How long should a blog post be? Is long form content better? Should you write thousands of words? Or are short, to the point posts better?
In this week’s podcast, I’m going to attempt to answer the question. How long should a blog post be? I’ve been seeing a lot of comment saying longer is better so I was inspired to look closer.
My own blog posts are getting longer as my content is getting more in depth. Is this a good thing?
How long should a blog post be? Listen below?
Neil & Seth
Neil Patel is an internet marketing genius. His in-depth posts on all things digital marketing are mini-training courses that take you through a lot of processes and tools that can help enhance your business. His posts are long, very long.
Seth Godin is a marketing genius. To many, he’s marketing royalty. He publishes to his blog daily and his posts are often short, 100 words or less. His wisdom is widely shared by his loyal fans. He’s one of the few people in the marketing world who you can refer to by their first name and people will know exactly who you are talking about.
Two popular bloggers whose approaches couldn’t be more different.
The trend for longer content
In recent years there has been a trend towards longer written content. Studies continuously show us that posts over 1,000 words perform better. They get more shares, more inbound links and they rank better in search.
Unsurprisingly many content creators have jumped on this trend. As we fight to get our content ranked and seen anything that gives us a perceived advantage has to be worth a try.
The length of my posts has grown over the years too. My first blog post was just 79 words long, these days they can be anything from 500 – 2,500 words long.
Track Maven’s 2016 report ‘2017 Blogging Report’ suggests that posts 1,200 – 1,400 get the most shares.
Hubspot’s analysis of their own blog in 2015 suggests even longer posts. They found that posts over 2,500 words got the most shares and inbound links but posts between 2,250 and 2,500 ranked better in search.
Even anecdotally people tell me that their long posts do better. The statistics don’t lie but are we missing something?
I think so, it can be easy to get caught up in statistics, reports and algorithms and forget about our readers. Both Neil and Seth have very different online personas. Seth has a loyal audience that will pay attention and spread the word about his words for him. Neil is known for his in-depth, valuable content that we can learn from.
The length of their content represents their brand, their online persona. It speaks to their readers. Both approaches work.
The problem with long content
As you can probably tell by now I’m a Neil Patel fan. But I rarely read his content. Why is that?
When I see his posts pop up in my feed I know they need a time investment, they need my full attention and it’s rare that I have that time to give. So I scroll past. All Neil’s posts are very, very long and he blogs frequently.
And it’s not just me. When I mention Neil Patel to people the reaction is almost always the same. The sigh, they sigh because they can’t keep up with his content either.
If I was Neil I’d be devastated that so many of the people I wanted to reach weren’t actually reading. All those shares and inbound links make for good brand awareness but what is that worth when people don’t even want to click to learn more and travel further round your sales cycle.
People don’t want to read it all
If you can convince people to click through and read many will just scan through your post. When I asked my non-marketing friends on Facebook, many admitted to skipping through long content quickly. Those who stayed and read the whole thing would wait until they were in the right environment. One person actually printed off long articles to read on his commute.
Their overall comment was that if something was academic, or something they could learn from they’d read longer content. For opinion pieces, they’d expect shorter posts.
If we are going to write longer posts I think we need to consider when we publish and promote them. Could capturing someone who wakes up early on a Saturday morning be the right time to promote those pieces? Is commuter time, when people are stuck on public transport the best time? It’s worth experimenting with these times to see if you can keep people reading longer at these key times.
My Facebook group which consists of small business bloggers and marketers were more likely to read longer articles but relied on subheadings, images and bullet points to keep them interested. For more on layout listen back to episode 40.
Long content is scary
Let’s compare long form written content to video. When you see a video online that interests you what is the first thing you look at? Is it the timestamp? Do you want to see how much time you have to commit before you hit play? If your answer is yes it’s not alone.
Whether we watch a long video will depend on the context. When we see one in our social news feeds we will only be tempted to press play if it’s short. When we search for an answer to something and find a long video we might click if we think it will be a comprehensive answer even if it’s long.
We also make time in our schedules for longer video in the form of live video. If we prepare ourselves to watch a weekly show online we will take time out to do so.
Written content is similar.
My instinct is that people will read longer content when it suits their schedule or when they seek it out. They are less likely to read it when they stumble upon it.
One solution to this is to add an ‘estimated reading time’ caption at the top of your post. A long post may only take 5 minutes to read, knowing that this is all the commitment required may encourage visitors to read on.
Use WordCounter to get an estimated reading time for your posts.
The problem with any algorithm is that we are tempted to hack it. Yes, it seems Google are favouring longer content at the moment but that doesn’t mean we should stuff our posts with irrelevancies, go over the top with detail or over-extend our writing just to reach the recommended 1,500 words.
Search engines will become wise to this and use other signals to understand the value of your posts to their users.
If all your posts are long form and if you are writing frequently you may find that a lot of your audience are switching off. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write them.
Shorter blog posts
Shorter ‘snackable’ posts can work well particularly if you are targeting a time-poor audience. If you post regularly, shorter content could be the key to keeping people coming back and reading more frequently.
The downside to shorter content is that people are on site for less time, you have less time to make you and your brand memorable.
To combat this you need to focus on making your shorter posts memorable. Try and centre them around one key point that will stick in the memories of your reader.
So how long should a blog post be?
The answer is a blog post should be as long as it needs to be. But that’s not the answer you came here for.
My recommendation is to mix it up. Create some comprehensive, evergreen ‘cornerstone content’ that will establish your expertise and rank in search engine results. Create shorter, more frequent content to engage with your audience and help build their loyalty.
- Copy and paste your last blog post into Wordcounter and look at the ‘estimated reading time’
- Decide on the best time to share that post to your audience. When will they have time to read it?
- Plan some ‘cornerstone’ content, long form posts for your site.
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