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Why Everything You Think You Know About Blog Architecture is Wrong

When designing or re-designing a Web site, I can’t help but examine the Information Architecture (IA) of the site that’s on the chopping block. Typically, I make a few fundamental changes to the way information is displayed, and one thing I’ve noticed is that I trend towards bringing the newest content to the forefront. I’m sure some of you are reading this and thinking “well, duh,” but I’m actually writing this today to suggest that it may not be quite as duh as you might think…

An engineering blueprintThanks to the widespread growth of RSS as a means of content propagation, blog developers need to start thinking outside the traditional architectural box, which usually consists of uploading a CMS and not giving it much more thought. At this point in time, the widespread solution for blog IA is content-centric; however, as we begin to adapt to changing standards, I believe that we’ll learn to present content in ways that are far more user-centric.

The default structure and why it blows

Darn near every blog is the same, and this is thanks to the fact that just about every Content Management System (CMS) on the planet has the same default IA structure for blogs. Generally speaking, blogs are presented in reverse chronological order – that is, the newest, freshest content is presented first.

Unfortunately, this setup is speeding towards antiquity. It works for news sites, but unless your site falls under this heading, then I’m going to suggest that this is likely not the best setup for you! With that in mind, what’s the problem here?

The redundancy issue

By default, RSS feeds pick up and spit out content in reverse chronological order. This bit of information is incredibly important for your site, though, because it’s actually the catalyst behind this movement towards widespread IA makeovers.

Everywhere your content is replicated on the web (see Technorati, Bloglines, or any other feed-based aggregator), your “fresh” articles get all the face time. Moreover, if you’re running a blog that’s been around for any length of time, then it’s likely that most of your visitors are coming to you via their preferred feed aggregator. Need proof? Look at my referral stats from June 2006…

June 2006 referrals for Pearsonified.com - note that the top 6 referrals are from feed aggregators!

The important thing to note here is that my top 6 referral agents were feed aggregators! Additionally, other less popular aggregators also made my top 20 referral list.

So, what does this all mean in terms of the Informational Architecture of your site?

For starters, those who’ve just come to your site via a feed reader have already seen the latest entries that your site has to offer. If you’re the least bit concerned about retaining that person who has just arrived at your site, then, do you really think it’s in your best interest to present them with an identical list of reverse-chronological content once they’ve arrived at your site?

Thanks to RSS, the default method of content presentation on blogs has become, in my opinion, unnecessarily redundant.

I guess my point here is that while it’s not bad to present content in that manner, it’s just not going to gain you anything extra, either. Therefore, instead of letting a retention opportunity go by the wayside, wouldn’t it be smarter to push your very best content to the forefront instead?

Don’t you think your readers (especially new ones!) would be more interested in your best work instead of your most recent work?

Don’t blogs provide a killer feedback system that helps you determine what your best work really is, at least from a global acceptance standpoint?

Don’t you think you could use some of this knowledge to your advantage?

The solution

I’m certainly not coming to you claiming infallibility – even this blog is fundamentally flawed according to what I’ve established above. Here’s what I think should be changed:

  • Blast the notion of presenting the freshest content in the most important area of the page
  • Instead, place links to what you think is your very best content in areas that have the highest visibility (Where are those areas? Find out here.)
  • Personally, I’m in favor of highlighting your best content in the actual posting area itself, and I think your best work should take precedence over your most recent work. Again, the goal is to eliminate some of that content replication redundancy that is becoming more and more apparent as the use of RSS grows.
  • Before showing the newest content to the readers, afford them a chance to browse your site however they’d prefer – via search, via topic, or even by resource. Once you’ve given the user a chance to do something that they couldn’t do via your feed, then you can give them a chance to take a look at your latest work.

For another fresh perspective on this topic, head on over to problogger to see what Merlin Mann of 43 folders thinks.

Oh, and please keep in mind that if you run a news site, then reverse chronological order is a good thing for your content. However, if you fall into the vast majority who are running a site of a different nature, then maybe it’s time to re-think your strategy!

