There is no arguing the point that the Internet runs on content and that quality copy is essential to success. There is, however, some debate over the perfect length of a blog post and how its word count influences its overall performance.
There will always be valid points to both sides, as the art of content marketing has more in common with consumer psychology than any exact science. That said, the purpose of this article is to address the ideal length of a blog post as relevant to the needs of professional bloggers.
Fortunately, solid research has been done to shed light on the topic and provide a deeper insight from which we’re now able to draw data-backed conclusions. First, let’s discuss the two extremes.
The Content Arms Race: Short vs. Long
For the sake of argument and for the remainder of this article, we’ll maintain that a short blog post refers to content with around 1,000 words or less and a long-form blog post refers to a piece containing 2,000 words or more.
Under these parameters, BlogTyrant conducted a recent investigation into the success of its articles and found those with higher word counts repeatedly outperformed their shorter counterparts. Such outcomes have been consistently replicated by others.
BuzzSumo, a company specializing in the tracking and analysis of viral content, collated the results of seven independent studies, concluding that feature articles of significant length and detail generate the most interest.
In one of the studies, NewsWhip noted that a 2,500-word article from the Huffington Post on the habits of happy people received more than 470,000 shares within three months of publication, owing to an exponential relationship between the number of words and social media success.
In contrast, Upworthy’s current most popular post, with a total of nearly a million shares according to BuzzSumo, has just 130 words. Just 130! Granted, there’s an infographic in there, but that difference is enough to show that it’s more about what the content is than how long it is.
The difference in performance, however, is often tied to and influenced by specific criteria relating to subject matter and shareability. In this way, the very definition of success can vary by degrees.
Factors Contributing to Sharing and Search Success
Despite the fact that there is mounting evidence in support of long-form content, the reality is that the value of an article cannot be determined by length alone.
The end result often comes down to many factors, and the following are key considerations every blogger should account for:
1. Google’s Preference for Quality
It’s no secret that Google favors quality content and prioritizes the material that meets the company’s list of demands – there are more than 200 hundred of them. Essentially, creators must implement best practice in SEO to achieve a better indexing.
Accordingly, longer articles that that are able to incorporate more backlinks, subheadings, alt title tags and long-tail keywords are always going to achieve that elusive first-page ranking ahead of shorter blog posts.
2. Readership Expectations
Contrary to popular belief, online audiences aren’t always out to scan the information they read – more on that later. Shorter articles are often met with the expectation that the content will only offer a cursory glance and that by contrast, more information means a more in-depth discussion.
3. Level of Authority and Credibility
This last point relates to and is informed by the first two. Articles that are well researched and set out to establish a particular view about a topic, or actively seek to encourage public input, need to be fleshed out.
Conversely, even if you do everything right, the structure may prevent the content from achieving a following. This goes directly to the heart of the ever-decreasing attention span of online audiences.
Time as a Factor in Determining Length
It may be one thing to aim for a high word count, but it’s an entirely different matter to make sure the content is actually engaged with and understood. As such, bloggers need to account for the way in which readers consume information online and consider the role time plays.
Therefore, the question of this post becomes, “For how long can the average reader focus their attention?”
Fortunately, Medium assigns a time signature to each of its blog posts and is able to keep track of this kind of information. When the site compared the average post length to the time it takes to read, after adjusting for a spate of short posts, a pattern emerged.
The site was admittedly more concerned about levels of engagement and less about click-through rates, but it determined the ideal length of a blog post to be 7 minutes long – an estimate that capitalizes on the maximum amount of time most users are prepared to allocate towards reading online content.
One speed reading test places the national average at 300 words per minute. Assuming the optimal timeframe holds true, the average U.S. adult will be able to read 2,100 words before their attention starts to drop.
Thus we can place a ballpark figure on the number of words an article actually needs to be effective, rather than arbitrarily stating the more the better. There is, however, one other important thing to consider.
How Do Images Fit Into the Formula?
A recent article from HubSpot suggests that in 100 of the highest-ranking blogs, there is at least one image for every 350 words and that the typical reader will spend 10 percent more of their time viewing the images while scrolling the site.
When less time is spent reading, less words can be written. For context, it may help to note that Medium’s own seven-minute story about the ideal length of a blog post was laden with graphics and concluded at just under 1,000 words.
If images are to be used, they must be relevant to the information being presented. If not, the blogger runs the risk of devaluating the message and the authority of the article.
The importance of pairing quality content and quality images is not to be underestimated. Together, they help the reader get over the first few crucial seconds where they decide whether to bounce. Also, great images make your posts pop on social media.
When StatisticsBrain took a look at the Internet browsing habits of a cross-section of users and 59,573 page views, it found that 17 percent of those page views lasted less than 4 seconds. That’s potentially 10,127 articles that were never read, and likely never shared.
What Makes a Perfect Post?
The evidence thus far supports the idea that when it comes to virality, long-form content benefits from better Google rankings, higher indexing results, more shares and an overall improvement in audience engagement.
From a non-scientific perspective, you could say that the perfect post is exactly as long as it needs to be. Or, the perfect post says exactly what the reader wants to know. For example, a piece like this one about the history of the Ford Mustang might go into less specifics and use more photos and videos for nostalgia purposes than a piece detailing the history of one specific Mustang model.
Ultimately, the ideal length for a blog post is going to be closer to 1,500 words, but as with most things on the Internet today, there will be exceptions to the rule. As long as you have an active following and a message worth communicating, length will be a situational decision, not the choice that makes or breaks you.
What’s your ideal length for a blog post? Share your preferences in the comments below.