It’s kind of the “chicken or egg” debate for the online world: is it better to write short, consumable posts, or long, epic articles? Both sides have staunch supporters. Both sides can spew “data-backed research” to support their argument. So what’s a confused content marketer to believe? What’s the ideal blog post length?
Well, for starters, it’s important to make a distinction between what each side is arguing. Long posts are good – fantastic – at some things, and short posts are at others. Apples and oranges. Birchbark canoes and vintage game consoles from the 1980s.
Picking a winner depends entirely on what you’re trying to accomplish.
Once Upon A Time in a Galaxy Far, Far Away…
400-500 words used to be the “magic” number for online content. Four years ago (a lifetime in the digital world) that was the norm. Everyone pushed that number…reach 500 words, hit publish, and go on your merry way. Then, someone suggested that 1000 words would be better, and everyone nodded their head and agreed. Next, the “research” suggested that 1500 words is actually the ideal length. Finally, online marketers and content creators discovered that the search engines seemed to favor posts of over 2000 words. And so the slow creep up continues.
The Case for Longer Posts
Google can make or break your website, and by extension, your marketing campaign, promotion, or business itself. You need to rank well with the search engines. And what does Google prefer?
Long posts. “Epic” content. Neil Patel, Buffer, SerpIQ, and a bevy of other online authorities have revealed that Google (and the other search engine players) likes your posts to be long. At LEAST 1500 words, and over 2000 seems to be best. SerpIQ found that the results on the entire first page of a typical Google search were all over 2000 words. Neil Patel saw an increase of 68% in tweets and 22% in Facebook likes for articles over 1500 words. Medium determined the ideal length to be 1600 words (or seven minutes) after examining reader attention on their site.
The “data-backed research” seems to say it all. Longer posts are fantastic for SEO purposes, they generate more tweets, likes, and shares, and they result in more backlinks (crucial to your SEO).
The Case for Shorter Posts
SEO and your SERP ranking are important, but what if you’re more concerned with getting your message out there? With being read and understood?
Is a long post still the way to go? It would seem not.
The average content consumer has an attention span of 8-9 seconds. Yes, seconds. This statistic (often referred to as the “Goldfish” stat because that’s the same as an absent-minded and quick-to-forget goldfish) does not bode well for long, epic posts. Many (most?) people simply won’t read them in their entirety. Typical adults read only 28% of a webpage with 550+ words on it. That’s not much.
A recent experiment revealed that MBA students who wrote short (300-500 words) posts and updated their sites several times per day saw ten times as many visitors as classmates who wrote “epic” content and updated once daily (or every other day). The short, bite-sized, “consumable” content performed significantly better at attracting visitors and keeping them coming back for more. They were actually reading and enjoying the content.
Shorter (aim for at least 300 words…anything less and you run the risk of Google penalizing you for “thin content”) posts allow for frequent updates, are easier to write, and are easier to read. Winning over the search engines (and being favored by Google) is all well and good, but you do want to be read and appreciated by actually people, and not just the Googlebot.
And people, increasingly, want shorter posts. They want visuals to go along with it (one study found the best ratio to be one visual element – images, infographics, videos – for every 350 words).
And if you make the whole thing scannable – using sub-headings, bullet points, and bold print – include share buttons at the bottom or floating alongside, and include “tweetables” (easy to tweet sound bites from the text), you’ll likely see the engagement benefit of longer posts start to shrink.
The sweet spot, despite what everyone seems to believe, just might be the 300-750 word range.
Google loves longer (2000+) posts. People don’t. So, the question shouldn’t be “Which length is best?” but rather “Who are you writing for?”. Know that, and write accordingly.