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43 comments… read them below or add one

Mike July 10, 2006

Without looking to see if one exists, how about a ‘ Most Popular Posts ‘ plugin that places them right beside the current post – which they had to come to my blog to read because I only publish partial feeds so I can get more visits and sell more ads for more money.

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Aaron Brazell July 10, 2006

Holy crap. Think about Digg. The most popular Dugg content gets on the front page. You could do your standard progression based on comment count instead of date. Hmmm…

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Ben July 10, 2006

Something that works well at College Startup is using a Related Posts plugin to let users see posts related to the one they just read.

That way, if they liked it, they can read older stuff that is along the same lines.

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Chris P. July 10, 2006

A WordPress mod that incorporated a Reddit-style structure for the post content would no doubt be huge.

However, there’s always a gray area when talking about the “most popular” or “most noteworthy” material from a particular site. There’s a human element somewhere in there that cannot be ignored.

My posts that have the most comments are at least somewhat indicative of what I think is my best content. Unfortunately, though, it’s definitely not true across the board, because my most commented post is a steaming piece of crap at best.

Establishing a “best of” metric is no small task, and I think it’s largely impossible due to that element of human involvement.

Despite all of that, I am merely suggesting that we take steps towards presenting users with different content up front, instead of showing them the same things that they just saw in their feed readers.

Give them a chance to explore the best of YOU before inviting them along for the ride.

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Brian Clark July 10, 2006

Dude you totally get it. I remember we discussed this during my design, with respect to static home pages and non-traditional content structures, and it almost seemed heretical at the time. Now, it’s just smart adaptation to a format that better serves the reader rather than blogging tradition.

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Mike July 10, 2006

Maybe even a manually placed 5 post block that points to the 5 most viewed posts for that month, if we can’t tie it in with the server logs to get the counts that way.

A post that links to the 5 most popular from the previous month wouldn’t take that long to write.

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Chris P. July 10, 2006

Mike,

You’ve got that right. I’ll be happy to make those modifications to anyone’s themes for $100/pop!

Just holla!

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Mike July 10, 2006

Talk about jumping on a hot topic !

If you don’t get 10 new clients out of this, for that ridiculously low price…then, your readers are crazy !

They better grab that before I mail my list and send 1,037,462 subscribers towards this deal that ends at midnight on Dec. 31st, 2007 !

Call now ! Operators are standing by !

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Amy Hoy July 10, 2006

I’ve been working on this topic myself in my redesign of my site (www.slash7.com). The curious thing about my site is that a significant amount of my traffic still comes in via one single, very old article. I know I haven’t been adequately taking advantage of this fact… and yet I still have an enormous number of self-referrals from that page (about 75% of the people who fall on that page click thru to at least one other page, almost doubling the traffic).

But I think it could be better. I’m not just trying to increase my traffic, because I don’t run ads. I want to maximize my readers’ exposure to useful information (useful for them!).

I’m thinking of no longer posting any actual content in “blog” posts and making everything articles (e.g., I’d post in my blog “Here are some useful links and, oh, I posted a new article”). That way the whole thing is freed from the uncomfortable time-based nature of the medium, because it just doesn’t make sense for the content.

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Jason Brown July 10, 2006

Hold on guys…

I understand completely what Chris is talking about and somewhat agree.. but the problem is this.. people that are reading your RSS either thru an online reader or some other means ( desktop or browser based ) already know whats going with your RSS and your blog.. They have a RSS reader, so they know how the whole ‘blog’ thing goes.

They have come to understand they are reading your RSS feed and if they come to your site they know already thats how your blog will be set up. They already know to search thru your site to find other content.

I agree with Chris, but also see how this would mess things up that are already the norm in this industry.

Also, what if you only post a summary of your conent in RSS? The user clicks on your site looking for the full article and would not get it if they were presented with ‘your best’ instead. They would have to search for it.

I use several plugins that show related content to the post, am I have a plugin that will show my most popular posts as well. I think this is enough to show visitors that come from a feed reader, changing things for them will only hurt your site I feel.

I don’t think changing up order of post is a good idea, but showing them your alternatives is

Jason Brown

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J.D. @ Get Rich Slowly July 11, 2006

Amen.

