Instead, they have been drawn in by the way you have presented yourself and your brand and they want to check out what you have to say.
This contrasts significantly with the query-based, relevance-ranked Google search, and this is why that search box probably won’t get much use.
Also, I’ve experimented a lot with these mini search engines and their precision usually isn’t very good. Even if people are using them, they typically won’t even see the most relevant pages that you would have selected yourself.
(Instead, they sometimes get obscure archive pages you didn’t even know existed or pages in which the desired keyword is buried at the bottom under a ton of other posts.)
Linking to Relevant Posts in Content = 2 Options
One of the best ways for users to navigate your blog is to provide links to relevant posts right within your main content area. There are two main ways you can achieve this.
The first is to use a WordPress plugin that will automatically display a list of potentially related posts at the end of each of your articles. Most function by some combination of titles, keywords and categories, and this can be a great way to get visitors to keep reading.
Be aware, however, that readers will tend to tune out everything you include after your posts if it looks too crowded. If you have also decided to include share icons for 15 different social bookmarking sites, it’s likely that none of these features will be clicked.
The other way is to link actual words in the body of the post to other posts you have written. This is the most visible way for readers and since you are manually putting them in, you can control the relevance. In my experience, these get clicked the most, but you can’t overdo it and start linking to 10 old posts in every new one; it will look like spam.
Links to Posts in Your About Page = Great Method
Finally, there’s one more strategy to try that can be very effective. If you anticipate the fact that the majority of visitors will head to your About Page after landing on your blog, you can actually provide direct links to some of your best posts right there.
This way, your visitors will be prompted to read exactly what you want them to see. Be sure to weave these links in naturally to the rest of your description and choose posts that represent your blog well.
Do you agree with these points, or do you have a different idea? Much of this behavior is a very much personal preference, so it would be great to hear some other opinions.