Why a Table of Contents Matters In Your Blog Posts

When a blog post gets too long, it’s always good to have a table of contents at the ready. In fact, there are several benefits behind why you would want one added to your site.

Depending on the type of content you create and your target audience, the difference could be night and day.

Today, I’m going to explain why you want to add the table of contents and a couple of ways you can do it in WordPress.

 

What is a Table of Contents?

A table of contents is a list of important headings within a piece of text or video. This could be in the form of chapters for a novel or content-specific sections within an eBook or website.

The idea is to give the reader a way to find exact information within any written or video material.

A good example of a table of contents is the one that is showing on this blog post above. It gives those who are just looking for specific information quick access to those sections of the content.

With a simple click, the reader can jump immediately to those segments.

Another example is how Google may time-stamp videos from YouTube to help viewers find specific parts.

YouTube Writing Tips
At one point, Google was showing time stamps on my video.

In any case, a list of points within the content can make the difference for how you engage the audience.

How a Table of Contents Impacts Blog Posts

Having an available list does more than just highlight what an article is about. In reality, it can offer quite a few benefits when it comes to engaging visitors.

So, why would you want to put a table of contents within your website’s posts?

Presents a Nice Layout

For one thing, tables often present a nice, clean layout of what content is covered in the article. This means people can see exactly what points you make and what information you’re sharing.

And if you create one using a plugin, you may also stylize the appearance to make it stand out or match your theme’s visual scheme.

Of course, this also depends on what plugin you choose. In a moment, I’ll show you the one I use for this website. But it really all comes down to what works best for what you’re trying to accomplish.

Makes it Easier to Find Specific Information

Statistically speaking, about 55% of visitors will only read your post for 15 seconds. And many of these people leave because they either can’t find what they’re looking for or they don’t think the post provides enough detail.

When you add a table of contents, you can help reduce this number by letting people see and click exact information. Just make sure your headings are detailed regarding the sections of content.

At any rate, it makes it easier for people to understand what the article contains.

Potential to Improve On-Page Time

Speaking of 15 seconds, one of the most important metrics of Google Analytics is on-page time. This tells you if the average person is fulling reading the content or if you need to revamp the piece.

If the visitor can see that one of your sections does, indeed, contain what he or she is looking for, it may improve how long the visitor stays on your site. And this contributes to appearing higher in Google search results.

I say “potential” because the visitor may see that the content doesn’t contain the information he or she wants. At that rate, you’ll need to re-examine your article if the page experiences a very short “Time On Page” in Analytics.

Tracking What Segments are More Vital

Having a table of contents does more than just show what content you have available on a page. You can also create tags and use tracking methods to see what parts are clicked on the most.

How does this help you? By showing you what visitors are finding the most important within the article. This can help you write new and more in-depth pieces of content to keep those visitors reading.

There’s a number of ways you can add tracking to internal links. You could also install heatmapping plugins and get a visual of where visitors are clicking in the table of contents.

Potential to Improve Bounce Rates

Your on-page time isn’t the only metric that is impacted by a table. Keep in mind, you have a very short amount of time to convince someone to stay on your site. And a list of headers may prevent some of those people from “bouncing” out.

That’s because the table should highlight the vital components of the topic. Instead of forcing someone to skim, he or she can just click the link in the table and be taken directly to the information.

On the other hand, the visitor can also see that the article does not contain the information he or she is seeking. At which point, a bounce will most likely occur. However, I find the potential to gain a viewer is better than not having a table at all.

Creating a Table of Contents with WordPress

More than one-third of sites on the Internet are powered by WordPress. That’s because it’s incredibly powerful, flexible, and customizable. In this case, it also offers a couple of easy ways to add a content table.

There are two simple ways to create a table of contents in WordPress. You can either use anchor links, which requires a tiny bit of HTML knowledge. Or, you can use a plugin.

Either method will produce great results.

Using Anchor Links

An anchor link is one that allows the user to jump to specific areas of a website. This is done by adding a hashtag to the link and then setting the “id” of where you want the link to jump.

For example, let’s say that I want to add an anchor link to jump from here back to the top of this article. Instead of a URL in the link, I would use a hashtag.

The link code would look like:
<a href=”#back-to-top“>Back to top text</a>

Then, I would add an id code to the header I want to link. In this case, it would be the “What is a Table of Contents?” header.

The code would look like:
<h2 id=”back-to-top“>What is a Table of Contents?</h2>

Now, if anyone clicked the link, they would be taken to where ever I placed the id.

You can also use the id element in things like paragraphs, or: <p id=”back-to-top”>. This means you can create anchor links to other areas that are not headers.

To make a table of contents in this fashion, you would want to create a list of clickable text at the beginning using ids for all your headers and important areas of the site.

Using a Plugin

Perhaps the easiest way to add a table of contents is through the use of an add-on. In my case, I use the LuckyWP Table of Contents plugin.

LuckyWP Table of Contents
LuckyWP Table of Contents Settings

It’s a free tool that gives you everything you need to create a professional layout for your tables. You can set it to work automatically should your article have more than a set number of headers, or use a shortcode to enter it manually.

You also have a variety of behavior options such as ignoring headers if they start with a specific word, colors, font size, where the auto insert is placed, using custom post types, and a whole lot more.

This way, I don’t have to worry about creating anchor texts or spending time to set up a table of contents. It’s all done automatically if there are more than 5 headers in a blog post.

After all, I don’t really need a table of contents if an article only has 300 words and two headers.

 

Does Every Post Need a Table of Contents?

When deciding on creating a table, realize that not every piece of content may need one. Then again, this is really user preference. You can choose to share what you like. And your audience may like the quick jumps to specific content.

However, I usually err on the side of keeping things as easy as possible for visitors.

As a rule of thumb, I won’t include a content table if it’s less than 1000 words or has less then 5 headings. Otherwise, I feel it’s a bit of a waste of space on the page and really unnecessary.

But as I said, this is completely up to you and what you’re site’s audience wants. Every blog is different.

Floating or Stationary?

A floating table of contents is one that stays in view as visitors scroll throughout the content. This can be a great way to jump around to various parts of a super-long blog post for exact information.

A stationary table remains fixed in place on the page itself. An example of this is the content table on this webpage.

Which works best for you is another one of those user-preference things. I can see how having a floating ToC is helpful for pages with tens of thousands of words and many headers.

Sidebar or In-Content?

When setting up a content table, you can do so within the content itself or in the sidebar. To put this into perspective, this blog post has it above within the content.

Using a table within the sidebar would keep the main post shorter, but may create confusion if the visitor isn’t accustomed.

You can also create a floating sidebar element using certain plugins. This works in a similar fashion to a floating table of contents using a plugin, but, it’s tucked into the sidebar instead of out in the open website.

It probably wouldn’t hurt to experiment with any of these elements to find the perfect fit for your site. I know I did several variations until I decided on the simple in-content table.

Make the Blog Easier to Skim

Even adding a simple table of contents can make all the difference for your users. This is especially true if you have a knack for writing very long articles. Why not make it easier for guests to skim and find what they’re looking for?

It could very well lead to more engagement, subscribers, and a better position in Google search.

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Michael Brockbank

Michael has been a freelance writer since January of 2012. He has completed more than 8,000 jobs for a variety of clients ranging from animals to travel. Currently, he is the Content Marketing Team Lead of GreenGeeks Web Hosting.

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