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Dates on Blog Posts – Should You Have Them?

Last week in my post exploring how to make blogs sticky I suggested (in point 14) that one technique to consider is to remove the dates from your blog posts.

My theory is that dates can either add to or take away from a post. Let me explore this a little further:

When you put a date on a post you signal to your reader when the post was written. This is useful to readers wanting to make a judgment on how relevant the post is for them at any point of time. It signals to them that a post is current or recent when the date signals that it was written within the last weeks and signals to them that a post could be dated when the date is years back.

The Problem of Dates on Posts

The problem is that when you have a post that is ‘timeless’ (ie it doesn’t really date because the tips you give or the principles that you talk about will always apply) a date can act as a distraction to your reader. They arrive at the post and see that it was written in 2006 and a little warning bell goes off in their mind that what they are reading is not ‘current’.

As I mentioned in last week’s post – I’ve had comments numerous time on ‘old’ posts saying things like “this is old” or “this is out of date” even when the post was anything but out of date.

When a reader has this reaction no matter what your post contains – it’ll seem ‘old’ to them and you lose reader engagement. This might only happen to a small percentage of your readers but over time this adds up.

On the flip side – when a reader arrives on a post that IS recent and sees the date showing this you can actually get a good reaction because they get a sense that what they are reading is the latest thinking that you’ve had.

So dates can be good and bad. They can make a post seem dated or cutting edge.

So What’s a Blogger to Do? Should You Have Dates on Posts?

The key question to ask when it comes to whether or not to include the date of authorship on a post is – ‘is it relevant to the post?’

The answer to this question has led me to take two different courses of action on my two blogs.

Here at ProBlogger I include a time stamp on each post.

Timestamped

I time stamp (date) posts here at ProBlogger for two reasons:

  1. The industry is moving fast – when I started ProBlogger 3 years back blogging was very different to how it is today. The tools have changed, SEO principles have shifted, social media has become more important and bloggers are developing blogs in new ways. As a result some of the articles in my archives here at ProBlogger are less relevant and need to be put into the context of the time that they were written. While some principles have not changed more often than not I feel that dating posts can actually help readers determine what’s relevant for now.
  2. I’m on a steep learning curve - when I started this blog I had been blogging full time for only a few months. While I’d accumulated some knowledge on the topic I look back and see that I was somewhat naive and very inexperienced. While I’m far from knowing everything on the topic I feel that I’ve come a long way and I hope that dates on posts help readers to make a call on where I was at when I wrote older posts.

At the Digital Photography School Blog I don’t time stamp posts (and never have)

No-Date

My reason for removing time stamp dates from DPS posts is simple – in the vast majority of posts on the blog they have no relevance to the post itself.

DPS is not a news related blog and aims to provide camera owners tips on how to get out of Auto Mode. While cameras are changing the basic principles of photography are not (or are changing a lot more slowly). In short – the posts have more of a timeless and evergreen quality and dates would only serve to distract readers from the content itself.

If I write a post that needs to be anchored to a point of time I will usually add it to the title of the post.

Other Solutions for Dates on Your Blog

There are more than just the two options open to bloggers when it comes to adding or removing dates from posts. Here are a few that I’ve seen:

  • Dates on Recent Posts But Not on Older Ones - I saw one blogger do this last year (I’m afraid I don’t remember who it was). They had hacked WordPress so that dates appeared on recent posts (within the last 3 months) but anything older than that did not have time stamps either on the post or comments. This meant that the blogger benefited from new posts looking new and took the potential distraction of old posts away from readers. I don’t know exactly how the blogger did it but presume they set up a rule that looked at the date of authorship and then determined whether the date would be displayed or not.
  • Dates on Front Page but Not Single Posts – another solution that I’ve considered on DPS is to add dates only to front page posts and to have them removed from single pages. This shows visitors to your blog’s front page that you have recent content while hiding distracting dates from older posts.
  • Subtle Dates - you can keep dates on posts without having them ‘scream out at your readers’ that the post is old. For example dates at the bottom of posts, dates in more muted colors, dates in smaller font than headings etc all can give your readers the date without making a big point of it. In a sense this is what I’ve done to some degree on ProBlogger with a lighter color and smaller font with my dating of posts.

I’m sure there would also be a way to hack WP so that you could flick dates on and off in each post as you publish it. This is actually a mini feature that I’d love to see WP add.

What Do You Think?

  • Do you have dates on your posts? Why or Why Not? (PS: I surveyed my twitter followers on this and found that 75% of them date their posts)
  • Do you think blogs should always have dates on them?
  • What other ways do you control how the dates on your bog appear?

