The WordPress excerpt: What, why, how, tips and plugins

UPDATED 2010-09-29

WordPress excerpts, which are not excerpts in the common sense of the word, make a WordPress site easier to browse and its content easier to discover. When also used as META descriptions, good excerpts bring more and better traffic from search engines.

This article looks into the WordPress Excerpt and explains how to use it.

CONTENTS

  1. What is the WordPress excerpt
  2. Why write excerpts in WordPress
  3. How to write excerpts
  4. WordPress Excerpt Editor
  5. Excerpts as META descriptions
  6. Notes, Miscellaneous
  7. Links

1. What is the WordPress excerpt

The excerpt in WordPress is a short summary of a post. It is written by hand and it can replace the full post in places where a summary is preferable.

Or, as the Excerpt box in WordPress 2.7 2.8 says:

Excerpts are optional hand-crafted summaries of your content. Learn more about manual excerpts.

In other words, the WordPress excerpt is not an excerpt in the common sense of the word; it is not a part taken from a post but an extra piece of information added to a post, in the same way that tags are added. And, like tags, it is optional. To add an excerpt, you simply write one in the Excerpt box, right under the post editor:

The Excerpt metabox in WordPress 2.7

But why bother with writing excerpts?

2. Why write excerpts in WordPress

Because of what happens if you don’t!

The following assumes a WordPress theme that displays excerpts in search results and in author/category/date/tag archives. Not all themes do. For a solution, see WordPress Excerpt Editor, on which more in a while.

2.1. Archive pages and search results

Let’s start with an example:

Say that you search for minimalist+wordpress in this site, op111.net. Among other results you’ll get “Five clean, minimalist themes for WordPress”, along with a brief description:

Five good WordPress themes examined and compared: Basic2Col, Moo Point, Sandbox, Simplish, and Thematic.

Which is the excerpt I wrote. If I hadn’t written one, the first 55 words of the review (that is, the automatic excerpt) would be displayed instead:

UPDATED 2009-02-13. I recently decided to look for a good minimalist theme for op111.net. I did not expect it would be an easy search, and, in a sense, it wasn’t. (Partly because WordPress had been going for some time without a central repository of themes. Now there is one, but it is still young.) [...]

Which one is better for a list of search results? I know!

The drawbacks of the automatic excerpt are obvious, but let me enumerate them for the sake of the argument:

  1. The beginning of a piece is usually an introduction, not a summary.
  2. Even if it is a summary, 55 words are too many for a list of search results.

On the other hand, by writing a manual excerpt I was able to add a few extra pieces of information to the information provided by the title, and say all I wanted to say, in 13 words and 105 characters.

Even if the excerpt I wrote is not perfect, it can be scanned instantly by the eye. Not only that: Since the other results have excerpts too, the results page is now more appealing and useful as a whole. The same goes for archive pages—archives by date, category, tag, or author—since excerpts can be used there too. See, for example, Category “English” in op111.net

So, in a sense, hand-written excerpts are good navigational devices: They help visitors find easier what they look for. Or, if that does not exist, they let visitors know, so that they don’t click back and forth in vain and get frustrated in the end.

2.2. Result pages in search engines

Most interestingly, this navigational device can be used off-site too!

Let’s start with an example again: Try this search on Google, Live Search, or Yahoo!. You’ll get something like:

Live Search, part of search results for “clean minimalist themes”, snippets highlighted

It’s a typical SERP item: A title, a URL address and, right in the middle, a short description, which is exactly the excerpt I wrote!

How did Live Search know about that? This text does not appear anywhere in the indexed page. Did Microsoft guess it in some way? No! The answer is simple:

In op111.net excerpts double up as meta descriptions.

Regularly, search engines compile the a short description of a result by putting together bits from the page. But if the page has a META description, and if they think it is a good description and relevant to the search query, they may display that instead.

This means that, to a certain degree, META descriptions let you control how your content is described by search engines. And if a description is good, people are more likely to click on the link.

More on WordPress excerpts as META descriptions in Part 5.

2.3. Summing up the Whys

  1. Manual excerpts help visitors navigate a site easier and find good results.
  2. Manual excerpts can double as meta descriptions, which are often used by search engines to describe search results. In this way, good excerpts increase and improve traffic from search engines.
  3. Therefore, you should write excerpts by hand!

3. How to write excerpts

You should be convinced by now: You’ll never hit Publish again without writing an excerpt first! But how to write one?

Writing good excerpts/summaries is not simple – it’s an art. Writing a decent excerpt, however, only takes basic common sense: What’s the excerpt for? What is its purpose? Answering this question will show us what the excerpt must be like.

PURPOSE OF THE WORDPRESS EXCERPT

To help readers tell at a glance if a page is what they look for.

