This question comes up time after time in my dealings with blog clients, and each client has his—or her—own idea about the answer. Recently I set out to find a definitive guideline that would resolve the issue. The answer, as with so many other questions, is simply “it depends.” What does it depend on? Well, almost everything: your target customer’s profile, your subject matter, and the purpose of your content marketing efforts.
Things have changed since blogging arrived on the scene, when search results turned up any number of very long pages of waffle. Thankfully, Google’s updates put in place some stringent requirements for content, one of which was that it has to fit the search engine algorithm’s definition of “quality.”
Google gives no clues, however, regarding how long a post should be, which is odd considering there are specific word and character counts for SEO titles and meta descriptions. It’s like politics; everybody has a different viewpoint, and everyone is right. Or wrong, depending on how you look at it.
The Promise of Short Posts
There’s plenty of rhetoric in favor of short posts. If you’re trying to sell something, for example, the quicker you can direct the reader to your call to action (CTA) the better. Also, for the past two years the belief has been than long-form content marketing is on the way out. The prevailing mantras are:
- Keep it short and sweet—use bite-sized content in a snack-and-go world;
- Get to the point—quickly—with really short blog posts, scannable lists, tweets and infographics;
- Grab the reader’s attention immediately—people typically only read 20% of a post and occasionally up to 28%, according to stats from the Nielsen Norman Group.
Some very successful bloggers have made their name out of short posts. Check out The Passive Voice, a popular blog with 43,000 followers written by intellectual property lawyer David Vandagriff where he mostly curates content, occasionally adding a short comment. With that kind of following, he’s doing something right!
Medium-Length Magic Bullet
Most online advice tells you to make blog posts between 400 and 600 words. Even marketing software company HubSpot, which offers a state-of-the-art blogging platform for clients, advocates posts around this length. You’ll get a warning banner if your post is shorter than 600 words.
The thinking is that anything less than 400 words doesn’t make good SEO sense, and most business blogging is done for the express purpose of making the website searchable and improving traffic.
Part of the reason for this is outdated, however; it stems from a few years ago when keyword density of between 4% and 7% was acceptable. That means using the keyword 4 to 7 times in every 100 words. If you’re only writing 200 words, that can be difficult because you need to include verbs and nouns too for it to make sense. The longer your copy, the more likely you were to hit a reasonable keyword density. Now, that method is called “keyword stuffing” and is unacceptable to Google.
So when would a medium-length post be right? Here are some parameters:
- When the content remains focused and relevant to the topic;
- When you have enough to say on the topic that you can keep readers engaged right through to the end;
- When your content marketing lends itself to being broken up into sections with subheads, numbered and bulleted lists to prevent reader boredom setting in.
Given the number of proponents in favor of short and medium-length blog posts, why would anyone ever write a post longer than 800 words, you ask? Quite often, actually.
For one thing, it’s really good for SEO, and if that’s the purpose of your content marketing then length is the way to make it succeed. In fact, stats from QuickSprout show that the average length for a web page appearing in the top 10 results on Google is at minimum 2,000 words! Yes, you read that right!
In addition, some posts just need to be that long to convey the information, although you often see these split into several posts. Then there’s shareability–currently a critical issue for content. Evidence indicates that posts longer than 1,500 words gained 68.1% more tweets and 22.6% more Facebook likes on average than shorter ones.
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