As the buzz around ‘Content Marketing’ and all the promises it holds of ‘genuine links’ continues to grow, I’m finding the same questions pop up time and again from my clients. They also often are frustrated when I tell them there is no guaranteed magic approach.
The question ‘how long should my blog post be?’ has been around for as long as blogs have. There are also numerous reasons across why we care about this question. Is it from a usability perspective? Is there a secret formula to improving reader engagement through mastering the perfect ‘not too long, but not too short’ blog post length? Following Google’s sneaky update to their link guidelines, should we still be concerned about guest posts and the editorial rules around the blogs of others?
The first point to make here is, as we all know, that there is no perfect answer to how long a blog post should be. A common rule of thumb seems to be ’500 words’ – so much so in fact that I’ve had rejections of blog posts I’ve written upon request from an editor (not State of Search I should add!) because my post was considered too long for their readership. Is that my fault or is my editor too concerned with ‘best practice’ rules?
We can also be sure that the length of a piece of content does affect its traffic, engagement, impact upon engagement with the rest of the site and potentially its ranking. Some of the most popular posts shared across our industry are those that heavily go into detail about one very niche subject, take Haukur‘s recent post all about the AdWords Dimension tab for example. That’s over 2,500 words on a very granular topic, that was also hugely popular both on State of Search as well as being featured in round-ups like Search Engine Land’s SearchCap last week. How does this fit in with that old 500 word rule exactly?
So how do we know how to best shorten or lengthen our posts to maximise their potential? There is a lot of subjectivity around the topic but here are few concentrated tips that may help:
1. Know Your Audience
Us bloggers often forget that these posts are not actually our diaries, and we’re not actually writing for ourselves. Haukur’s post for example is a hands-on, pro-active step-by-step guide post specifically aimed at those using the AdWords interface. You’ll know from the title if it’s relevant to you or not so the bounce rates will drop and engagement rate rise, based on its clear call to the right audience. If you’re writing a an ‘Introduction to SEO’ post for a women’s career site, the details aren’t relevant. Instead of long-winded explanations, integrate links to useful sites and give the readers short-form top tips.
2. Practice Editing
I waffle. I’m a terrible blog waffler. In fact I’m doing it right now. A good tip a journalist friend gave me many years ago is to practice being your own sub-editor. Be harsh and cut out what isn’t 100% relevant to the topic at hand. Although interested readers will still engage with long and practical blog posts, there is never any harm is making the point clearer cut. Try taking the final article as you have it, then shave off 10%. It’s easier said than done! This helps to focus the relevancy of the post not only for users but also from a search engine and keyword point of view.
3. Long Posts Need Sections
There’s nothing wrong with long posts when relevant, but help your reader to understand where you’re going with your post by clearly defining sections. There’s an intro, an explanation and a denouement. Use headings, sub-heading, images and even paragraph formatting to make the stages of the story stand out. A reader should want to come back to your post and easily be able to find that particular titbit of information they are looking for. A search engine should easily be able to understand what heading and section is most important and/or considered relevant to that particular post through basic HTML formatting.
4. Analyse This
Google Analytics is your friend. For once, we don’t have to only sob over our continued loss of keyword data thanks to that ever increasing (not provided) percentage. Look at the page as a landing page, not just at the keywords that drive the traffic. Keywords and SEO remain relevant. However the length of the post will also dictate engagement and loyalty. How does bounce rate compare to other posts? Is the reader moving onto a related page on the blog? What is the percentage of new vs returning visitors to that particular page?
5. Heatmap That
This was actually an interesting point made by Neil Patel over on Quick Sprout. The tone of an article will also impact its success. Conversational style articles often encourage longer dwell time and engagement, as the reader is happy to continue scrolling down. This won’t be true for all industries or styles of blog so the best to confirm what is or isn’t working is to get scientific. Use a Heat Map tool and monitor what that scrolling situation looks like, taking note of the difference between paragraphs vs bullet pointed lists vs images as an example.