Thesis – a WordPress Theme Design Worth Considering

Thesis.pngWhat do you get when you take one great blog designer and match him with a fantastic blogger with superb writing ability and marketing skills?

Not it’s not the start to a bad joke and yes the answer could be many things – but today I’m excited because one of my favorite blog designers, Chris Pearson has teamed up with one of my favorite bloggers, Brian Clark from CopyBlogger to put together a fantastic Premium WordPress theme called Thesis.

This theme is already getting some great reviews around the blogosphere (you can see some testimonials here) and it is no wonder – because it’s got some great things going for it including:

  • SEO – WP is generally pretty well optimized to start with but Thesis takes it a step further and gives you every chance of ranking well in Google.
  • Accessibility – this theme will be able to be accessed by those using all kinds of browsers, mobile browsing and those with special needs
  • Customizable – you don’t want a design that looks exactly the same as everyone else’s – Chris has put together a theme that can have different backgrounds, has support for custom CSS and more. You can have rotating images to make your design even more unique. Alternatively you can use this multimedia box show six 125×125 ads, a video or even disable it. All this is done from within WP’s admin (see picture below) – very cool. Check out the ‘showcase‘ page on the Thesis site to see how others have been using the theme already.
  • Feature Rich – it plays nicely with Google Analytics and Mint, manages your RSS feed for you, separates comments and trackbacks, gives you lots of control over whether to show dates and author bylines on posts and much more.
  • Well Laid Out Design – Thesis is easy to get around and quite intuitive for those arriving on your site of all levels of web experience
  • Simple to Use – Thesis is easy to use and while I’m sure Chris will continue to add features and ways to use the theme it’s quite intuitive to get up and running and looking the way you want it.
  • Support - one thing that I love about Thesis is the support forum that Chris has built for those who invests in this theme. It’s already pretty active and covers a lot of the questions that you’d have as someone using it.
  • Free Upgrades - Chris has already released an update to Thesis which gives an indication that he’s still

You’ll want to check out Thesis for yourself – a good place to start is on it’s About Page.

Thesis comes with two license options. The personal license is $87 and the developer’s license is $164. The main difference is that the dev license allows you unlimited use of the theme across as many sites as you like.

If I were starting out today with a new blog and didn’t have the budget to get a custom design or the ability to design my own – Thesis would be something I’d serious look at investing in. In fact if I were starting a blog network today it’d be an ideal investment to grab the dev license as it is a great way to have a variety of blogs that share a similar look yet are customizable.

PS: here’s a look at the fantastic options panel that gives you control over many aspects of this theme (click to enlarge).

thesis-options.png

Best WordPress Template Designs

Every week I’m asked by readers to recommend a WordPress template.

I thought it’d make an interesting discussion – which WordPress templates are your favorites?

I know it always varies from blog to blog when you’re choosing the best template for the job but I’d love to see some of your favorites.

Feel free to nominate both Free and Paid ones.

How Many Posts Should You Show On Your Blog’s Front Page?

@tcdzomba (on Twitter) asked me – “Do u have a post up about how many blog posts to keep on the front page of the blog?

It’s not a topic that I’ve written about specifically before so let me write on that topic now for you and open it up for some discussion (looking forward to seeing what others think).

I’ve never put a lot of thought into the number of posts on a blog’s front page before and think that it probably varies a little from blog to blog.

There are two main factors that I like to achieve on a blog’s front page:

1. Highlighting a variety of posts – my personal preference is to have more than one or two posts on the front page so that when new readers come to it they are more likely to find something that interests them to read.

While blogs with just one post on the front page are definitely ‘cleaner’ and can be quite visually pleasing I worry a little that they miss out on connecting with readers who come and don’t find that one post to connect with them.

2. Not too much clutter and length – I find this hard to achieve and it’s a balancing act with point #1 – but I don’t like to have my front page as being too long or too overwhelming.

As a result I try to use ‘excerpts’ on my front page – giving readers the title and a taste (a paragraph or two) of each article and the option to click a link to read more.

While I know some bloggers don’t like these excerpts/extended entries (some believe blogger do it to increase page views) I do it simply so I can highlight more posts on the front page and shorten the length of the overall page.

Another option is to use larger segments of your posts in ‘feature posts’ and to show shorter excerpts from other posts (or even just titles).

It’s a Balancing Act

As with many aspects of blogging – it’s something that you need to balance. Some blogs lend themselves more to featuring full posts on front pages, others can get away with excerpts more. Some blogs have 20-30 posts on the front page while others just have one.

