Even more on teaser blogs

Kevin Drum has responded on his blog to my point that it’s often okay to require users to click to see the entire blog posts. He makes some good points:

Occasional long posts, especially ones that have a limited audience, are fine candidates for this treatment. Putting spoilers below the fold is fine. I’m not quite sure what kind of content would be so bandwidth heavy that this would be a good excuse, but I suppose this works too. And doing what CogDaily often does, which is to summarize a new piece of research in enough detail to let you know if you might be interested in reading the gory details, and then putting said details below the fold — that’s fine too.

But my plea is to use some discretion here. Actually, use a lot of discretion. 600 words isn’t that much, and there’s no need to cut a post that long in half. Spoilers are uncommon unless you’re running a movie review site. And scrolling past a post you aren’t interested in only takes one or two seconds. So please: do this sparingly. The world will be a better place for it.

Actually, 600 words might be a pretty decent point at which to shift from the single-page to multiple-page option. Many Cognitive Daily posts are upwards of 1,000 words, encompassing four or more screens of vertical space on my laptop display. Drum’s longest posts aren’t much longer than 600 words, so for him it makes a lot of sense to nearly always keep things in a single post.

But some CogDaily posts are shorter than 600 words, and they’re *still* split. Take a look at this post, for example. It’s just 539 words, including citation, and I’ve split it into two chunks, right after the poll. Why did I do that? In fact, even though it’s short on words, it’s got three large graphic items (including the poll), and that means it still takes up three browser screens. I don’t think it makes much sense to force readers to scroll down three screens to get to a new post if they’re just browsing my blog. It becomes difficult for them to quickly get a sense of what’s there.

Drum’s readers complain about his mid-column “recent comments” box, which forces them to scroll a significant distance if they don’t want to read his first post (admittedly Drum has no control over the layout of his blog). Whether his posts have 300 words or 700 words, the recent comments box adds nearly a full screen of scrolling just to get down to the next post, and readers do find this annoying. In my view, two screens’ worth of scrolling is about the breaking point — most readers aren’t going to want to scroll farther than two screens past content they don’t want to read.

So if you look at the main page on Cognitive Daily, you’ll find that no post takes up more than two screens, and most take less than one screen — so if one post doesn’t interest a reader, she can already see the next one and decide whether to read further.

Notice, too, that if you click on an individual post, a “recent posts” box appears in the left sidebar, above the “recent comments” box. This provides readers with another way to find additional content beyond what they see in a single post. There’s no need for “recent posts” on the main page, since you can easily scroll to see the posts you want.

The other reason to use “continued” links on posts is selfish: we get paid on a page-view basis, and if people must click to see the rest of a post, then we get two page views instead of one. We actually did an informal study a couple years back on CogDaily, and the results were convincing: page views went down when we included the entire post in the RSS feed and on the main page. We might lose a few die-hard RSS fans this way, but most readers either don’t mind our system or actually prefer it.

On one point I do agree with Kevin: You’ve got to provide enough content in the “teaser” to give readers a fighting chance at deciding whether to read your post. Just a sentence or two doesn’t cut it.

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4 Responses to Even more on teaser blogs

  1. Sarah says:

    Personally, I hate having to make the extra click. For almost all sites, I won’t do it (Cognitive Daily is one of the few for whom I’m prepared to make the extra effort!). Actually, when blogs import to my feed reader with only a short teaser (2-3 lines), I unsubscribe, because I won’t click through to the web site and then again to read the article.

  2. jcopenha says:

    I’m fine with the split.. but I get really tired of the “Read more after the fold.” sentence. It seems like if the summary has more info there should be a “read more” link, if not no link. Sometimes I get direct links to full blog posts, and half way through reading I hit the “read more after the fold” sentence and it throws me off a bit.

  3. dave says:

    I avoid “after the fold” at all costs. Sometimes I do write something that implies there’s more, such as “here are the results:” or “This is what they found:”

    But sometimes I just leave it to the reader to figure out there’s more. Most long-time readers know that research posts are longer and they’ll be rewarded with a click on the link. Seems to work okay.

    Most of our readers are in their twenties. Do they even know what “the fold” is?

  4. Another point, somewhat off topic but related, is that Scienceblogs has to be one of the most mobile unfriendly sites around. When you load up a scibling blog on your mobile device, it loads the ENTIRE page. That includes the long sidebars with the archives and the blogrolls and all that other stuff. And here’s the kicker: the content is the last thing to load.

    So let’s say I’m reading Ed Brayton’s Dispatches blog (all his posts are one or two paragraphs and the rest below the fold) and I see a couple posts I’m interested in reading in their entirety. I must then click on each of them, only to have the entire page (with complete sidebars) load again. Besides taking so long, it eats up a lot in data transfer charges. I simply stopped reading Scienceblogs on my mobile device; there’s nothing there that can’t wait until I get home (Of course I’m unemployed now, so it’s less of an issue, but still …).

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