Your blog’s landing page (aka Blog Archive) is like a magazine’s table of contents. Both have the same purpose: to grab the reader’s attention and to steer him or her to content of interest.
Typically, a WordPress blog archive will list summary information about a set number of blog articles (the default number is 5), displayed in reverse chronological order. While you can modify how archives are displayed, the typical elements are:
- blog title
- publication date
- contents or content summary (or excerpt)
Why Use Excerpts At All?
Although your blog archive can display the full contents of each blog article, it should not. That would be like putting the full contents of each magazine article in the magazine’s table of contents.
Remember: The purpose of the blog archive — like a magazine’s table of contents — is to make is easy for your visitors to decide at a glance which posts they want to spend their valuable time reading, watching, or listening to.
I read a lot of blogs. And I consider my time valuable. And I’m not alone in this.
So when I land on a blog archive page, I prefer to see a quick, “at-a-glance” summary of blog posts. I don’t want to see a long scrolling page that displays the full contents of each of the most recent posts; I might not even get past the 3rd or 4th post. Also, if the posts contain multiple images, the archive page will take longer to load, and I’m likely to lose patience and interest — and then leave.
3 Methods for Summarizing WordPress Blog Posts
The good news is that WordPress offers three ways to “summarize” blog posts:
- Automated Excerpts
- More-Tag Excerpts
- Manual Excerpts
The screen shot below is of a demo blog archive page that displays summaries of three blog posts. The blog posts have identical content. The only difference is the method by which the summary/excerpt is displayed, as conveyed by the titles of the blog posts.
Only two of these (“Automated Excerpts” and “More-Tag Excerpts”) are actual excerpts in the traditional sense of the word, in that they are extracts from the original content. “Manual Excerpts” are better thought of as hand-crafted summaries. (In this post I’ll use the terms “excerpt” and “summary” interchangeably.)
(It think it’s helpful to think of a WordPress excerpt as content that represents a post. This distinction may become clearer after you read the following.)
Method 1: WordPress Automated Excerpts: How They Work
This is the easiest method. You do nothing!
By default — that is, if a post does not employ the More-Tag and has no Manual Excerpt — WordPress will generate an automated excerpt of the first 55 words of a post. This word limit can be changed through theme customization. All styling is removed from the automated excerpt. This means, for example, that bold and italicized text will not appear bold or italicized, and paragraph breaks will not be honored.
Below is a screen shot of Sample Post 1 in the WordPress editor:
Below is a screen shot of how Sample Post 1 looks when it is viewed as a single post. Notice the styling in the first paragraph.
And below is a screen shot of how its summary/excerpt appears on the blog archive page, using the first 55 words of the post. Since it uses the automated excerpt, note that the styling is not preserved. Also note that the first and second paragraphs run together in the excerpt.
Method 2: WordPress More-Tag Excerpts: How They Work
By adding the more tag somewhere in the body of a post, WordPress will use the content above the more tag as the post excerpt, superseding the automated excerpt. (Actually, this is true only if the content above the more tag consists of fewer words than the automated excerpt limit. Otherwise, that automated excerpt limit takes precedence.) As with Automated Excerpts, all styling is ignored in More-Tag excerpts.
Below is a screen shot of Sample Post 2 in the WordPress editor.
I added the more-tag between the first and second paragraphs by placing my cursor between the paragraphs and clicking the
More-Tag toolbar button. (You can also insert the more-tag manually, by entering this code in the desired location:
Below is a screen shot of how Sample Post 2 looks when it is viewed as a single post. (It looks just like Sample Post 1.)
And below is a screen shot of how the summary/excerpt appears on the blog archive page. Note that the excerpt stops at the end of the first paragraph, unlike Sample Post 1’s excerpt, which uses the first 55 words. But like the automated excerpt of Sample Post 1, the styling in the first paragraph is not preserved in the excerpt.
Method 3: WordPress Manual Excerpts: How They Work
Whatever you enter in the Manual Excerpts box is displayed. Paragraph breaks and other stylings are preserved. Below is a screen shot of Sample Post 3 in the WordPress editor, with a focus on the
(If you don’t see the
Excerpts box, expand the Screen Options tab and tick the box for the Excerpt option (see below):
Again, when viewed as a single post (screen shot below), Sample Post 3 will look identical to Sample Post 1 and Sample Post 2 (except, of course, for the titles).
Finally, below is a screen shot of how Sample Post 3 is represented on the blog archive page. Note that the paragraph break and all the styling are preserved.
So Why use WordPress Manual Excerpts?
The Manual Excerpt is my go-to method for summarizing blog posts. Why?
The short answer is control. The Manual Excerpt gives you optimal control over both the content and presentation of your blog post summaries.
Sometimes (perhaps often), the first part of a blog post is not the best representation of the post.
Example: What if Charles Dickens Blogged?
Imagine, for example, that the Internet and WordPress had been around in 1859 and that Charles Dickens had published A Tale Of Two Cities as a blog post instead of a book. Further imagine that Dickens took the shortcut of using the default automated excerpt. In this case, the summary (automated excerpt) on the blog archive page would read as follows:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it
Yes, these classic opening lines of A Tale Of Two Cities might pique the curiosity of some readers and compel them to read on. However, it could be argued that a synopsis like the following (modified slightly from a Wikipedia article) would serve as a better summary:
[This blog post] tells the story of the French Doctor Manette, his 18-year-long imprisonment in the Bastille in Paris and his release to live in London with his daughter Lucie, whom he had never met. The story is set against the conditions that led up to the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror.
Manual excerpts allow you to create the exact summaries you want. Automated Excerpts and More-Tag excerpts do not. If it so happens that the first 55 words of your blog post represent an excellent summary of the post — and there is no styling/formatting that an automated excerpt would ignore — then by all means just use the automated excerpt. In all other cases, though, since manual excerpts preserve styling/formatting, you get to display your blog summaries the way you want them displayed. And that’s a good thing.
By the way, there is a very desirable side effect of summarizing your blog posts into manual excerpts: doing this forces you to focus on and clarify your message. If you’re having trouble writing a summary, maybe your post is disorganized or meandering. Maybe you tried to cover too much territory. If you’re having difficulty writing a good summary, go back and edit your post.
Here’s another suggestion: Try writing your summary before writing your post. Then use your summary as your guide.
For another useful description of WordPress excerpts read this short blog post at WPBeginner.com. As the post explains,
Excerpts allow users to display more content in less space. It is particularly useful for content rich websites such as news or magazine sites where the website owners would want to showcase more content on the front page with links to full articles.