I guess it’s partly personal preference and partly working out what works with your topic and readership.

What’s Your Preference?

How many posts do you have on the front page of your blog?

Do you use excerpts or full posts on the front page?

Why have you made the decision as you have?

The Importance of ‘Pause Points’ On Your Blog

Over the last week I’ve run some Crazy Egg heat map tracking on two posts on Digital Photography School (both of which got to the front page of Digg and got a lot of traffic) that both highlight to me a very simple method of increasing the number of pages that people view when they visit your blog.

Let me illustrate with a screen capture of the heat map from my post – How to Avoid Camera Shake:

Related-Articles.png

What you’re looking at above is the ‘hottest’ zone on the post. It is the most clicked upon part of the page. This section of the page was clicked on just under 2000 times over the duration of this test. The full page had just under 6000 clicks.

What stands out for me is that the section of the page you’re viewing above is a long way from the top of the post. While the general rule is that people click more on links at the tops of posts – this section of the page is only viewable once you’ve hit ‘page down’ 7 times!

The first two links in the section are links to my subscription page and a byline link to the author of the post – but the other five are all internal links to other articles on the blog. This means 1800 or so of the visitors to this page viewed at least one other page on the blog.

The ‘Further Reading on Camera Shake’ links were ones that I manually added to the post and the ‘Read more posts like ‘How to….’ links were automated links generated with a WP Plugin.

Lets look at another example

In this test (on a post on ‘Jowling‘) I’m showing you the same section of the page. This time I had to hit ‘page down’ 5 times to get to it. Again it’s low on the page and again I’ve got the automated links as well as two others in the ‘A Couple of other things….’ section.

Once again – this is the hottest part of the page in terms of clicks with around 1600 clicks (all internal) out of 6500 clicks on the full page.

related-articles-2.png

Why do readers click links so far down the page?

It might seem a little odd that links so far down a page would be clicked on at such a high rate – but the reason that it happens is quite logical. These points on the page are what I call ‘pause points’. They are parts of a page where readers pause and make a decision on what to do next.

These sections are all at the end of articles – a point where readers end one activity and look to do another one. Many readers simply hit ‘back’ at this point or head to Google to search for something else – however when you give them something else to do or read you have a decent chance of convincing them to stay on your site.

Other Things to Do at Pause Points

There are of course other things that you can do in these ‘pause points’ on a blog including:

  • Advertising – this is a ‘hot zone’ in terms of CPC ads
  • Affiliate Programs – I don’t find they convert as well as CPC ads here but they can work
  • Social Bookmarking – many bloggers run social bookmark buttons in this spot to encourage readers to vote for the post
  • Subscription Invitations – this is a great place to get conversions from first time readers to subscribe to your blog

Really any key conversion goals that you want to achieve can work in a ‘Pause Point’ – although when you put too many options in that point for readers you probably dilute the conversion rate. What else do you put in ‘pause points’?

On Making Your Blog Design Work For You

I’m doing most of my linking out to the great posts that I read over on Twitter these days but today a post by Chris Brogan got my attention that I’d particularly like to highlight. You can read it at:

Make Your Blog Design Work For You

What I like about the post is the intentionality that Chris emphasizes in his post. He starts the post with the key in my mind:

“Everything I’ve done with my blog design is intentional.”

He goes on to emphasize that everything on your blog needs to come back to the goals you have with your blog.

I think this is really important to get your head around. I’ve chatted to many bloggers who get sucked into designing their blogs to be ‘cool’ or ‘look great’ – but who fail to consider how their blog’s design takes them closer to reaching their goals as a blogger.

How Do I Get a Professionally Designed Blog?

In this post Daniel Scocco answers a question from Reader Mar Joseph who asks:

I would like to have my site professionally designed as my lack of code knowledge is really holding me back. What are the best avenues to find designers?

First of all let’s identify the goal behind this question: to have a professional looking design. The reader is specifically asking about avenues to find designers, but that is not a necessary step to achieve the goal.

There are several ways to obtain a professional looking design for your blog. Some of them will cost you nothing, some will cost you a couple hundred bucks, and some may even cost thousands of dollars.

How much you should spend and when you should do it are question that you will need to answer by yourself. If you are just starting a blog, for example, a free solution could work well for the first months. After this initial period you will be in a better position to evaluate the potential of the blog (in terms of audience and revenues), and to decide how much you should spend in the design.

If you have a clear business plan for your blog and know where you are going to take it, on the other hand, you could invest $100 into a premium theme right from the start.