So, to do that, the excerpt must be:

CHARACTERISTICS OF THE EXCERPT

  1. Brief
  2. Informative

3.1. How brief

As brief as possible! My rule is to write no more than 160 characters, partly because I use excerpts as meta descriptions too (see Part 5 for that). For English, 160 characters is 25 to 30 words. It may seem little but it’s not, for two reasons:

First, the excerpt is always displayed along with the title. So, for the purpose of offering a summary description these two are a set: title + excerpt. Assuming that a title should be no longer than 70 characters and that the average word length is 5 letters, we have:

( 70 + 160 ) ÷ ( 5 + 1 ) ≈ 38

(We also added 1 space for each word, since spaces count too.)

That’s thirty-eight words in sum! You can almost write a short story in 38 words! :-)

Second, you can say lots of things in 160 characters if you follow good practice. Not only that, but your excerpts will be better as a result:

TIPS FOR CONCISE EXCERPTS/SUMMARIES

  • Prefer short words. E.g., write “use”, not “utilize” (unless you mean “utilize”).
  • Prefer simple constructs. E.g., say “because”, “since”, or “as”, not “due to the fact that”.
  • Prefer verbs to abstract nouns. Abstract nouns are longer and less lively (and also lead to lengthier and clumsier constructions).
  • Use adjectives and adverbs sparingly. Does that adjective really need an adverb to qualify it?
  • Read over to remove needless words.
  • Read over again.

3.2. How informative

As much as possible! The rules I try to follow are two:

First, be honest. Summarize the content accurately and objectively and do not write aggresively promotional copy. Imagine a friend asked you what the page is about. How would you describe it to them in a few words? Use the same description as your excerpt.

Second, complement the title. Since the excerpt is always displayed along with the title, there is no reason to repeat what the title says. Of course, some repetition is unavoidable and it may also be useful, e.g. for emphasis, but, other than that, try to complement the title and to add to it.

TIPS FOR INFORMATIVE EXCERPTS/SUMMARIES

  • Describe honestly and accurately. As if you were describing to a friend.
  • Complement the title in any relevant aspect; things like:
    • Amount. Simply add more information.
    • Scope. E.g., give the general context for a specific title.
    • Tone. E.g., write a serious excerpt to balance a playful title.
    • Variety. E.g., if a title word has a common variation, use that variation in the excerpt. (To facilitate humans, not to trick machines!)
  • Write excerpts last. Then you have a better overview.
  • Revisit you excerpts. Even if you got everything perfect the first time, other things may have changed.

To recap, when writing WordPress Excerpts try to be, as much as possible:

  1. Brief
  2. Informative

Let’s see some tools now.

4. WordPress Excerpt Editor

A default WordPress setup offers one tool to manage excerpts: the Excerpt box. If you are serious about excerpts, you need more. Fortunately, even though the WordPress Excerpt is underappreciated, there are quite a few good plugins for managing excerpts. Part 5 suggests a couple that generate META descriptions from excerpts, while the Links at the end include a couple more.

This part looks at one plugin for excerpts that, in my estimation, offers the most general usefulness:

WordPress Excerpt Editor

WordPress Excerpt Editor does what its name suggests and much more. It is essentially an excerpt manager. Among other things, it lets you:

  • Add and edit excerpts quickly
  • Add excerpts to pages
  • Control the appearance of excerpts
  • Display excerpts instead of full content on index pages (search results, tag archives etc.)
  • Display excerpts instead of full content on the homepage

If you need to add excerpts retrospectively to a large number of posts, or simply edit a large number of excerpts, Excerpt Editor brings all excerpts, empty and filled-in, together in one place, so that you can edit or add excerpts one after the other. For posts with no excerpt, it shows the first 70 words, to help you start. Once you are finished with an excerpt, you click Save and Excerpt Editor goes to the next one:

WordPress Excerpt Editor 1.3

It also lets you add excerpts to WordPress pages, which is not possible without a plugin.

If you only need Excerpt Editor for these two features—adding/editing post excerpts and adding/editing excerpts to Pages—, you can deactivate it when you finish and reactivate it the next time you want to add or edit a large number of excerpts. (This is how I use it at present.)

The extended functionality of Excerpt Editor, beyond adding and editing excerpts, is too wide to go over here. There is one feature, however, that can be essential for what we discuss. This is “Replace Posts”:

WordPress Excerpt Editor 1.3, Options, Replace Posts

If your theme does not support excerpts, or supports excerpts poorly, “Replace Posts” lets you define where to show excerpts instead of full content. There are several combinations you can select for that; you can even have the homepage show the latest post in full and display only the excerpt for the rest!

5. Excerpts as META descriptions

5.1. What is a META description

The language in which most webpages are written is HTML or its cousin XHTML. A meta description is an optional set of data in the head of an HTML document that describes the content of the document. “meta” means that this set of data is metadata or meta-information; that is, data about data, or information about information: about the information in the document itself.

A basic XHTML document with a META description looks like this:

Basic structure of an XHTML document.  The HEAD section is highlighted

Click to see how this document appears in a web browser.

