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What's the Optimal Length for a Blog Post?
Posted on May 28th 2014
One question that’s always asked about blogging is ‘What is the optimal length for a blog post?’ It’s a logical question to ask – if you’re looking to invest more time into boosting your online presence, you need to have some idea of how much time it'll take. Best length and posting frequency are the two questions that come up time and time again, and the difficult thing with both is there is no right answer. Different studies will show different results based on certain aspects and perspectives, and those will indicate one idea is better than the other, but the fact is there is no one universal approach that will deliver maximum results for every person and/or brand.
Here are a few of the common arguments on post length and why none of them can provide definitive logic.
‘More people read longer posts’
This is audience specific – does your audience read longer posts? Is evidence that suggests the audience want longer posts based on those posts being written by great writers? There are so many variables in this that you can’t say, 100%, that you, specifically, should focus on writing longer posts.
Let’s say, for example, that data which indicates longer form content is more highly shared includes long-form content from, say, The New Yorker. Those pieces are probably going to get shared a heap more than you or I blogging because they’re written by experts, best-selling authors with established fan-bases and profiles. With that type of long-form content taken into account, the data is skewed somewhat. Definitely, long form content is still being read, and can be highly shared - but does that mean a 3000 word essay from you or I will be shared as much as that high-profile content?
The danger with this advice is that it leads to more people labouring over word counts in order to reach a certain threshold which they believe they need to hit to maximise their success – and the more your writing becomes laborious, the more that it will read that way too, which may actually have a negative impact on reach. There are studies that show more readers read longer posts, there are other studies that show the opposite. The results are always going to be subjective to some degree.
‘People don’t like long form pieces - they want quick, ‘snackable’ reads’
This is counter to the first point – and this is also true, from some perspectives. Sometimes you’ll be scanning through and you won’t have the time or inclination to read an in-depth piece, so you move on. Is that true for everyone? No, some people not only have the time, they want that extra insight, they need it, in fact, to help them advise their clients of changes and news. Sometimes people get caught up in a great piece and want to know more, it’s not definitively true that everyone wants short-form content. So how do you know what length is best to for you? What’s your audience reading? What blogs do they subscribe to and share? How long are the posts that are being highly shared among your target readers? That information, the research you conduct specific to your audience, is far more valuable than a wide ranging case study.
‘Shorter posts don’t allow the author to convey necessary insight’
This, again, is dependent on the writer. Some writers can convey meaning very clearly in few words. Seth Godin is one of the most popular bloggers in the world and his posts rarely hit even a thousand words. The shareability of the content is dependent on the writer and/or subject, not the length. Are you more likely to skip over a short post? Depends on the topic, right? Depends on the author? And the key element, again, is you have to know what your audience wants, what’s resonating with them. There’s no point writing a 5000 word thesis if your target readers have no inclination to look at it, regardless of what studies suggest. If you can convey all you need to in a concise, intelligent way, there’s no definitive need to extend it out.
‘Longer posts are better for SEO’
This is a big one, and one that convinces a lot of people to focus on longer form content. While Google’s algorithms are getting more intelligent everyday, the basic process of SEO still requires an amount of keywords and reference points in order to categorise your content. Because of this, it makes sense that longer form content – with more keywords – has more opportunity to improve your Google search ranking. Google itself introduced a separate search results category for in-depth content, so there is a definite SEO case to be made for longer articles. Longer form content also allows for the use of more long-tail keywords, which can again further boost search rankings. The science behind long-form content is definitely there, and I don’t debate it in any way. But again, it does depend on the content itself.
For example, let’s say I write a 500 word piece. That piece ends up being extremely popular and gets shared thousands of times, eliciting a vast array of backlinks and references. That piece is going to rank highly, because the signals will tell Google that it’s relevant for the terms contained within it – more people reading, sharing and linking to it means more endorsements for it’s page authority, improving its Google rank. Now let’s say I wrote the same post, but this time I focussed on making it 3000 words, because I know long-form content is important. The piece doesn’t go as well, it’s clear to anyone reading it that it should have been edited down and it gets shared way less as a result. That piece won’t rank as high in Google, regardless of the keywords I’ve included, because all the signals indicate to Google that while it includes various terms, there’s not many people reading or linking to it, reducing its authority.
It’s also virtually impossible to definitively test this theory – you’d need to post the same article in two different variations on the same site, ensuring each had the exact same exposure, which in itself is impossible, because it can’t be the same article in short and long form. Then you’d never know if people didn’t share one because they read the other version first and shared that, the message would be different because it’s spread over more words, etc. The bottom line is, yes, longer form content is better for SEO – so long as it’s quality content and it requires that amount of words to communicate its meaning.
These are some of the main arguments put forward on post length, and as noted, the issue with all the research is that it’s relative to specific audiences and specific writers. It’s similar to people noting the best times to post on all platforms – these articles give you a general idea, but that’s not your audience. What if the majority of your business is in another nation and the best time for you to post is 3am local time, not 11am, as noted on a generic report? You won’t know this unless you analyse your own followers and connections and research when they’re online. The same argument stands for your content.
Posts that will resonate with your audience might be totally different to what generalised research suggests. Short or long form content can both work, neither should be avoided – but at the same time, neither should necessarily become your singular focus. You need to conduct your own analysis, research what people are reading, look into which of your posts are generating more shares and conversation. Try out longer content, create expanded research pieces to be hosted on your website to ensure you’re maximising SEO potential, test shorter content too, but don’t be drawn into believing that short or long form content is definitively the way to go for every post. The perfect number of words is the exact amount needed to communicate what you need to say - quality should always dictate length. The moment you start expanding to meet a specific word count is the moment your piece starts moving away from its maximum potential. Highly shared content is what ranks best, that’s what you need to write to build your brand and engage your target audience. Maybe that’s 200 words for one piece, 10,000 for another, but in each case, you need to focus on what reads best, what works for each piece. And rather than being too SEO-centric or focussed on generalised data, always write for your audience.