Part time bloggers might also want to wait the blog to generate some revenues, and then to reinvest that money into the design. This method would not touch one’s personal finances.

Once your blog is established and healthy, you could consider hiring a professional web designer to create a unique look for it. This solution will cost a significant amount of money, but it should be worth it in the long run.

Obviously the more you spend, the higher the quality of the final product, but the idea is that there are solutions for all pocket sizes. Below we will cover each of them.

Free solutions

Provided you are using WordPress, you will have literally thousands of freely available themes to choose from. You might need to spend some time looking for a professional looking one, but I am sure you will be able to find a theme that looks clean and professional, and that matches the content or niche of your blog. Here are some places to get started:

Even after finding a professional looking theme, however, you might want to learn the basics of HTML and CSS. In a matter of hours you should have enough knowledge to customize and tweak the selected theme a bit, as to make it different from other blogs that might be using it as well. Here are some resources that will help you with that goal:

Low cost solutions

If you have some money to invest into the design of your blog, you could start by purchasing a logo. A logo can be easily integrated into any theme or design, and it will give a unique look to your header and more strength to your brand. If you don’t want to spend a lot, head to the contest section of online forums like Digital Point or Sitepoint (now called 99Designs) and create a contest. You should already get some entries for a prize as low as $50.

If you have more money to spend you could consider hiring a professional logo designer or a company. Prices will be higher, but most of them offer several mock logos where you can choose from, and they will revise the work until you are 100% happy with it. Here are some places where you can get a quote.

An alternative low cost solution is to purchase a premium WordPress theme (which could also be used combined with a custom logo). Those themes are created by professional designers, and they sell anywhere from $30 up to $100 in some cases. Other people might purchase the same theme that you will be using, but this number should be significantly smaller than with a free theme. Secondly, most premium themes are high quality, bug free, and they come with some support from the designer. Here are companies and designers that sell premium WordPress themes:

High end solution

If your blog is already running strong, or if you have a clear business plan for it, you might want to get a professional designer to create a custom theme. Tailor made designs tend to cost at least $1,000, and this figure can jump to $5,000 and more in some special cases.

If you have the budget, however, it should be worth it. First and foremost because you will be able to make your design work around your goals and priorities, improving greatly the user experience in your blog. Secondly, a custom design will also fit your monetization strategy, probably improving your revenue streams (sometimes even creating new ones).

Here are is a list of renowned blog designers that you can consult with:

Should I Have a BlogRoll on my Blog

Speed-Posting@SalesBlogcast asks – “What’s the difference between haveing “links” vs. a “blog roll?” Benefits? Chosing wisely?”

Ultimately the word ‘blogroll’ is just a different term used to describe a list of links, usually on the sidebar of a blog. It’s just a different label for the list of links I guess.

When I first started blogging everyone had a blogroll but these days I don’t see as many. One of the problems with them when your blog grows is that they can become quite political to maintain. I ended up giving up on having one on ProBlogger as I had so many requests to be on it – now I just have one with my b5media co-workers.

The other thing about blogrolls is that I hear people trying to get on them because of the SEO benefits of doing so. I’m sure there is some Google juice passed from blog rolls but suspect it’s not massive. Google seem to have more of an emphasis on links in content rather than links that appear on every page on sidebars/footers from what I can see these days.

I’d be interested to hear whether others have blogrolls, why they do (if they do) and how they decide who is on and who isn’t?

Blog Design – Does it Matter?

Speed-Posting@mattpacker asks – how important is the design of your blog and how hard a decision do you think it would be to develop a new theme for it?

There will probably be a little debate over this one in the comments on this post because every time I see someone write about design there are two opposing arguments.

On the one side are some blogger who argue that design is secondary and not that important as that it’s content that is what draws people to a blog and keeps them there. This camp often argues that with a lot of people reading blogs these days through RSS that design is less important as people rarely see it.

On the flip side we have the argument that design is very important because it creates a first impression in the mind of potential readers and that it’s around this first impression that many readers base their decision about whether they will subscribe.

My own theory fits more with the second argument – although it’s not absolutely everything in my mind. There are some fairly standard (and even ugly) looking blogs (and many with default/free templates) going around that have big readership so it is possible to ‘make it’ without a custom design.

Lastly – in terms of how hard a decision is it to change design. I personally find it a difficult process. While I appreciate good design I’m not a designer at heart so finding someone that I connect with to do it for me takes time, then deciding what direction to take can be a bit of a heart wrenching process, as can it be to convince your loyal readers that it’s the right thing to do when you launch the change.

Further Reading:

So what do you think? Does Blog Design Matter?