Unlike the title of a page and the text in the body, the meta description is not displayed by web browsers. Browsers understand it, however, as do indexing robots, the programs search engines use to browse the web automatically and index web pages.

When search engines were still young, in the early days of the commercial Web, they used to rely on this description, as well as on the “keywords” meta element, to understand what a page is about and how relevant it is to a query. As a consequence, description and keywords were abused to senselessness by webmasters. Search engines, at least the ones that matter, don’t do that any more. They do not rely on description and keywords for indexing and ranking. However, they still use description, very frequently, for what its original purpose was: Description!

The reason why search engines are interested in the meta description is the same reason why web authors should use it. The Official Google Webmaster Central Blog explains:

The quality of your snippet — the short text preview we display for each web result — can have a direct impact on the chances of your site being clicked (i.e. the amount of traffic Google sends your way). We use a number of strategies for selecting snippets, and you can control one of them by writing an informative meta description for each URL. [...]

We want snippets to accurately represent the web result. We frequently prefer to display meta descriptions of pages (when available) because it gives users a clear idea of the URL’s content. This directs them to good results faster and reduces the click-and-backtrack behavior that frustrates visitors and inflates web traffic metrics. Keep in mind that meta descriptions comprised of long strings of keywords don’t achieve this goal and are less likely to be displayed in place of a regular, non-meta description, snippet. And it’s worth noting that while accurate meta descriptions can improve clickthrough, they won’t affect your ranking within search results.

SOURCE: Raj Krishnan, Google Snippets Team, in Improve snippets with a meta description makeover, 27 September 2007.

Given the source of the quotation, I don’t think I need to add anything. — I’ll just cite one more example of search results:

Google, Search results, Descriptions (“snippets”) highlighted

Searching for “clean minimalist themes” in Google returned, among other results, two op111.net pages. Both have meta descriptions. Google seems to think that the descriptions are descriptive enough and relevant enough to the search query, so it uses them. If these pages did not have meta descriptions, Google would make descriptions by extracting relevant bits from the content and putting them together.

5.2. Using WordPress excerpts as META descriptions

You can write meta descriptions for your posts in WordPress by using a plugin. But if your posts already have excerpts, there is no reason to do that. Since the WordPress excerpt and the HTML meta description are about the same in purpose, you can use your excerpts as meta descriptions!

In the WordPress logic, this is simple. In the same way that, for example, we tell WordPress to get the post_title of a post from the database and use it as a title for that post, we can tell WordPress to get post_excerpt and use it as a meta description (in addition to using it as an excerpt). Only we can’t do that in a default setup. We need a plugin. Here are two for you:

Platinum SEO

Platinum SEO Pack does this automatically. Once you install it, all posts with excerpts will also have meta descriptions. You don’t need to do anything else. (The same is true for All in One SEO Pack, on which Platinum SEO is based.)

If a post has no excerpt, Platinum SEO will use the first 160 characters of the post as a meta description. This is the option “Autogenerate Descriptions”, which is enabled by default:

Platinum SEO Plugin Options, Autogenerate Descriptions

My advice is to disable “Autogenerate Descriptions”. If you have posts without excerpts, let the search engines piece together descriptions for them. They do a better job.

If you want to use a meta description different from the excerpt for a particular post, go to the post editor and write one in the SEO Platinum Pack box, in the Description field.

Headspace2

HeadSpace2 allows finer control of the head of HMTL pages and can do that and much more, but does absolutely nothing by default. (Which is one reason why it is among my favourite WordPress plugins.) Setting it to generate meta descriptions from excerpts is easy:

  1. Go to HeadSpace Settings › Page Settings
  2. Click to edit the Posts & Pages section
  3. Type %%excerpt_only%% in the Description box
  4. Save your changes

HeadSpace2 for WordPress, Page Settings, Excerpt as META description

This tells HeadSpace2 to generate meta descriptions for posts and pages that have excerpts.

To use a meta description different from the excerpt for a particular post or page, simply go to the page/post editor and write a meta description for that page or post:

HeadSpace2, Writing a specific META description for a post or page

Last, HeadSpace trims meta descriptions to 150 characters. You can change this value in HeadSpace Settings › Page Modules › Page Description. (I use 192.)

Themes that generate META descriptions from excerpts

If WordPress plugins can take an excerpt and use it as a meta description, so can WordPress themes. One theme that does this is Hybrid:

Hybrid for WordPress, Settings, Autogenerate META descriptions

Another is Thematic. Thematic does this by default and, since version 0.9, does it the smart way too: It makes meta descriptions only for posts that have a manual excerpt.

5.3. Length of META descriptions

Since META descriptions are written for search engines, what matters here is what search engines do. At this writing (February 2009), Google seems to use up to 160 characters to describe search results, Yahoo! up to 170, and Live Search up to 180:

LENGTH OF DESCRIPTIONS (SNIPPETS/ABSTRACTS) IN SEARCH ENGINES IN FEB 2009

  • ≤ 160 characters in Google
  • ≤ 170 characters in Yahoo!
  • ≤ 180 characters in Live Search

So, if you want your descriptions to be displayed in whole when picked up by search engines, do not exceed 160 characters. For English, that’s about 25–28 words.

