It’s impossible to post every story in full on an online publication homepage. That’s where excerpts come in.

The problem is finding the perfect length to encourage visitors to read more while not taking up too much space on the page.

While there’s no set excerpt length, there are several ways to determine how many characters or lines an excerpt should be. Every online publication will have their own strategy based on their audience.

Make It Descriptive

Many sites only show the first sentence or part of the first sentence in the excerpt. That works well if that single sentence explains what the article or story is about. Ask your clients if they were visiting another site and read that single sentence, would they click to read the entire story?

If not, then it’s time to focus on writing a custom excerpt that’s just long enough to describe the story without giving anything away. If it takes two sentences to get the job done, that’s the length the excerpt should be. Another option is to manually pick a descriptive quote or line from the story that makes visitors eager to read more.

Skip The Defaults

When using WordPress, the default excerpt length is 55 characters. This is counted from the beginning of a story. If your clients are writing stunning stories that grab a reader’s attention in the first few sentences, all that needs to be done is increase the default length.

Of course, that creates a second problem. Cutting the excerpt at a specific character length could result in a break in the middle of sentence or word. The best ways to overcome this issue are to ensure the intro sentences are always within a set character count or manually enter an excerpt for each story that varies in character count.

Stay Consistent

The one rule of thumb no matter what is to stay consistent. Advise your clients to always keep all excerpts the same length. It creates a more professional look and prevents some stories from looking more important. Longer excerpts may be appropriate if they’re tied to stories in larger content sections, such as the latest stories listed above the fold or in the header.

Excerpts don’t have to be exactly the same length. For instance, if it’s based on a character count, the publication might choose a range such as 55-75 characters or a set number of lines, such as two lines below the headline.

Base It On Space

Every story fits into a pre-sized content block. These may vary based on the section they’re in. For instance, the top stories likely have a larger section than stories listed within sub-categories on the homepage. Each block only has so much space to fit the headline, an image (if applicable) and an excerpt. Many online publications choose their excerpt length based on how much room is left after the headline and image.

As needs change or if readers want larger or smaller excerpts, the layout could be changed via a layout plugin. These can be used not just by you, but by your clients with just a little training.

Analyze Visitor Behavior

Some audiences may require shorter or longer excerpts to grab their attention and make them want to read the entire story. The only real way to determine what works best for the target audience is to test varying excerpt lengths. For instance, use analytics software such as Google Analytics to see how many clicks stories get with a two line excerpt over a set period. Do the same test again with a one line excerpt. Understanding visitor preferences is a major factor in choosing the overall length.


Visiting different popular online publications proves that there’s no single excerpt length that works for everyone. Each publication is successful because they chose the right length for their specific audience. Use factors such as available space, visitor behavior and excerpt usefulness to choose the right length for an individual publication.

Need an easy way to adjust spacing in the layout? Find out how the Conductor plugin makes layout changes easier than ever.

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