Many businesses in Lorain County understand the benefit of regular blog posts to their website, but wonder how long their posts should be. 500 words? 800 words? 1,000 words?
I have the definitive answer for you: Exactly as long as it needs to be to say what you want to say.
“But wait!” you cry, “That’s not an answer. Besides, people on the Internet have short attention spans and won’t read much, so 200 words is probably enough.”
I wish the “gurus” that keep hyping this short-copy myth would look at some actual research instead of expressing a personal opinion. Every research-based article I have ever seen on this topic clearly shows that longer posts outperform short ones, and by longer, they are typically talking at least 1,200 words. That’s fact, not opinion. The gurus may prefer short text, but that’s not what’s generating the most interest.
Think back to the last time you really needed the Internet for information on how to do something. Maybe it was a home repair, like how to fix a leaky pipe for your house in Avon. More than likely, you came across a number of sites (and videos, too) about how to perform the repair you needed. Some were probably short and not all that helpful -- you know, the “3 ways to fix a leaky pipe” type articles that provide next to no detail and while being a quick read, don’t solve your problem.
The article that ends up being the most helpful is the one that explains your problem, then walks you step-by-step, in detail, through the solution, possibly with extra diagrams, pictures and possibly video.
You probably spent seven seconds on the first article -- just long enough to see that it was put together by someone that knows nothing about plumbing -- and then clicked away. But for the 2,000 word post that practically acted as your advisor through the repair, you might have spent 10 minutes or more digesting the information.
The person looking at the analytics for the shorter article is concluding that seven seconds is the attention span of people on the Internet -- which is true, if the person is reading crappy content. It’s much longer when the reader is presented with quality content on something that interests them.
Why is a longer blog post better than a short one?
The better way to phrase this is, “why is an in-depth article better than a shallow one?” If you can convey the information to your reader in 500 words instead of 1,000, then by all means, keep it succinct. Quality is what matters here, not necessarily length, which is why my original answer to the question is focused on “as long as it needs to be” rather than setting a specific word count.
Search engines love quality copy and keywords. If you are writing a quality post on the topic at hand, be default, you will end up using a bunch of keywords in context that people will naturally be searching for, and you won’t even need to hire an SEO expert to tell you what words to cram into your article. If the information is what readers are looking for, they’ll spend a lot of time on your site, which is another thing search engines like, because if you’re spending a lot of time there, it must mean the information is good.
So how long should my posts be?
Decide on the topic of your post and make a list of all the key points you want to cover. For each one of those points, explain it with enough depth that someone with zero background information on it could understand it. Don’t worry about word count -- focus on getting your message out and really explaining the topic. You are the teacher and the reader is your student. Explain everything in enough detail so he or she can be successful and pass the test (such as repairing that leaky pipe).
Now, there is a caveat here. You have to understand who your target reader is, because you don’t want to waste time explaining details they don’t care about. For example, if you are an accountant, explaining every detail of a new tax law for small businesses and how it will impact your clients in Elyria is probably too much. You should focus on the highlights -- just enough to get the warning out that small business owners need to be aware of this tax change, along with an overview of what needs to be done to comply. In this case, readers don’t need to know all the details, because that’s what they pay an accountant for.
The general rule is, if the task is something the reader might do, then provide enough detail so they can do it, then stop writing.
What about advice for breaking up copy?
“But wait!” you cry again, “What about all the gurus and their advice for breaking up copy?”
That’s good advice. A solid block of copy can appear overwhelming on the page. Break it up with subheads, quotes, photos, graphics -- anything that makes it more visually appealing. The longer your piece, the more visual elements your article should have.
People will tend to scan your article first -- seeing if it is providing the information they are looking for, and they tend to follow an F-shaped pattern as they move down the page, which can help you decide where to put your elements. If they decide the article provides them with what they are looking for, they will go back and read through it in detail.
Subheads are a good way to break up copy, because they serve as natural topic breaks and allow readers to get a quick idea of what an article is about -- or skip down to the piece they need. Not everyone needs your entire solution -- they may just need the last part, so make sure your subheads are descriptive enough that they know what’s in each section.
There’s no magic number for the length of a blog post. Focus on quality and don’t worry about how long or short the blog post ends up being. Long outperforms short, but quality always beats quantity in the long run. I’ve said all I want to say for this post, so I’ll stop here, right around 1,100 words -- the right amount for this topic.
Todd Shryock is the director of content for Emerge Inc. If you have questions about blogging or how long your posts should be for your small business, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.