For a quick check-up of your meta descriptions, you can use the Diagnostics tool in Google Webmaster Tools. It will tell you whether you have too long, too short, or duplicate descriptions, how many of each, and it will point you to the pages that need attention:

Google Webmaster Tools, Diagnostics, Content analysis, Meta descriptions

6. Notes, Miscellaneous

6.1. Excerpts for Pages

WordPress supports Page excerpts internally (the database field that stores them is exactly the same as for posts: post_excerpt) but offers no interface to add excerpts to Pages. WordPress Excerpt Editor makes no such distinction and lets you add excerpts to both posts and pages. If you create pages often, another plugin you may find useful is PJW Page Excerpt: It adds an Excerpt box to the page editor, same as the Excerpt box of the post editor.

6.2. Teasers

The “teaser” is another useful device in WordPress, often confused with the Excerpt. You make a teaser by inserting the more tag in a post. (The More button is to the left of the spellchecker.) Then, the part above the more tag becomes a “teaser” and is displayed by default on the front page in lieu of the full content, along with a Read More link.

The relation between the Teaser and the two Excerpts, manual and automatic, is this: When a post has no manual excerpt, WordPress looks for a teaser and uses that instead. If the post has no teaser either, WordPress uses the first 55 words as an excerpt.

6.3. That’s it!

The WordPress Excerpt is a narrow subject but rather confusing for it scope. I tried to make some sense of it by focusing on what seemed essential to me and without going into too much detail. If you think there is still too much detail, or not enough detail, leave a comment to say so. If you are still perplexed about the excerpt that’s not an excerpt, please ask. In any case, feel free to say what you think. Your contribution is appreciated.

Thanks for reading!

δκ

7. Links

7.1. General

Template Tags/the excerpt
Documentation for the function the_excerpt() in the WordPress wiki.
Wanted: Excerpt Exacter
“I need a WordPress plugin that won’t let me publish a post until I’ve filled in the excerpt field. Anyone got one?” By Eric Meyer. — 2009-10-05: See Autofields below.
WordPress Now Available (v0.70)
Release notes for the first public release of WordPress, v0.70, in May 2003. The Excerpt is among the highlighted features: “Manual Excerpts — This allows you to handcraft summaries of your posts to appear in your RSS feed and other places.”

7.2. WordPress plugins for excerpts

All plugins below can be installed from the WordPress Dashboard: Go to Plugins › Add New, look up the plugin name, and click Install.

Advanced Excerpt
Tweaks the excerpts that WordPress generates automatically when the Excerpt field is empty.
Autofields
Autofills the Excerpt field (optionally) and also warns about missing excerpt (optionally).
HeadSpace2
Powerful metadata manager for WordPress. Can be used for SEO and for much more!
Platinum SEO Pack
A WordPress plugin for easy search-engine optimization. (Based on All in One SEO Pack.)
PJW Page Excerpt
Adds an Excerpt box to the page editor, same as the one in the post editor, to add excerpts to pages.
WordPress Excerpt Editor
An excerpt editor, formatter, and manager for WordPress.

7.3. “description” META element

Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide
Good concise (22 pages) SEO guide in PDF format, by Google. It has a section on the “description” element.
Google Webmaster Tools
A set of useful tools by Google. Among other things, they analyze your META descriptions and tell you if there is anything wrong with them.
Making the Most of Meta Description Tags
How to write good meta descriptions, by Rand Fishkin at SEOmoz.
Video: anatomy of a search snippet
Matt Cutts of Google explains on video how descriptions are generated in Google results. (English and Korean captions available.)

Changes

2010-09-29
Several edits and corrections here and there.
2009-10-05
Added Autofields to list of plugins for excerpts.
2009-06-14
Corrected: Platinum SEO and All in One SEO cut meta descriptions at 160 characters, not 150.
Several other edits.
2009-03-03
Added Thematic to themes that generate meta descriptions.

Responses (105)

Pingbacks (21)

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  8. [...] The hand-written Excerpt in WordPress: What, why, how, tips and plugins – An article about WordPress excerpts and why the optional ones can be so useful. I wrote about optional excerpts last Fall and do use them in my archives. [...]

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  10. [...] engines. It does not need any fixing and there are only a few things you can do here and here, like generating meta descriptions from post and page excerpts, or adding noindex tags to index pages like Archives, Categories [...]

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Comments (84)

  1. db0 says:

    Very nice and informative post. I never realised how useful excertps could be. I’m going to implement your suggestions as soon as possible :)

    Cheers and thanks!

  2. Heard a cling and a thud ?
    Well, it was my awesomeness-meter crashing !

    What a post. Dugg deep, very deep into something that’s insanely powerful, but not appreciated, the WP Excerpts !

