Yet, I’m aware of how the website is typically used by readers. There’s a core of readers who hit the website day in and day out, always hitting the first one or two posts max.
At the same time, there’s a veritable thundering herd of readers who are drive-by readers. They’re looking for information on something through a search engine, and the search engine sends them here. They either get what they’re looking for or they discover that I wrote nothing about the subject at all — much like when people wanted information on “pitchers of David Tennant.” And then they leave, never to return.
How best to strike a balance? The conventional blog format of reverse-dated posts is fine, but perhaps overkill for the core readership. At the same time, the blog format isn’t really suited to the drive-by reader.
There are a few “unconventional” designs for WordPress that present a few posts on the front page, and then have a different look completely for the individual pages that are better suited to drive-by readers by providing just the content they’re looking for, plus links deeper into the blog to other posts on similar subjects.
Ironically, I wrote on Julio Angel Ortiz‘s blog some months back: ” I can’t see myself using that kind of theme, though. Hemingway and Vertigo are two others I’ve flirted with — indeed, I even ran with Vertigo for a day, just to see what it was like — but not really me.” Yet, I installed Vertigo Blue back in October and was quite happy with it, though it did need a fair bit of work. Even then, Vertigo was a traditional blog design — reverse-dated posts, flair in the sidebars.
Which brings me to Hemingway. (And yes, the theme is named after Ernest Hemingway.)
I had downloaded this theme years ago. Probably right when it first released in 2005. Installed it. Ran it for a day. Maybe even an hour. Until I decided it was too dark, didn’t have enough “flair,” and wasn’t for me.
Given the way people approach the website, they’re not coming here for the flair. They’re coming here for the content. And Hemingway might be better suited to the purpose than a more traditional blog layout.
Hemingway had not been updated by its author in a while. To give you some idea, WordPress widgets were completely beyond it. Yet, Hemingway is a theme that doesn’t need widgets. Did I have to create new BottomBar modules? Absolutely. I wanted an “About Me” box, and I wanted a list of tags instead of a list of categories. I needed to make sure the single pages knew what to do with tags, and now to pull a list of related posts.
I didn’t like the color scheme. Or the font size. Fortunately, Hemingway allowed for custom style sheets. Essentially, I took the Vertigo Red stylesheet and used its color scheme for my own custom style sheet, and I also upped the font size to something readable.
And I didn’t like the front page. It showed excerpts from the two most recent posts. I didn’t like the idea of regular readers having to click the link to read the full text of the most recent entry. To my way of thinking, that was almost penalizing regular readers, by making them do more work to get at the content.
But what if I could post the most recent entry in full, and then excerpts of the next four posts? For everyday visitors, they might see something excerpted that they possibly hadn’t read, and the list of posts on the front page would go back about three or four days, depending on my post frequency. At the same time, such a change wouldn’t affect the drive-by reader, who was landing on a single page of content anyway. Yet, to affect that change was almost beyond my php coding skills.
It’s not perfect, but neither is my work finished. I have a print style sheet that works wonders on content pages (but just try a print preview on the front page where it barely works at all). I may tinker with the header. I need to get Shire Reckoning set up somewhere in the footer, and that will require some code tinkering.
In short, this is an experiment. Is a blog format like this better suited to the people actually reading this website? In a month, I’ll take a look at the stats and see. For right now, though, let’s see how it does.