Bloggers want to know: how long should my blog posts be? Sorry, but there simply is no right answer to that question.
Two things happened yesterday.
First, I published a short post for the Chamber of Commerce on how business writing should be short. Here is an excerpt from my article:
That’s how your business writing should be: concise and to the point. Sure, make it chatting and personable, if you like. Business writing doesn’t have to sound formal. But there is no need to throw in a whole lot of extra words. Offer less, but they get more. Not more words, but more value – like the 100-calorie Kit Kat bars.
Second, I commented on a friend’s long post that, among other things, recommended that blog posts should be long. Here is an excerpt from Sherman Smith’s article:
So starting towards the end of 2013 I started writing post that were over 1,000 words. And guess what happened? I started to get more traffic as you probably have guessed. From what I’ve seen, writing a 1,000 words is the bare minimum as far as getting decent traffic and ranking. writing between 1500 and 2500 words each post would be more substantial.
So how long should a blog post be? This is one of those questions that has been driving bloggers crazy for years. We humans seem to need to quantify everything. We assume there is an ideal height to be and an ideal number of hours per day to engage in light fitness and an ideal amount of vitamin D to consume each day. And an ideal number of words per blog post.
For starters, there are too many factors to consider.
What type of post is it? If it is a tutorial, the length of the article will depend on how many words it takes to carefully describe each step, leaving nothing out and adding in nothing that might confuse the reader. If the post is a review, a lot depends on the complexity of the product, service, movie or book being reviewed. If it is an editorial, how complex is the issue, and how much background do you have to give (and how much of that background needs to be in the article versus how much can be hyperlinked to)? If it is a case study, how much happened? There are so many types of blog posts, each requiring a different length depending on factors unique to that type.
Who is the audience? Is the audience busy? Are they already overloaded with information? The busier and more overloaded the audience, the more concise you need to be. Unless you have truly earth-shattering news (Have you cured cancer?) or information they can’t live without (No, really – will they lose their professional license if they don’t read your post?), or you are THE authority on the matter and they hang on your every word, short is better than long.
We seem to have entered an arms race – a rush to longer and longer posts – and I wonder where it will stop. In this age of information overload, I tend to gloss right over uber-long posts. Sorry, I have only 24 hours in a day. Fewer if I sleep.
What’s your style? It is critical that you write in a consistent style. When you meet people, they get to know you by the tone of your voice, your posture and many other intangibles. When they read you, all they have to go on is your writing style. Whatever that style may be, that will to some degree determine the length of your posts. Let it flow naturally. Here is some good advice about finding your blogging voice.
What’s the topic? Some topics beg for long-windedness. Others just beg for getting to the point. It’s OK to have one blog post that runs past 2000 words and another that runs under 500 words. Don’t sweat it. What counts is that the reader enjoys the post and finds it useful. Don’t throw in too much for them to enjoy. Don’t leave out anything they need to enjoy it. And don’t include fluff to reach some arbitrary ideal of how long you might think a blog post should be. Because whatever length that is, it is wrong.
Now, let me contradict myself. A post of 2000 words, followed by a post of 400 words, followed by a post of 1000 words, followed by a post of 500 words could be confusing to your readers. As with every other aspect of branding, it is wise to be predictable. Hopping from one extreme to another could make it hard for readers to connect with who you are. I used some fairly extreme numbers just to make a point.
It’s probably best to stick to either long-form, medium-form or short-form, or at least categorize posts accordingly (visually and textually) if you do wish to vary widely. In fact, if there is such thing as an ideal length for a blog post, it is this: what your readers are used to. And that might even mean publishing one short post daily, but inserting a longer Tutorial Tuesday or a weekly “Digging Deep” column into your editorial calendar.
Instead of focusing on word count, focus on the big idea. What is it you want to get across? How do you want your readers to feel? What action do you want them to take? Focus all your creative juices on reaching that goal, and your blog post will end up having just the right number of words.
But what about the facts?
But is it true that longer content tends to get shared more? Is it true that longer content tends to get linked to more? Is it true that the search engines rank longer content higher?
Yes, longer content tends to get shared more.
Yes, longer content tends to get linked to more.
Yes, the search engines rank longer content higher (probably because it tends to get more shares and more links).
But that does not mean that the length of the text is what earns those shares, those links and those rankings. Longer content tends to have the advantage because it tends to be more substantial. Just making it longer won’t make it better. Making it more substantial might.
Over the past 10-15 years, I have seen many trends on the Internet, as marketers try to dissect data and copy what seems to be working best. The data shows that article marketing works? OK, let’s do more of it. Oops, now we have a duplicate content problem. The data shows that article spinning takes care of duplicate content? Sure, let’s send out thousands of the same article.
The data says that longer content ranks better? Let’s add more words.
Don’t get me wrong; data can be extremely useful. But data-driven communications sucks. Sorry, that’s the only word for it. The “ideal” length for blog posts overall is not the ideal length for each blog post.
Consider what would happen if a Walmart store inventory manager decided to stock shoes based on the ideal size. They make the most sales of size 9 shoes for men and size 7 shoes for women. So the manager orders only those two sizes, because they sell the best. Surely that will mean the store will sell more shoes, right?
Let’s pause for a moment while we ponder this career-ending calamity.
I’ve written some long posts. I’ve written some short posts. I don’t obsess over my numbers, but I can tell you that I have not seen a sudden drop in engagement or shares from short posts, nor a sudden leap of traffic when I publish a longer post.
Long posts do have one advantage – sometimes. If your post is really the ultimate guide or resource to something, so complete that people want to link to it as a resource, it will get more inbound links (assuming you have the network and the time and the patience and whatever else it takes to reach out to other bloggers in a really, really big way). Again, that does not mean every post needs to be 2500 words or longer.
I just checked the word count on my Chamber of Commerce article. It turns out that it is not as short as I thought. 666 words is not considered long anymore, but I’m not sure that qualifies as “short”, either.
So what’s your strategy? Do you aim for a specific length? How focused are you in reaching that length? Do you ever publish outlier posts, much shorter or much longer than your normal posts? If so, do you do anything special to make them “fit in”. Do you think I’m a luddite to dispense with data so easily? Should this post have been shorter (Do I talk too much)?