    A gem of a post, this is.
    Loved the layout of the post. Logically broken down and guiding navigation. Sports the charm of the well-written doctoral thesis !

  3. Wow, thank you for this very detailed post. I was confused about excerpts before and I’m not anymore.

  4. PChere says:

    Exceptionally useful and must read for all WP bloggers. Thanks for this article.

  5. Tom B. says:

    Good stuff. Wish I hadn’t read it, now I need to go back to my old posts and do some writing. :)

  6. Bryson says:

    Very useful. Never thought about how many ways an excerpt could be used, but I’ll be using it now.

  7. Tuan Anh says:

    Excellent article. Thank you for the ultimate guide for excerpt in WordPress.

  8. Kirb says:

    @Tom B.

    heh. My trouble exactly. Now I’m trying to go back to some of my old posts and think up excerpts. :(

  9. godai says:

    I must say it’s an excellent tutorial. Made me aware of the very idea of excerpts and I put it into life.

    Thanks for the helpful hint, looks like good things in life are free after all.

    Regards,

    godai

  10. Yannick says:

    Thanks. Do you know if I can put a required option for the excerpt field? If a writer forget to include a description, I would like to have a reminder.

    Thanks again.

  11. eris says:

    In excerpt, your article is really helpful.

  12. JellyBeen says:

    Something so simple and yet so powerful. Thank you for opening my eyes to the potential of using excerpts in my blogs, I had only scratched the surface before reading this.

  13. db0 says:

    So many new visitors suddenly. Were you dugg or something? :)

  14. demetris says:

    @ db0: Ah! No! Is this sexy enough for Digg? :-p Most visitors are from a post of Mark Ghosh over at weblogtoolscollection.com, and also from StumbleUpon, where it was discovered by Ian Stewart of Thematic.

    But you were the first to comment here and to post about it. :-)

    @ all: Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

    @ Yannick: There is a link in 7.1 (Links, General) to a post where Eric Meyer asks the same question. A plugin was posted there to do that, but I haven’t checked if it’s still up or if it works with the current version of WordPress.

  15. db0 says:

    Ah curses. I had forgotten about SU. I submitted you to reddit but it never took off :(

  16. Robert says:

    Thank you! Very helpful post, I’ve started using excerpts on all my posts.

  17. Thanks for this post – it’s been really helpful. I’m already using exerpts on my sites but I wasn’t aware of the character limits so I think most are probably too long! Damm… At least I have lots of twitter-deriven practice for explaining things in few letters now!

  18. Justin says:

    A neatly documented and well researched article. Kudos to you!

  19. twincascos says:

    Excellent article very complete , thanx,
    I would suggest re : Headspace, putting “%%excerpt%%, %%category%%, %%date%%” in the Posts & Pages description.

  20. Gabriel Bell says:

    Thanks for the informative article. I will be looking to implement some of the suggestions you made on my own WP sites when I have the time.

  21. demetris says:

    Thanks everyone for the comments!

    @ Ricky Buchanan:

    Be careful not to get too obsessed with hard limits though. :-) I know sometimes I do. :-p What I mean is, if your excerpts/summaries are reasonably short but some are still a bit too lengthy for search engines, maybe it’s not worth the trouble rewriting them or shortening them. Leave it to the search engines to deal with the extra length. After all, tomorrow search engines may start displaying up to 200 or 250 characters in their “snippets”. We don’t know.

    @ twincascos:

    You are right, of course. HeadSpace is very flexible, and you can mix any number of the variables it offers in any location. I was tempted to add a couple of paragraphs about this, but the article was already too long.

  22. Thank you very much

    I have read this article thrice and made sure that I implement the suggestions on all my blogs.

    I has really worked very well.

    Thank you for taking time to collect all this information.

  23. huwaw69 says:

    i really liked this tutorial… Very informative and you can do it easily…

  24. M says:

    Wow. This is one of the best posts I’ve ever read. On any subject. Nice job, and thanks!

  25. Very helpful post. Your tips are always clear, concise, and easy to follow. Thanks so much.

  26. Veronica says:

    I am a shiny new blogger and so I find much of the material difficult to digest.

    However, you article was clear, well articulated and summarised.

    You made the topic easy for me to understand.

    Thank you

  27. A great post for learners like us.
    Thank You!!

  28. Jeff Brock says:

    This is a wonderfully crafted post that helped me get a strong grasp of excerpts’ potential. I particularly appreciate the way you structured the post into easily digestible lists.

  29. Greg says:

    Hi Demetris,

    For even more excerpt fun, I’d recommend Greg’s High Performance SEO. Of course I’m totally unbiased (cough), but this plugin gives blog authors even more detailed control over excerpts and how they appear — both on the page and in the head meta section.

    Relative to the other big SEO plugins out there, it also offers vastly higher performance, controlling over 100 separate parameters with only about 600 lines of code executing per ordinary page view — and without resorting to the types of crude output buffer hacks that make many other plugins of this type (including some you mentioned) so brittle and incompatible.