You must have been reading my mind. I’ve noticed that most of my readers come via feeds, too. Because of this, I’m keen on redesigning the header area of every page, highlighting recent entries (for those who don’t come via feedreaders), popular entries, and featured entries (meaning entries I want to give more exposure). I haven’t begun looking for WordPress plugins for these; I don’t know if they exist. I could certainly create a clumsy manual table that I’d update by hand, but I feel maybe I should beef up on my CSS. It’s been several years since I toyed with it, and I now feel out of the loop.

Great entry.

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J.D. @ Get Rich Slowly July 11, 2006

Huh. Now that I look at your design, what you do in your sidebars is similar to what I’m wanting to do across the top of my page.

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Chris P. July 11, 2006

JD,

My sidebar is decent in terms of driving readers to other parts of my site, but I still think it falls short of the goal that I was aiming for in the post above.

It’s all about changing your own perspective of your work.

I need to look at this site as a resource for others instead of just my blog.

Ya dig?

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HART (1-800-HART) July 11, 2006

Wow. Thanks to Aaron for pointing this out at PB .. good perspective Chris.

Fortunately, I still keep you locked away in my “wish I could afford a redesign” In-Box. Unfortunately, it’s my b/day today and spent all my money on a bicycle. Any chance you can whip up a plugin for wordpress that I can just activate that promotes your name/site afterwards au gratis?

* figures it never hurts to ask! I desperately need something like that on my http://PetLvr.com/blog/ .. Good post.

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jf.sellsius July 11, 2006

Many posts suffer in “archive limbo” until the blogger resurrects them. SO basically the archive structure stinks.

Suggested improvements:
1. Most Popular Posts page link(traffic or comments) on sidebar
2. Linked Table of Contents
3. Film loop archives
4. search box (limited value)

We use 2, & 3 &4
A Table of Contents. It works for print catalogs/books/ & blogs are along those lines except blog page flipping is a bitch & that’s where 1 problem lies in locating stuff. just a paint to keep up to date

we also use film loop to keep archives in pictorial form –just rollover the pic & story headline/capsule appears–click it and you go to the post.

acome visit & have a look.

blog.sellsiusrealestate.com
PS Hey Brian funny meeting you here

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Ming July 12, 2006

perhaps a button that you can click to show the blog in order off:-

recency,popularity, and reverse.

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Nick Rice July 14, 2006

CP, I do think you’re on to something here. It’s a tough call on what constitutes the “best” content. Is it your idea, your readers, # views, # comments, etc… I’ve seen a lot of “popular posts” categories, but I typically do not spend a lot of time there. But maybe that’s just me. Anyway, great thoughts. I hope to see this fleshed out over the next few months.

NR

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JW August 5, 2006

On my blog’s homepage, I display posts in three different ways. First of all, larger than the other posts, I show my two latest “featured” posts. These are posts of which I think they are more interesting than others, but they still are something my visitors may not have read yet. I suppose those are the first posts I would like people to read.

Then, underneath, there are five recent and five popular posts, in two columns next to each other. I decided to show the first three of both with their introduction, and of the last two only the title, for people who want more.
The recent posts are still on my homepage, because, as it is a blog, you still have to put them somewhere, and I believe they deserve a place on the front page. The popular posts are simply based on the amount of comments.

That way, when someone visits my website, they can choose what they want: something I suppose it more interesting, something more recent, or a popular post.

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vijay August 6, 2006

Would an automated ‘featured posts thing be better or a manually done one? There are posts on my blog that are better than the ones that got the most comments.

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Chris P. August 6, 2006

JW,

I like what you’ve done there, and I think you could take it a step further by providing more graphical separation between featured, recent, and popular posts. Definitely a step in the right direction, though, and a fine example of what I’m talking about!

Vijay,

Unfortunately, no automated system is ever going to be able to make a decision as to what your best content is. You’ll have to control that, so handling that content is going to require at least some manual labor whether you like it or not.

On the upside, with a CMS like WordPress, you can actually create a new category (such as “my favorites”), and you can choose to display the contents of this category at random. Therefore, if you had 11 posts in that category with only two set to appear on the homepage, you’d have a nice little randomized content box of your “best” work.

