The Value of Blogging
These days, to wheel out the web’s oldest cliché, we all know that content is king. Almost all modern digital marketing involves content of some description, and blog posts in particular are hugely popular, with more springing up daily.
Not only is a personal or corporate blog a great way to maintain contact with your existing customers, but it enables you to reach out to new audiences and acquire links through reciprocation when you recommend other bloggers, who will often recommend you in return since they’re keen to highlight anyone praising them.
Of course, wanting to have a blog isn’t the same thing as having the time or inclination to write one, so often it’s best to hire an agency to write it for you. Your content marketing agency can advise on how to run your blog to maximise your reach and engagement, including answering questions such as:
- How often should you post?
- What sort of topics should you cover?
- Where will you market it?
- How long should each blog post be?
As you know, it is the last question that’s being addressed today.
Warning! Data Ahead
The good news for all of you data junkies out there is that I’ll be citing lots of empirical research and backing up my assertions with heaps of data, curated from some of the best blogs out there to bring you the low down on the right length of a blog post on the web.
Are shorter blog posts better?
The consensus used to be that shorter posts performed better, since the prevailing wisdom was that people didn’t like reading online, so they scanned through documents picking out the juicy bits and skipped over any block of text more than an inch or two long.
Anyway, as you’ll see here, while formatting still matters, that prevailing wisdom that long articles were bad articles might not have been so wise after all, and some people have longer attention spans they’ve previously assumed.
Disclaimer: As with all things in digital marketing and SEO, there’s no one-size-fits-all rule. Even data-based answers don’t tell you the perfect post length for every blog and every company out there, they just tell us about trends. Every site is different, every topic is different and most importantly, every audience is different. However, that said, the data throws up some interesting thoughts and some useful guidelines.
So, let’s get straight to it. For the most part, the ideal blog post should be long. Ish. Depending on the data set (and how you measure success), most research agrees that the ideal blog lies somewhere between 1,500 and 2,500 words, taking into account factors like search engine rankings, social sharing figures, time on page and keyword potential.
The most-quoted research on this is still from back in 2012, when serpIQ decided to analyse the average word counts of the top 10 results on SERPS. The numbers are slightly inflated because they include sidebar text and some other on-page text, but it gives a pretty good idea of what ranks well in Google, and the answer is a resounding one: text-heavy pages. The average word count for every position in the top 10 was above 2,000, with the average first place result clocking in around 2,450 words.
Moz took a different approach, considering the connection between word count and the average number of linking domains. As you can see from their graph, below, there’s a marked and sudden increase in linking domains for all of the posts longer than 1,800 words, though no consistent correlation between length and links beyond that point. Their results make it seem clear that the gains from making it to 1,800 words will almost always be worthwhile, but that beyond that point there are diminishing returns, with the extra words not reliably bringing in more links.
Another online journal decided to compare word count to social shares, and took away a similar lesson: length is good. Longer pieces were shared more across Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. With the exception of Facebook, posts about 1,500 words performed the best, reinforcing this apparent sweet spot. There’s another sense of diminishing returns here: there’s a big jump in shares from the 700-999 bucket to the 1,000-1,499 bucket, but the transition up to 1,500 and above is notably less dramatic across all three social networks. Longer is better, but past a certain point the rewards start to slow down.
Medium took yet another approach, looking not at the end goal – SERPs – but at one of the crucial intermediary steps: readers. They looked at how long readers spent on each post, finding that the optimum post length for reader engagement was 7 minutes – which is roughly 1,600 words. Image-heavy posts might be better being shorter, of course, so long as the end result is a 7-minute read.
Of course, the Medium research serves to emphasise the importance of our earlier disclaimer. 7 minutes is the optimal post length on average, but not for every post. If every news story you read took 7 minutes to get through, you’d quickly move on to another more efficient news source. Context is, as always, crucial. But, for the most part, the data suggests that 7 minutes is a good target to shoot for.
We might be beginning to see a trend here. serpIQ found success above 2,000 words. Medium placed the magical number at 1,600. Moz found a sudden tipping point at 1,800. Across search rankings, linking domains and reader attention spans, the 1,500-2,000 word range is where posts start to see real success. Above that point, there can still be benefits to more length, but they’re less marked. serpIQ saw the most success at 2,450, while Moz’s best posts were in their 2,733 – 3,035 word bucket. The gains here are less dramatic however, while the increase in work between writing a 1,500 post and a 3,000 word one is significant. There may be diminishing returns as word count keeps climbing, though again, context is key.
As always, not all of the data agrees though. Notably, Upworthy, inspired by Medium, took a look at how post length affected the way readers paid attention to their posts. The result? They couldn’t find any correlation whatsoever. Word count just didn’t seem to matter at all to reader engagement. Comparing their results to Medium’s, Upworthy wondered, “Perhaps this is because of differences between written content and visual content. Or maybe it’s due to the ways our respective audiences engage with our content.” Either way, content length proved to be irrelevant to Upworthy – and could well do for other sites, too.
The Benefits of Longer Posts
One of the plausible reasons for the correlation between content length and search success found by serpIQ comes down to that old SEO stalwart: keywords. As Quicksprout points out, “You can use a lot more variety when you have a lot more content. The more variety you have, the better you’ll perform in search queries.” More words means more opportunities to use keyword variants, and semantically connected phrases. With a couple of hundred words, you can mention your keywords once or twice at best. With 1,500 words, your keywords can turn up more times, in more varied phrasings and sentences, helping your page to rank for more queries, picking up traffic from the long tail keywords that you normally wouldn’t target directly.
Longer posts aren’t the be-all, end-all, and they certainly won’t work for every post or every site. But, as a rule, content sitting between 1,500 and 2,500 words will likely engage your readers more, encourage more links, allow for greater keyword variation and ultimately result in higher placement in those all important search results.
Of course, perhaps the worst thing to take away from this would be that the answer is to drag every post out to 1,500 words because you think it might rank better. A 500 word post dragged out to last for 1,500 words ends up feeling like a 3,000 post for a reader – assuming they even bother to stay past the first few lines. If what you have to say can best be said in a short piece, or if your readers are looking for short content, then stick with that! Here on the Market Appeal blog, our weekly news roundups are always fewer than 1,000 words long. That’s what fits the posts, which are intended to be bite-size summaries of what’s going on in the world of SEO. No-one wants a news summary to take 10 minutes to read, so we keep them short and snappy – because that’s what’s best for the content, and the content comes first.
On the other hand, if you’re writing pieces that are regularly clocking in at 1,200 words, it might just be worth going a little more in-depth or adding a couple more points to tip your posts over 1,500 words. If done consistently, this one change could start to have a dramatic effect on reader engagement, links and search rankings. Just make sure that you’ve got something worth spending 1,500 words talking about first!
Have you experimented with word counts on your blog? What performs better for you, long or short posts? Or is there no difference at all?