    All the best,
    Greg

  30. João Nunes says:

    The best post on excerpts ever. Congratulations.

  31. Binny V A says:

    Try out my Autofields wordpress plugin. It auto-generates the excerpt based on your text. Optionally, you can turn on a check to make sure you write an excerpt when publishing a post.

  32. demetris says:

    Thanks, Binny!

    I tested Autofields in WordPress 2.8 and it works as advertised. I’ll add it to the list of plugins.

  33. TheGirlPie says:

    I’m about to marry your website.
    This was the most informative, easy-to-grok, helpful post/overview/tutorial/link list I’ve ever read. Or maybe I was just in the mood for it, but swell job — keep up the good works!
    (Hey, if I’ve got All-in-One-SEO-Pack already, should I change to Platinum? Your thoughts, anyone?)
    This is a keeper — thanky!
    ~GirlPie

  34. demetris says:

    @TheGirlPie: Thanks for putting a smile on my face! :-)

    If you’ve got All in One SEO Pack already, I’d say stay with it. The basic functionality is about the same.

  35. ilya says:

    Very interesting reading. thanks!

    How can I make an excerpt with an image to be shown on the front-page but invisible in the meta description tag (cleaned for the meta)?

    I would like to post a few images. I want to have a small thumbnail on the front page next to the excerpt.

  36. demetris says:

    Ilya, that’s an interesting idea.

    There is a plugin, Thumbnail for Excerpts:

    http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/thumbnail-for-excerpts/

    … that adds a thumbnail to the excerpt and that works well with Headspace. That is, the meta description that Headspace generates remains just the excerpt, with no image added.

    However, the problem is how to make WordPress display excerpts on the front page. Excerpt Editor has an option to display excerpts on the front page, but, in my tests at least, this does not work well with Thumbnail for Excerpts. Excerpt Editor seems to override Thumbnail for Excerpts and no images are shown…

    Maybe you could wait until WP 2.9, which comes with an option to add a default thumbnail to a post, and we could see then if any easy solution arises.

    (You could always just edit your theme files to do what you need, but I don’t recommend this because it makes maintenance difficult.)

  37. ilya says:

    Thanks for your reply.

    I have checked thumbnails for excerpts plug-in. Well it is not that flexible. It picks the first picture from the post.

    Greg’s High Performance SEO cleans up excerpt before it puts it into the meta description tag or you can separate the excerpt from the description.

    http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/gregs-high-performance-seo/

    This plug-in it seems to be a workable solution . A thumbnail can be inserted in the excerpt with while GHPSEO will remove it when putting into the description. Still have to test it btw.

  38. Josh says:

    I just noticed that my blog’s feed is showing excerpts instead of the full blog articles and want to remedy that. The only place we should be showing an excerpt is the blog’s front page (which we are through the theme). Could you tell me how to fix this problem?

    Thank you kindly!

  39. demetris says:

    Josh, in your Dashboard, in Settings › Reading there is an option “For each article in a feed, show…”. It controls whether your feed shows summaries or full articles. What have you set it to?

  40. Josh says:

    I have it set as “FULL ARTICLES”. I think this just started as I upgraded to the latest WP 2.8.5

  41. demetris says:

    Josh, I just subscribed to your feed:

    http://feeds.feedburner.com/RealEstateNewsForReal

    … via Google Reader and I’m seeing full articles. Can you check again? Maybe it’s something with your feed reader?

  42. Josh says:

    I’m looking through my FF browser . . .

    Strange . . . it looks fine on Safari, but in FF, it is showing the excerpt. That’s a weird one, no?

  43. Josh says:

    Demetris – Thanks for the help – I really appreciate it! I didn’t know that FF was doing a preview. I’m guessing it is relatively new. Regardless, I’m glad to know everything is on the up and up.

    BTW – are you on Twitter? (I’m @jrdorkin)

  44. demetris says:

    Got it! I’ve never quite understood what exactly Firefox does with this. (Opera does something similar: It cuts articles off after a certain length.) I see now that for op111.net Fx shows just titles and meta descriptions. I think this Firefox feature is a Feed Preview, rather than a Feed Reader.

    In any case, I think there is no reason to worry. If there is some issue with WP and this setting, people will catch it rather quickly, given the number of WordPress installations on the Interwebs. :-)

  45. demetris says:

    You are welcome, Josh! I’m glad we had this opportunity to look into this and make some sense of how different browsers handle it.

    I have a Twitter account but I have never tweeted, not even a single time. :-) If I ever start, I’ll add a link somewhere around here.

  46. bob stepno says:

    Is there a way to feed WordPress blog excerpts to a Facebook group wall? I haven’t seen the right fb or wp widget-plugin-magicwand yet…

    Goal is to get info from here: http://aejmc.net/news
    to appear here:
    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=142227188217&ref=mf

  47. demetris says:

    Welcome, Bob! I don’t use Facebook myself, so I’m afraid I won’t be of much help.

