ack in the days when blogging was still a shiny, new thing, and everyone’s biggest issue was working out just how many animated gifs their sidebars could hold, it was all about the chronological, diary-style homepage: the one with the newest post at the top, the next one directly underneath it, and an archive that would basically have you scrolling to infinity and beyond.
This, of course, was long before the days of social media. We had feed readers (RIP, Google Reader: we will never forget!), but not everyone used them, so mostly we just had these giant bookmark folders filled with links, which we’d diligently work our way through each day, visiting each blog in turn, and reading the latest post, before moving on to the next.
Sometimes I miss those days. I mean, most times I just think, “Thank God no one really uses auto-play music on their websites any more!”, but sometimes I get a bit of a hankering for those bookmark folders of old. Those were the days when the blogosphere felt like much more of a community: when people used to actually comment on blogs, rather than just reading n’ running, and when … well, when people like me didn’t write posts like this one, which is starting to make me sound like some kind of curmudgeonly old-timer, sitting on my front porch complaining about The Youth of Today, and how my lumbago’s playing up. I’ll stop that now.
Anyway: those days are gone, is the point I was trying to make. And I know there are still people out there with bookmarks folders full of blog links, which they visit every day, checking the homepages of their favourite sites to see if there’s new post to read. (I also know that every one of those people is probably about to comment on this post, just to prove my point…) Those people are in the minority, though. The fact is, I know from my blog analytics that most of my regular readers hardly ever look at the homepage of this site. (Boo!)
No, most of my regular readers are following me in some way: either on social media, using an RSS reader, or by subscribing to my email list. Those followers are all alerted to each new post as soon as it goes live: so, rather than having to visit my homepage all day, they simply click the link on social media/email/RSS and go directly to the latest post. They do not pass ‘Go’. They do not collect $200. They do not see that cute kitten I have right in the middle of the homepage, just as a thank-you to everyone who takes the time to visit it.* They just go to the post they’re interested in, read it, and leave. Or maybe click on some of the related posts, if I’m lucky. Either way, they’re not on the homepage, so as far as they’re concerned it may as well not exist.
(*OK I’m kidding, there’s no kitten. Made you look, though!)
As for new readers, meanwhile – the ones who aren’t subscribing to my blog, or following me on social media: well, they don’t always see the homepage either. Most of them, you see, will arrive at the site via a search engine like Google or Pinterest. They’re be on those sites because they’re looking for something specific: and their search will take them directly to whichever post on my blog best fits whatever it was they were searching for. Again, if I’m lucky, they might click around a bit once they’ve read that post, and they might even take a look at the homepage, out of curiosity: it won’t be the first page on the site they see, though – in fact, it might not even be the second. (That’s normally the ‘about’ page, which new visitors will hit up once they’ve read enough posts to pique their interest.)
Who IS looking at my homepage, then? Other than the regular readers who still prefer to visit directly, rather than to subscribe, I mean? Mostly new readers, who are curious enough to check it out: maybe PR agencies, or brands thinking of working with me. And that’s why I think it’s time we started to re-think our homepages: to stop thinking of them purely as chronological “diaries”, and to start using them to showcase our very best work. Think about it: when a brand-new visitor arrives on your site, what do you want them to see first? The posts you’re most proud of, and which best represent you and your blog? Or that random post you wrote about your cat, even although you’re a beauty blogger?
(It’s OK if you answered ‘the cat’, by the way: that just means either the post about the cat was one of your best, or that you’re blogging purely as a hobby… in which case, er, this post isn’t really directed at you, obviously…)
For me, I want new visitors to see my best work first. That doesn’t mean I don’t want them to see my latest posts too – people do expect to see the most current content somewhere near the top of the page, so it wouldn’t make sense to burry it away somewhere. Lately, though, I’ve been tweaking my design a little to place more emphasis on some of the older-but-still-relevant content, as opposed to the very latest thing I’ve written.
As well as meaning that new visitor instantly get a “flavour” of what my blog is about (rather than landing on a post about my dog’s operation, and thinking it’s a dog blog, or whatever…), it also gives me freedom to write those more random posts, without having to worry about the fact that they’ll be the first thing new readers see – and potentially judge my site on. For me, I’ve found that this gives me the best of both worlds: the freedom to write about whatever I like, but the knowledge that the best content on the site won’t just sink to the bottom of the archive and die a sad, lonely death. Which would suck, wouldn’t it?
Is this type of layout going to work for all blogs? Definitely not. I think that ‘daily diary’ style websites, news sites and the like will still probably benefit most from the traditional, reverse-chronological style blog layout, which places the most recent posts right at the top of the page. Ultimately, of course, it’s whatever works best for you: and if you’re anything like me, and spend far too much time fiddling around with your blog theme, you’ll probably have a whole lot of fun figuring it out!