How to rethink the default WordPress next/previous links


One of the toughest things to do is question standards. When something works a certain way, all the time, it’s difficult to question whether it is working the way it should be. When something is, it’s hard to ask if it should be.

In this case, I’d like to question the behavior of the next/previous post archive links that WordPress sites tend to use. Step back for a second, and consider whether this really makes sense:

The way most WordPress sites display post navigation.

In this tutorial we’re going to make these links a little more human.

Let’s step back and think about how these links should operate. We reach the bottom of the list of posts, and now have two options: view older posts or more recent posts.

So let’s use the words “older” and “newer”. This is the modified PHP that we’ll use:

<?php posts_nav_link('','Newer Posts','Older Posts'); ?>

This would change our example above to look like this:

CSS will effect how your links look, of course. If you would like an easier way to control your post navigation, as well as pagination, check out the WP-PageNavi Plugin.

The new default WordPress theme, Twenty Ten, serves up these links in this more human way, which is great. But there are plenty of bad examples out there. Forget “previous.” Think “older.” Forget “next. “Think “newer” or “more recent.”

A conceptual tutorial

This was more of a conceptual tutorial than anything else. Changing our thinking is just as important as learning to sling code, and arguably harder.

Have you ever considered this problem before? Are there any other WordPress defaults that are worth reconsidering?

5 thoughts on “How to rethink the default WordPress next/previous links

  1. I’ve often been confounded by the Next/Previous links, not only in WP templates, but on other types of sites as well. If I’ve been browsing for a few minutes and get distracted I end up over thinking which direction I had been browsing once my attention is turned back to the page. It seems like it should be simple, but I agree with you that it is a convention that should be re-examined. The simple text change to Older/Newer is much clearer.

  2. I think that a good way to label these links would be “Back” and “More”. Back only appears on pages > 1 and would always direct users to the page which they came from (except in rare examples where a paged archive is deep linked). “More” simply stands for “More results like this” -> if you didn’t find what you are looking for, here’s some more stuff to look at.

    • “More” makes sense to me. But “Back” only makes sense within a certain context. If someone jumps in at page 3 of an archive list, for instance, “Back” won’t make any sense. In that case, with that sort of visitor, I think “Older” and “Newer” makes more sense.

    • I agree, but can you think of a logical reason that someone would ever deeplink to page 3 of a collection of archived posts? IMO it is rather pointless to do so as the posts presented in the archive will never be the same (on regularly updated sites at least).

      IMO, “Older” and “Newer” present a conflict of context. There are two contexts in which these terms have meaning: that of the site and that of the reader. In the site’s context, a collection of “Newer” posts generally means “Content that was created after to the content currently being viewed”. To a reader the concept of “Newer” can take on a totally different context. Upon seeing “New” a reader might think that the link means “New stuff that I haven’t read yet” and be confused that the link takes them to content they have already viewed.

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