    The only plugin I know that does something like that is Wordbook: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wordbook/

    But it simply sends the first few words of a post to Facebook, along with a (More…) link. That is, teasers and manual excerpts are ignored.

  48. Dave Doolin says:

    Excellent article.

    I wrote a similar article out of frustration a few months ago. I’m going to update with a link and summary of this one.

    Thanks for putting all this together too.

    At this point, I’m thinking it’s easier to simply program what I want rather than to mess around with a bunch of plugins. What I want to do isn’t that difficult anyway, just not supported out of the box.

  49. Victor says:

    Wow, shockingly good write up. I’ve been struggling with how to display categories in a way that was needed for a site I’m working on, this helped a lot.

    Next up, I need to figure out how to display 2 columns of subcategories on one category page.

  50. Vern says:

    Although this is a “narrow” topic, as you say, it is a very important one. Thank you for giving attention to it.

    I already try to include excerpts when I write, but I didn’t know META value or the weight given them by search engines. Because of your detailed write-up, I was encouraged to actually *install* and *use* a couple of the tools you mentioned (I already had PJW Page Excerpt, but had never used it). The other one I installed was HeadSpace.

    @ilya Concerning thumbnails in excerpts on front page: I use Hybrid-News theme on one site and it does this automatically, taking first image in a post and adding it to excerpts.

    Again, thanks Demetris!

  51. Patrix says:

    Thanks for the info on excerpts. Currently I’m dealing with a dilemma. I recently redesigned my theme and show only post titles on my front page. Some readers suggested I also display excerpts. Now I can write in the excerpt field so that it reveals more about the post than the first few words of the post. But I rather make my post title stronger than type in a few more words.

    As a compromise, I was told to make the excerpts available under a collapsible dropdown option. See my movies page. I use a plugin for my movies page. Is there an option like that I can use for my excerpts?

  52. demetris says:

    The show/hide option is certainly possible (the WPtouch plugin/theme does exactly this with excerpts in its default configuration), but I don’t know of any plugin that adds this option to themes for desktop browsers. So you will probably have to custom-code it.

    For what is worth, I like the way you have it now. A show/hide option for excerpts could become more of an annoyance than a convenience. Some people will click on the button expecting to read the full article, but then they will have to click a second time to go the article. Plus, I agree with you that not showing excerpts makes you work harder on your titles, which is good.

  53. Patrix says:

    Ah! Thanks for the vote of confidence in only post-titles. I’ve been trying to explain people how powerful that can be but some insist on reading more :) I guess, they just have to click on the title to read the whole thing.

  54. Christine says:

    Thanks Demetris for a very useful post (I love the font as well)… I have a theme which already brings excerpts and thumbnails of posts on the home page, but I need to bring excerpts and thumbnails of subpages for a given parent page. How do I do that? With a plug-in? With php code?
    Thanks in advance for the help!

  55. demetris says:

    @Christine: I am not aware of any plugin that does exactly what you want. The “AutoNav Graphical Navigation and Gallery Plugin” comes close, I think:

    http://www.wlindley.com/website/autonav/
    http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/autonav/

    It makes a list of subpages with images but it does not support excerpts. Maybe you could ask its author about adding support for excerpts?

  56. Hege says:

    Hi. I have a problem with my layout. I have a layout called News magazine theme and my posts automatically gets excerpted. Is there any way to change this? Please help me

  57. demetris says:

    @Hege: Welcome to op111.net! I’m not familiar with the News Magazine Theme, so I can’t help you with that. Did you ask the theme’s author? Maybe there is an option to display your posts the way you want.

  58. Christine says:

    First of all, Demetris, thanks for your answer to my question… I solved my problem by coding away!!!
    Hege, in answer to your question, I believe your code must say something like:

    change it to:
    to see the full text of a posting… Hope it helps!

  59. demetris says:

    You are welcome, Christine!

    Your code sample seems to be filtered out by the comment form. In any case, I think that directly editing theme code should be a last resort in this case. If I were Hege, I would ask the theme author or try to find a plugin first.

  60. Ryan says:

    Demetris,

    Thank you for this very helpful article on excerpts. I have a specific question about excerpts.

    What I am envisioning is a widget/plugin that would display a teaser quote from each of my posts on a rotating basis in my sidebar. In other words, if I were to select one quotable sentence from each of my posts, it would be great if each of those quotes could rotate through being displayed on my sidebar, as an active link, to draw readers in to past posts.

    I was thinking that Wordpress excerpts would be a great way to do this. If I were to make each post’s excerpt the most interesting sentence/quote from the post, do you know if there’s a plug-in that would then cycle each post’s excerpt through a display on my site? Of course, I’d also need to find a way to make each such quote an active link. But first things first. Any help you can give me would be appreciated.

    Thanks.

  61. demetris says:

    @Ryan: Welcome to op111.net! Random Posts by Rob Marsh can do what you are after (and more).