While it’s not completely automated, it’s the best I can do :)

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Sameer August 11, 2006

This is exactly what I was looking for. I’ve been toying with the idea of radically changing the way I want readers to view my blog. This gives me the motivation. If only I could get time as easily!

By the way, a normal ‘related posts’ functionality will show posts related to the keywords/tags from the selected post. A person coming to the blog from a search engine (one of the biggest chunk of visitors on my blog, in addition to the rss feeds) may come looking for something that may not be the topic of the post she lands on. What I would like is a plugin that serves up posts that are related to the search keywords that brings the reader to the site in the first place. This way the reader is shown content of the kind she is looking for.

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Sarit August 20, 2006

I’ve been thinking about redesigning my blog, to make it lesser blog and more website.

I am wondering though, have you recently run into weblogs that turned themselves visually to websites? If you did, I’d appreciate a recommendation just to inspire me!

Oh and BTW, I trackbacked this post on my Hebrew blog yesterday. I was recommending this post to my readers, I hope you didn’t think it was spam or something ;)

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Chris P. August 20, 2006

Sarit,

I recognized the legitimacy of the link right away, despite the fact that I can’t read a bit of Hebrew.

A link is a link is a link, and I definitely speak that language :)

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hillary October 14, 2006

@Sarit — I realize I am a few months late to the discussion, but I recently came across a web site that you’d never think is Wordpress…
http://www.concept4u.com/

To me this hits the nail on the head in terms of using Wordpress as a CMS.

Cheers! (And thanks for the great read, Chris.)

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Ravi November 11, 2006

Great article chris. While my brain tends to want to see things chronologically, I do realize that to a new user that lands on my blog…seeing some random posts will not present the best impression!

I just installed the category visiblity plugin. I then followed your advice, and created a “favorites” category with some of my best content. Using the plugin, I can specify for my “favorites” category to be the only content on my main page. problem solved!

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Chris P. November 11, 2006

Looking good, Ravi.

That’s an excellent way to mix up your homepage content without having to know anything about WordPress loops or PHP.

Highly recommended!

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Ravi November 11, 2006

OK Chris, I need to thank you for totally ruining my Saturday…I had all these great plans this afternoon…but instead stayed inside to mod my blog :) you should really stop dishing out good advice!

btw…I took this notion of “rearchitecting” a blog to the next level. My content is mostly “timeless” in the sense that posts I write today are just as relevant as stuff I wrote a couple months ago.

I found this great set of instructions that will free up the landing page for your domain to be a static webpage instead of your blog.

Here’s what I did:
1. upload a new file (called “home.php”) to my wordpress directory. See instructions.
2. create a new “page” using wordpress (call this page “Home”). This becomes the new landing page!
3. Edit the Header.php of the cutline theme to include a link to my BLOG in the header area.

Now, when you visit my blog, you are greeting with a static page, and I can manually add in the articles I am REALLY proud of…and also entice people to subscribe and really just provide a bit of context so people know what the heck this site is all about!

my site is very very small in readership (like 50-80 unique visits/day, 2.2 pageviews/visit), but I am gonna watch stats and see how this impacts things.

I may also continue using the category plugin I mentioned in my previous comment (on my blog page)…but this may not be needed with my new approach.

ok…now it is REALLY time to get outside and play.

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Chris P. November 11, 2006

Ravi,

I like what you’ve done there, and I actually mulled over the idea of doing this when I redesigned Pearsonified.

The Copyblogger (Brian Clark) and I have kicked around this idea for months, and I guess I’m still up in the air as to what the best approach is.

For a site like yours which has a stated mission, I think it’s a perfect idea. In fact, Brian’s site is also targeted in much the same way, and I think a static home page would work well for him, too.

In my case, I don’t know that a static homepage would be nearly as beneficial because I tend to jump between three or four topics with regularity.

Either way, I think your implementation is a nice case study, and I invite anyone reading this to go take a look at what you’ve done. If nothing else, it’s always nice to see examples of alternatives to the default architecture.

