Front page display : static page or latest post?

Hi guys,


I am in the process of launching a new web serial (due to begin in June http://thestarviator.wordpress.com/).


I was wondering what people thought about the Front Page (I am using Wordpress) - should it be a static page (with buttons that people click to the first chapter or the latest chapter) or should it be the latest post?


I can see advantages in both (for new readers you want to start at the beginning, not come in at chapter XX, but for established readers they want to see the latest post).


What do you have on your site?


Thanks in advance


Bruce


I have a Home page that's static with links to each story, and I have a New Chapters tab for the latest post -- that way new readers know what they're getting into without seeing a recent chapter to give things away out of order, but previous readers know where to go to find new stuff.


I personally dislike the home page being the latest chapter, it's not helpful to a new reader and even if I'm a repeat reader I might not necessarily be on the most recent page -- I like table of contents as well.


What you've got is a classic web development question: Who's my web site's main audience?


The question of what you put on you website's front page basically depends on who you expect to be reading it, and what you want them to do afterward.


Basically an online serial has two major groups in the audience:


1. People who are already reading. These are the people who will be most pleased to discover your most recent update is on the front page. That way they won't have to click through to read it.


2. People who might read your serial. These are the people who will be trying to answer the question "Do I want to read this?" For them, a static page as front page will likely be best--as long as it has the equivalent of a book's back cover available.


Here's what I do personally:


Most of the people who hit my site already read the story. As a result, I made my front page dynamic, showing excerpts of the most recent posts and a link to the full post. This allows them to easily pick up where they last left off--some readers come back weekly or even less often, and catch up all at once.


There are potential new readers showing up all the time, however. For them, I've put a link to the first page of my story on the front page. I've also made links to the "About" page, the "Cast" page, and the "About the Author" page prominent in the main menu.


That said, I've outgrown my website's current layout. I've got to redesign it. Here's what I'm planning to do:


Make it a static page, but one that shows an excerpt of the most recent post (and a link) as well as links (but no excerpts) to the most recent 5 posts. I also plan to include a paragraph that explains the series and a link to the first page of the story.


My point is simply that both static and dynamic pages can work provided you pay attention to the needs of both your current, and your potential audiences.


My site is probably not the best example to use, but it's the only one I've got, so...


Eviscerati.Org has a lot of different kinds of content on it--essays, webcomics, and serials. So the front page is sort of a running list of what has been recently updated, with a section on top where I can "pin" whatever I want to be featured at any given time. It then has landing pages for specific content, so eviscerati.org/comics takes you to just my comics, and eviscerati.org/fiction takes you to just my fiction.


Each fiction project has a landing page that lists the most recent update and contains the complete table of contents, so someone can start at the beginning if they want. So if you go to curveballchronicles.com (which redirects to eviscerati.org/fiction/curveball) you'll see a snippet of text from Part One of the Sickness Within (Issue 10) and to the right you'll see the entire list of posts so far. (Incidentally, that worked well for Pay Me, Bug! and is working ok for The Points Between but it's going to break down with Curveball pretty soon--I need a new plan there).


As someone who reads a lot of webfiction (i.e. editor on this site), I STRONGLY advise you against simply linking to the most recent chapter, unless your posts are standalone short stories that are in no way dependent upon being read in a certain order, and you don't care if someone only reads the current post and then wanders off never again to return.


For serial webfiction, I think it's fine for an author to simply link from here to the story's first chapter, as long as each chapter is linked to the next and previous chapters. A home/landing page with a table of contents linking to all available chapters is even better, in my opinion, because you can see what you're in for, from a reader's perspective, and you can navigate to any chapter you want to read. If you really want to feature what you've posted most recently, I like Jim's suggestion about how to highlight it. And please don't put any spoilers in the highlight, for those of us who live to be surprised!


On my page, I link first to a landing page containing a list of all currently available chapters as clickable links. Glad you asked about this, and sorry to unload about my pet peeves!

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Super: Sci-fi/Suspense/Adventure, with Superheroes


Thank you all for your advice! Static page it is.


I'm used to reading webcomics and blogs, so I like seeing the latest post first, even if I'm new to the story, with easy access to chapter one on the main page. That's how I formatted my online novel as well and it's worked for me so far. I figured if people are used to reading things like facebook, twitter, and tumblr where the latest bit of information is shown first, that's how they'd expect to read an online novel as well? I could be wrong.


I can see the benefit in having a static front page for an online novel site - I guess it might be weird to be presented with Chapter 17 or something. On t'other hand, people are pretty used to blogs by now, so I can't imagine it would be a crippler. When I get a static page on a site, I think I instinctively click for the blog index link anyway.


I'm going through a similar angst myself, though it's exceptionally difficult because after not redesigning my site for 12 years, I'm finally doing a revamp and find myself trying to decide whether to convert a site with 2200+ static HTML pages (and those are just the installment pages, not the background stuff) to Wordpress, or... not. But that's a different topic.


Starting in 2001, about four years after I began, I've always included a brief excerpt of my current episode on my homepage, as well as spotlighted a section for newcomers giving them a few different ways to dive into the story (e.g., going straight the first episode, reading season recaps, checking out the FAQ, or just looking through the episode archives to pick their own journey). I should mention my work is a true serial (not a serialized novel, in other words), so things are pretty open-ended and I don't insist on readers going any one path through all 1.3 million words of the site.


The way I came up with these options is trial and error, and knowing how people make their way through my site. The best way to do that is checking your statistics if you have access to them; of course, that assumes we're not talking about a brand new site. For example, in my experience in reading my site stats, many, many of my visitors read the current episode, going through the homepage link, then (rather astonishingly) seem to be interested enough to go all the way back to the first episode and read the whole dang thing! And some of these episodes are 17K words! Takes them anywhere from six weeks to three months to run the gauntlet that is the "About Schuyler Falls" archives, but they do, bless them! OTOH, some go from the current episode to catching up via my season summaries, certainly a much less arduous task. (Still others read the summaries up until the latest season, then read the full episodes from there.)


So I think, as Jim recommended, a hybrid of options is what's worked for me. Current readers have the benefit of being able to get easily to the newest episode, and new folks get a variety of choices that are pretty clear-cut. And yet, many of them still pick the newest one, go figure.


Far as I'm concerned as both a reader and a writer who's been checking webserials out since 1996, the more options you offer, the better. Online readers are as varied as webfiction itself, and giving folks a host of different ways to get into your serial really shows an understanding of what this medium is all about: people tend to choose their own path on the web, and they like it that way!



I do try and make it easy for people to find the content they are looking for. Right across the top of every page on the website is a menu bar that links to various subpages. Also, one of the first things on the main page is a statement describing where to click to find out what is new, where to click for a listing of everything in suggested reading order, or where to click just to find stories within a specific series.


But the main page, other then the occasional cosmetic tweak, is for the most part left alone. It is the "cover" of the book that is my website, as it were.