    How:

    First, install (it’s available on the official WP repository) and activate. Then go to Dashboard, Settings, Random Posts, Output, and put into the “Output template” box this:

    <li><a href="{url}" title="{title}" rel="nofollow">{excerpt}</a></li>

    Save this setting, then go to Widgets and add the Random Posts widget to a sidebar. Adapt its title and the number of random posts to show. You are set!

    Note that Random Posts does not officially support WP 2.7 and 2.8 (it hasn’t been updated for over a year), but it works well in 2.7 and 2.8, and also in WP 2.9. (Good plugins do not break easily.)

  62. Ryan says:

    Very helpful, Demetris. This looks great. Thanks!

    Now I’m trying to figure out if that widget will show a thumbnail for the post too.

    Thanks for your help.

  63. Christine, demetris:

    I have added the capability to display excerpts, and thumbnails in list mode, to the Autonav plugin:

    http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/autonav/

    I hope you will find it useful!

    – William

  64. Hello δκ,

    Question:
    If I have Headspace 2 installed can I do I need to fill in the excerpts with Headspace or do I need to fill in the excerpts to be used by headspace later.

    Kind regards,

    Balder.

  65. demetris says:

    Hello, Balder!

    The functionality of adding excerpts is not offered by HeadSpace2. It comes with WordPress itself. What HeadSpace2 adds relevant to our topic is the option to add individual META descriptions to individual Posts and Pages, if, for some reason, you do not want to use the excerpts as META descriptions.

    If you tell HeadSpace2 to use excerpts as META descriptions, HeadSpace2 does not care how the excerpts were written, or even if there is an excerpt for a post or page. If you use the option %%excerpt_only%%, which is the one I recommend, and a post or page does not have an excerpt, then HeadSpace will simple not add a META description for that post or page.

    Does this answer you question?

  66. Hello δκ,

    Yes and the code %%excerpt_only%% is included with the four percentages signs?

    What kind of code is that?

    Kind regards,
    Balder.

  67. demetris says:

    Yes, exactly like this: Two percentage signs in front and another two at the end. Actually, you don’t have to type it: you can simply copy it from the list Special Tags and then paste it where you want.

    This code is just an internal variable used by HeadSpace2, and it means “excerpt, but only of the manual kind, not the automatic”. Everytime a WordPress post or page is put together to be sent to the browser, this variable is replaced by its value: The manual excerpt if a manual excerpt exists, or nothing at all if a manual excerpt does not exist.

  68. Lorem Ipsum says:

    At last. I’ve known about and ‘preached’ about the virtues of excerpts for ages but until now, I did not realize how little I understood on the topic! Thanks for enlightening me.

  69. Carlos says:

    I’m relatively new to self-hosted wordpress, SEO, feeds, etc., so I’m reading a ton of stuff these days and I must say your article is probably the best I’ve readed so far in terms of clarity and usefulness regarding the topics covered (specifically, the use of excerpts and meta). Quality content like yours takes time to be written, so thanks a lot for taking the time to share your knowledge with the rest of us, it’s really appreciated.

  70. Greg says:

    Nice post. I always thought the excerpts are WP internal and not important for seo..well now i know better and i ll stop implementing the metadescriptions in hard work myself ;) thx, great information!

  71. Miles Rout says:

    Brother, I read your wonderful article before reading all the other crappy articles about wp, and now my expectations are too high…

  72. Varun says:

    i have a theme DePo Masthead on my wordpress blog and it doesn’t seem to recognize excerpts on the home page. it shows then entire post. what all options do i have?

  73. demetris says:

    @Varun: Is that a self-hosted WordPress site or is it on wordpress.com? For a self-hosted site you can install Excerpt Editor and select what you want. For a wordpress.com site, I don’t know.

  74. Varun says:

    wordpress site. as in “.wordpress.com”. thanks anyway! :)

  75. Excellent article. Thank you very much!

  76. Neil says:

    Thanks for this – the clearest explanation of teasers, excerpts and summaries I have found. Now, a little more digging into Meta descriptions….. (I started my website exactly 19 days ago – there’s a lot to learn! :-)

  77. demetris says:

    You are welcome, Neil, and best wishes for your new website.

  78. Thank you, that’s brilliantly explained! I’ll be scanning your site for other handy hints for my new WordPress blog.

  79. Neil says:

    Thanks Demetris – I appreciate it.

  80. Alvin says:

    Great, informative and easy to understand article! Thanks so much!!

    Alvin

  81. Rafael says:

    Thank you for an excellent post. Excerpt Editor rocks.

  82. I was looking at this for our own blog, we are having a heated discussion at work regarding this exact issue. Should we copy content from the body as our excerpt or should we write something completely unique. This article answered that question completely. Thanks and keep up the good writing!

  83. Gouri says:

    Is there a way to get page excerpts or page teasers on the homepage in place of post excerpts/teasers?

  84. Chase says:

    All I can say is, thank god Wordpress Help has a link to YOUR explanation! :)

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