Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Blog Posts: How Long is Long Enough?

I'm writing this today in response to a post in a LinkedIn group that brought up the issue of blog post length. There was an article cited about this and we were asked our opinion on the question of what is the right length for a blog. I suppose the issue of frequency is also at play here but as someone who barely writes on her own blog (my last entry was just over two months ago!) I am not going to go there today.

Disclaimer: I am not an SEO expert or practitioner, I'm a copywriter. All views expressed here are the opinions from a writer's point of view (albeit, someone who writes loads of online content and pays attention to trends and pesky algorithm updates, and learns a lot from the digital gurus I work with). I can recommend several trusted SEO experts if you need a referral.

What to Write
A company's blog (web log) post is your company's online diary so to speak -- a valuable tool for communicating your expert opinion, positioning you and your key employees as leaders in your field, sharing pertinent and helpful insights that your customers or clients can use to improve their operations -- you get the idea. If you are writing blog posts for SEO purposes, to improve your search results, and to drive traffic to your website, you need to have relevant, engaging content for the search engines and your readers; topics should be of intrinsic value and of interest to humans.

In my humble opinion, short posts just for the sake of throwing something out there are a waste; they probably don't have much in the way of interesting or informative content and to me, they feel gratuitous and somewhat spammy ("Uh oh, I'm supposed to post something so here it is: something/anything/blah blah blah").

I'm not talking about using your company's blog as another avenue to stay in touch with your clients for a quick announcement or important update, especially if they know to go there for these communiques (such as: our office is closed, remember to file by Friday, event registration ends today). This is actually a great client contact channel for pertinent information on the fly, but it's not a blog post.

Blog Length
Search engines need quality content and enough of it to deem your blog worthy of search results . . . as do your readers. There is no magic word count for this but too short is not going to cut it. That in itself is a highly subjective sentence. There is a good study on blog post length and search results that I found on SlideShare; you can view it here.

Business blog posts are articles, and as a copywriter who writes a lot of these for clients, I will say this: however long I need to state my case and make my point is how long my blog posts run. Some people say 400 words is a good target; I've written blog posts that are between 400-500 words and others that are closer to 800. There were not wasted words, the articles were researched, and the posts were not over-written. I don't believe there are any rules around this issue and it depends on your subject matter and your audience.

If you plan to post frequently, perhaps articles on the shorter side make more sense for you (400-500 words). If you post infrequently, or write about technical topics that need more space (and words) to unpack, longer (1000-1500 words) is probably better for your topic and your readers. There are no rules. (Suggestion: If you plan to write something over 1000 words, you might want to look for opportunities to submit articles to publications seeking more in-depth, longer content, unless your audience is one that expects and reads long articles on a regular basis).

I lament, balk at, and fight against the adage that nobody reads anymore, no one has time, people want short snippets instead of articles with flow and substance. People will read what matters to them. That being said, there are ways to meet these accepted "truths" head on. Providing useful links to your sources help to trim down word count; you can bring up the point, make a statement, and direct the readers to the source for more details (much as you would in an email newsletter). I also suggest breaking up longer pieces with bold subheads and call-outs to draw the reader's eye and provide snippets of information. However, to me the bottom line regarding blog length is:
  • Write an article that is interesting and relevant to your audience. 
  • Make it as long as you have to in order to deliver helpful information to your audience.
  • Don't get hung up on capricious limits like 150 words or three paragraphs.  Who made that up?
Do you agree? What are your thoughts about blog length? Please share them in comments.