I look at indexes in three different ways - there are indexes to display short term (or recent) information and those to display older (or archived) information. Both of these indexes are used to create another style I call "The Hook" - or the way that you want to display to NEW readers what's going on at your site. (Because existing readers are already familiar with what you've talked about recently) In the age of information overload, you want to make it easier for people who come across your site to decide if they want to follow you. Archived information is all that stuff that you've ever talked about - painting tips from five years ago are still relevant today, don't let them disappear into obscurity.
Thor, over at Creative Twilight also has a similar topic this week as he talks about Improving Your Homepage.
These are usually the only methods I see people using to organize their blogs. All the effort you go to to write detailed posts full of useful information - you don't want that to go to waste, do you? Sure, people currently subscribing to your blog will see everything you talk about, but wouldn't you want someone new to your site to find it later on, or have a way that current readers can come back to older data?
As I'm interested in hobby articles instead of tactics and lists, I can usually flip through a bunch of old post titles and labels and get an idea what a blog is about.
Chronological Index (bad, by itself)
It's still not a bad idea to have an archive like this as it's a quick way to see what's been going on recently or at a certain time, but more needs to be done so your readers can find your old posts.
If the topic section is too large, they all blend together and become overwhelming. This should be a quick way for someone to see what your blog is about and choose a category to read that grabs their attention.
Recent Articles (not bad)
Since it only shows recent articles, it doesn't make for a good index, however, like the two methods above they're good hooks to get new readers interested in your site by showing them what you're about quickly.
While information on recent posts show new readers what you've been up to lately, there's other information you might want to display that has no value at all to long term storage, but is still a great way to show new readers what's interesting at your site.
This is a "Popular Posts" widget from Blogger, though other platforms may have their own plugins - or, you can create your own HTML list of links to what you feel are your best articles.
|via Creative Twilight|
|via 3++ Is the New Black|
New readers who see bits of conversations currently going on about your posts may want to jump right in and start sharing their thoughts as well.
Every site needs these options, and most sites haven't added them. These are the reasons to keep people coming back to your page, to ensure things you write aren't forgotten or lost and the most helpful to new and old readers alike.
Self Made Topical Index (really good)
Google Blogger gives you access to 10 pages for your own use and a "Pages" widget lets you create a nice bar of links, like my "Recent, Step by Step, Techniques, etc".
Other sites might allow more pages and you can always use a blog post as a page. (Just create a dummy post and go back and edit it whenever you want to do an update - clicking the title of a post will take you directly to it so you can get it's web address.)
Once you have these pages created, fill them with useful information that links to old posts. It's really easy if you update your indexes every time you post something. You can see my "Techniques" tab in the image, showing how I've organized my older posts by category. Because of my indexing system, someone can come to my blog, click on Step by Step, Techniques, Supplies, Musings, Resources, whatever information they're after or interested in, and quickly find what they're looking for.
This is something that really begins to make your blog stand out as more than just a place to talk about stuff that a week from now, nobody will remember. Now you're adding features of websites to ensure your information is always relevant.
Reference old posts whenever you have the chance. If you're talking about how awesome your new light is for your work area, throw in a "...and it makes photographing my miniatures a lot better too!" (obviously with a link) People are reading your blog because they're interested - if you have articles that go hand in hand with what you're talking about, send people there. This also keeps people at your site longer, and gets them more interested in who you are and what you have to say.
Additionally, link to other people's works. More perspectives are a good thing, even if they do it different than you - everyone learns and works differently, so don't discount the opinions of others and keep in mind that some people need visuals (lots of pictures) while others learn better from detailed notes. (which is why a mix of both is good) Either way, it shows you're part of the community and aware of what's going on - people will recognize what you're doing and probably start linking to your stuff as well.
Underline Links (very helpful)
To make all your references stand out better, make sure your links are underlined. For the longest time I didn't, and adding underlining to links really does make them stand out. If you're on Blogger, click "Design" then "Edit HTML" and search for the following:
Just find "a:link", "a:visited" and "a:hover" then modify the section "text-decoration:" to look like it does above. (Leave the "color:" line alone, even if it is spelled wrong)