Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Blogger's "static" Pages are more trouble than they're worth

Blogger's "static" or stand-alone pages have some benefits - but also a number of disadvantages.   Use them sparingly!


Previously I've described the Pages feature that Blogger introduced in February 2010, and the differences between Pages and Posts.

There are times when stand-alone Pages are a handy feature.

But overall I've decided that the disadvantages are a lot greater than the advantages.  From now on, any blogs that I work on will get horizontal menu bars made from Link-list gadget, or perhaps just menus made with HTML, and the vast majority of content will go into Posts not Pages.

Here's why.

The Page title is the Menu-bar value

When you create a page (Dashboard > Pages > New Page), you can
  • Give it a title, 
  • Write the content, 
  • Allow viewer comments or not
  • Handle <br />'s (or not)
  • Say whether any HTML in the page is interpreted (ie used to control the display), or displayed (the code vales, not their effects, are always shown).
Blogger has standard rules for how the items that you enter are turned into HTML.  In particular, the Page-title (and Post-title too) is given a H3 (header three) tag.   And this particular tag is very important to the search-engines, so bloggers who care about whether the search-engines find their blog or not pay quite a bit of attention to the words in the title.

The problem is that the Page title is also the value that's put on the menu bar if you are giving access to your Pages with the Pages-gadget (and most people are):

That's ok, if you use only a short-ish titles.

The HTML behind the Pages gadget used an un-ordered list:  this it what lets it display horizontally if it's in the header, and vertically if it's in the sidebar.   But when it's horizontal, if the values are longer than one line then it simply spills onto the next line.   This can happen if a viewer had a low screen resolution - or if you've used lots of search-engine friendly key-words in the Page-titles:

And there's the crux of the problem:  since the Page-title is the H3 header, it needs to be long and descriptive to give the search engines a good chance of finding your page.  But make it long, and the Pages gadget looks awful, and is confusing for viewers.

Of course I could use Pages, and build a menu-bar to access them using a linked-list gadget (or even just HTML for a table).  But if I'm doing that, it's just as easy to make the menu-bar "items" out of Posts as it is from Pages - and using Posts avoids the disadvantages which Pages have (eg not included in the RSS feed, no Labels, etc).

Other problems:

There are some other problems with Pages, including:

An unclear name:   

Blogger decided to call the feature that they introduced "Pages".  Most help-article writers outside of Google used the phrase "static pages", to make a clear distinction between these new "pages" and the existing main page, layout-page, archive-page (not to mention the way that "page" refers to a screen in most websites).  But there are still dozens, maybe hundreds, of official help articles from Google, and unofficial ones from the rest of us, that refer to "Pages" in the older screen-full-of-text sense.

User confusion:

New Blogger users see Pages, and assume that it's possible to put blog-posts onto the individual pages, just like you can put content into pages in other websites.   Some spend a lot of time looking for ways to do this - time which IMHO would be better spent just adapting to Blogger's way of working, or moving to another tool that has native support for classical web-pages if that's what they really need.

RSS Feed:

Pages aren't included in a blog's RSS feed - a new page is not notified to Followers or feed-subscribers.


When the feature was first introduced, Pages weren't included in exported blog-content files.  So the only way to back them up, or even transfer them to another blog, was to manually copy the contents.   (This feels like the sort of thing that Google might quietly fix - I haven't tested to see if they have or not.)

No labels or date:

Static-pages don't have Labels or dates, so there's no way for them to be included in the display shown on Archive or Label pages. This also confuses some readers.  It also means that a Page can never be used as the target page for any of the standard tricks that can be used to give your blog a "home page".


None of the individual problems were enough to make me stop using Pages.

But the combined effect of the SEO / header-display problem and all the other issues means that I now believe that
"Static-pages are trouble than they're worth."
I'll still use the page-gadget area in designer templates to make my own horizontal menu bar, because I rather like the way that linked lists are formatted in most of the templates.  I might even make it look like I've put posts into pages using this menu.   And I'll happily use Pages to display the results of Google Custom Searches (since there's no need for these to be fed, backed-up etc)

But I won't be pointing to any new stand-alone pages made with the Posting > Edit Pages menu.

Related Articles:

Blogger's Static-Pages feature

Putting Posts into your Pages

Google Custom Searches - putting one into your blog

The differences between Pages and Posts

Blogs, Blogger and bloggers; Post, Pages and Screens:  some basic definitions

Giving your blog a "home page".

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