20 April 2017
We are often recommending that customers write blog articles to support their marketing and SEO efforts and the first question they usually ask is “How long should it be?” There seems to be a general assumption from many people I talk to that this should be around 500 words.
There is a lot of research out there which disagrees and furthermore proves that longer blog posts are much more effective. However, we should also remember that not all blogs are the same and they all have different audiences that they are trying to engage. We are not always writing for SEO; our main aim may be simply to get some information out quickly to a group of people.
So, before you write that next long business blog post and start to think about how long it should be please read on to learn why it might be worth writing those few extra words or perhaps when it might be OK to choose not to.
Shorter is Better is a Myth.
A few years ago, several sources claimed that a blog post should be no longer than 600 words and can be even shorter. The theory being that people wanted to be able to read things quickly, consume small ‘bitesize’ pieces of information. Wouldn’t it be nice if the easiest option was the also the best? Sorry to disappoint you but it’s no longer true.
The fact is that longer posts rank much better in Google, so if you are writing a blog post to increase your ranking for a particular search term then your posts need to be longer. SerpIQ found that the longer the post the better the ranking:
We are now at just over 280 words and you may feel that you have read enough already. That could make you question why you can’t just stop at 200 words if you don’t care about search engines and just want to create content that you audience wants to read. The problem is that your audience might not find you if the post is so short because you won’t rank at all in Google. In fact depending on the competition for your chosen keyword, even if you write a bit more and do get ranked it is unlikely that you will make the first page of the results.
The diagram above would suggest that if you want to get to the top of the results your post might need to be above 2000 words. Even if you have the inclination and the time to write that much (and let’s be honest most of us don’t) could your users be put off by the length of the article anyway because it going to take too long to read?
The common ground for a business blog post lies somewhere in between. Opinions vary between 800 and 1500 words and this is what we recommend to our clients. Make it long enough that it feel worth reading but not too long that you run out of things to say and start waffling. (By the way we just went over the 500 words mark)
If you’re aim is to rank well for a keyword or phrase try to get to at least 1500 to 2000 words and make sure you include your keywords a few times throughout the text. If search engine ranking is not your main aim and your visitors mainly come through your social media or newsletter links then you may feel confident enough to keep it short and sweet.
Estimate Reading Time
If you have an average reading speed (200 words per minute) it will have taken you about 3 minutes to get this far. Is that too long? Are you happy to give more of your time to read the rest of the article?
So if the question is “How long are people willing to give to reading a blog article?” and if the answer is only “3 minutes”, then the optimum length would be 600 words.
It is true that some people will stop reading at this point, however most will continue for a bit longer and some may bookmark the article to return to later. If we are tempted enough by the description to click a link on a search results page then the likelihood is that we will at least read the first couple of paragraphs before we decide whether the whole article is worth reading. Therefore it is important to get your main points out at the beginning of the article, perhaps summarise what you are going to say throughout the rest of it or even include a short abstract if it is going to be a really long post. Then go on to expand into more detail for those readers who have carried on as they are the segment of your audience who want more information. Those who only wanted to digest a small amount of content and move on have already clicked another link or the back button by now.
Sites like mention.com provide an estimated reading time for articles. There is some debate as to whether or not this is a good idea. Your visitors might be pleased to have this information and be more willing to read something knowing exactly what their time investment will be (some may even see it as a challenge!). On the downside, some people may be put off by the reality check of how much time they are spending surfing around the web reading random blog articles. It could be argued that the latter are not your target audience as their unwillingness to spend time reading your post means that they do not have enough interest in your topic in the first place.
Learn from Your Analytics
Your audience is important and you should take time to understand what they want. A good place to start to find this data is your Google Analytics dashboard. Take a look at the Behaviour section, Site Content and All Pages. This view shows you an average visit time for each of your pages. Look at the time that visitors are spending on each of your blog posts and compare it to the estimated average time it should take someone to read it based on the post length.
Not only will this tell you which articles are the most engaging and keep people’s attention but you can also gauge those posts that haven’t done so well. Do you have any long posts with a short average time on page? Take a look at the first few paragraphs and review whether your words encourage the user to continue reading.
If you want to get really clever you could use advanced content tracking to log events as the user scrolls down the page, giving you valuable information as to how many users really do read to the end of your post.
Length isn’t everything
You could write a 2000 word article full of useless information that no-one is interested in. It might even rank well on the search engines and get lots of clicks but if there is no substance and nothing to interest the reader then visitors will leave your page and probably your site.
We must always remember ‘why’ we are writing the article in the first place and ‘who’ we are writing it for. One of the charities supported by our associates at Zeun Digital is ‘Homeless and Rootless at Christmas’. Their blog is mostly made up of Thank You messages to groups and organisations for their donations or volunteering efforts. These posts don’t need to rank well on search engines, they are shared through social media and serve their purpose in acknowledging someone for their efforts. Occasionally local students and writers offer longer articles which help HARC to rank well on some search phrases, however the project and its website are mostly staffed by volunteers so having a quick and easy to use content management system where these short thank you messages can be posted quickly is a good way to help HARC keep in touch with its supporters and update the wider community on what they are doing to help homeless people in Sheffield at Christmas time.
Think about your audience and the length of posts you think they are looking for, check that your analytics data supports this and try out different formats, writing styles and post lengths to find out works best for you.
Your focus for your business blog posts should be on writing high quality content. If what you are writing about is interesting you will find yourself instinctively wanting to say more and meeting a minimum post length will no longer be a problem that you need to worry about. Make your content interesting, entertaining and engaging and your audience will want to read it and will keep coming back for more. If you need help with writing long business blog posts contact us to find out how we can help with copywriting.
This post has now reached that golden 1500 words point so in order to avoid the risk of ‘waffling on for the sake of post length’ we will leave it at that and return with another post on another topic (which may be of a similar length) soon. We hope you come back to read it.