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Andrea November 14, 2006

i whant to change my posters sizes

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Karen Wohlstein December 3, 2006

I am looking for Joel Pearson from Peekskill New York and is Chris his son?

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Chris P. December 3, 2006

Nope…Good luck in your search, though!

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cheryl December 19, 2007

Chris,

What can I say but a heartfelt THANKS!

This one strategy has increased the length of time visitors hang out on my blog big time. It made my site ‘stickier’. I was actually amazed at the difference. Many days I have visits averaging 17-21 minutes. One day in the past week, the average visit was like 1 hour 45 minutes. Whoa! I got nothing like that before content repositioning.

And it makes sense.

Why assume that my visitors will take the time to trudge their way through my site and find the older stuff that I want them to read? Sitemap or not. Now when I write articles that are more of the evergreen variety, I position them more prominently…and my visitors read them.

Just think, I was going to throw away this site and start all over again. Good thing I’ve been reading (and applying) what I learn from your site.

Again, many thanks!
cj

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Chris P. December 19, 2007

Cheryl — Congrats on your impressive results! I would even consider moving your “Must Read” articles above the “Recent Entries” in the first sidebar for maximum impact. After all, your recent entries already appear once on the left, and if you allow 10 entries to show at a time, then the quicklinks to “Recent Entries” are somewhat redundant.

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cheryl December 19, 2007

Thanks Chris!

I was just thinking about doing that after I made the change from cutline split to cutline right.

I’ll look into the code to do just that.

I appreciate you!
;o)
Be well,
cheryl

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Chris P. December 19, 2007

cheryl — Nicely done :D

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nik February 19, 2008

… how the hell did I even get here? I don’t remember, but the sidebar array has kept me here since… jees, is it that time already!? Holy crap, another day vanished in the blackhole of the blogosphere, thanks to CP et al – you seem to have got it right.

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Goran September 4, 2008

I spend a few hours, most days reading blogs and so few actually know how to structure a blog correctly. You have made some good points. I just wish blog owners would show the most recent additions in the right rail of every page as we usually don’t find our way to the home page thus missing out on the whats new.

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iddaa December 3, 2008

perhaps a button that you can click to show the blog in order off:-

recency,popularity, and reverse.

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Filipe Moreira January 9, 2009

Very interesting point you make here Chris. I guess this works best for blogs/sites that are already established with lots of great contest (such as your) but it’s definitely a better way to promote your best post or best content…

Keep up the good work…

Filipe Moreira

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Alan Howlett April 23, 2009

Tom Kyte of AskTom.Oracle.com has had RSS feeds for Hot Questions, Most Recent, and Most Popular for several years. His is nicely done and well organized.

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Alan Howlett April 23, 2009

And as long as I’m here…
Richard S. Wurman coined the term Information Architecture as ‘organizing the patterns inherit in data, making the complex clear’. IA was and still is strongly embedded in the information and data design area. Its adoption as a term in web page/site design seems ‘fuzzy’ given that its original application has many well defined rules at multiple levels. Google Mr. Wurman and sample his books if you get the chance.
And I like the “IA’ you’ve implemented on your site.

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Alex July 20, 2009

Hey Chris. Your’s was the first site I started looking at when I first got hold of Thesis, for obviously reasons and I did see this post. I decided to leave it because it seemed a ‘bit crazy’ because I had such a low readership and didn’t think it would make much difference.

Now that I’m starting to get a few more visitors [100-ish a day] and looking to revamp my site, I’m coming back to this idea of putting the best stuff up front. My ‘most popular’ posts in terms of page views are always going to be my music related posts but I do also talk about my teaching English in Korea and enjoying Korea with my friends. Like you said to Ravi up above, a static page might not work that well for you because you jump between topics and I think this is the same for me [although not on the same scale obviously :P]

@ JW The link to your blog is broken, so I can’t see what you were talking about in terms of displaying your posts in three different ways. It does sound like exactly what I’m after though.

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oto November 24, 2009

[...] There’s an intresting idea by Chris Pearson to change the default layout of the standard blog, he says [...]

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