How to Add a Reading Time to WordPress Posts

Reading time is a key feature on many news websites. You'll often see this data displayed on website homepages, and on individual stories. This feature tells visitors how long it will take to finish reading each article.

WordPress may soon offer a “Time to Read” block so you can add this feature to your sites.

This Gutenberg block is already available for early adopters in the WordPress community.And it may be officially added to the WordPress core in a future release.

In this guide, I'll introduce you to this reading time feature, how to use it in WordPress, and some caveats around how accurate this information is.


The reading time feature on Newspaper Sites

The New York Times is the heaviest user of this feature that I could find. It adds the reading time to almost every story on their homepage. For the New York Times, the reading time is one of the three most important pieces of information for each article, alongside the title and main image.

Reading time feature on the New York Times website

This next screenshot is from the homepage of the “Le Monde” website. They are showing “8 min de lecture” underneath some key stories. When you click through to read the full story, the “Time to Read” information is also on the top of the page, just underneath the title.

Reading time feature on the Le Monde website

National Geographic doesn't show the reading time on the homepage, but they do show it on every individual story. In this screenshot below, the reading time is next to the publication date.

Reading time feature on the National Geographic website

How to Use the Time to Read Block in WordPress

The “Time to Read” block is not yet part of the WordPress core, but you can access this block by installing the Gutenberg plugin. After installing that plugin, the “Time to Read” block is available inside the block editor.

Time to Read Block in WordPress

The block is currently quite basic and provides just the time. So the block output will be “3 minutes” or “6 minutes”. If you want to add text before the block, you could use a column block to add the text into the left column. This screenshot shows a simple example:

Reading time block in a WordPress posts

This first version of the block has limited settings, including the text color and font size. It's highly likely that more features will be added to this block if it's added to the WordPress core.

Time to Read block settings

Limitations of the Time to Read Block

There are some limitations to note with this block. A key issue with the “Time to Read” block is that the data can never be entirely accurate. Different people read at different speeds. And the calculations are often different. I copy-pasted several New York Times articles into WordPress and always got a different time from the one shown on NYTimes.com.

These accuracy problems are worse with languages that don't have spaces between words. For example, the current version doesn't deal very well with posts in Chinese. A Github user explains how time is currently calculated by the block:

This block calculates the number of characters or words, taking into account the site language count type (words | characters_excluding_spaces | characters_including_spaces) first, in order to calculate the reading time. It simply divides that number by the “average rate of reading per minute”.

There are more sophisticated codebases available to calculate reading time, and we may seen one of those added to the “Time to Read” block in the future.


Reading Time plugins

There are several plugins available that add reading time features to your site. Here are a couple that I can recommend:

  • Reading Time WP: There's no Gutenberg block, but this plugin can automatically add the reading time to your posts. It has some good customization options and provides shortcodes.
  • Read Meter: This was probably my favorite plugin. It's customizable and allows you to choose the reading speed. It also offers a visual progress bar. Users can see the progress bar on the top or bottom of their posts, and it moves forward as they read.

Both of these plugins have similar limitations to the “Time to Read” block. There's definitely room here for better support of languages that don't use the Roman alphabet.


Reading Time Summary

You can follow along with the progress of the “Time to Read” block on Github.

If you use the official “Time to Read” block, or one of the alternative WordPress plugins, it's best to think of it as general guidance for your visitors. If you understand the limitations, this feature can be a helpful addition to your sites. Together with other information such as the Last Modified Date, you can give your readers important context about your posts.

  • Steve Burge

    Steve is the founder of PublishPress. He's been working with open source software for over 20 years. Originally from the UK, he now lives in Sarasota in the USA. This profile is generated by the PublishPress Authors plugin.

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