How to Determine The Ideal Content Length
Is There An Ideal Length of Article?
Many of our clients have asked how long a blog post or article should be to get the best results. Unfortunately, as with many things in business, there is no 'one size fits all' answer. In this article we explain why statistics about the 'best' blog posts can be misleading and reveal what you should be doing to help you produce successful content.
In 1996 Bill Gates used the phrase 'content is king' as the title for an essay in which he predicted that real money would be made online by those who delivered the most informative and entertaining content.
Over 20 years later it seems there is plenty of evidence that proves he was right. Linking to good quality articles helps the best content rise higher in Google rankings and sharing via social media helps spread the content too. This helps establish reputation and trust which in turn can lead to sales.
The challenge for any small or medium business that aims to use content to get traffic online and attract prospects is producing good quality content while performing all the other tasks a business has to get done. It would be much easier to commit the right resources and the right amount of time if they knew the ideal length for a blog post or online article.
The Information We Have Says...
There have been a great number of articles published about the ideal length of blog posts and other online content. Each of these posts have given data and information based on experience or surveys and linked the number of words used, to averages in articles to how well they ranked on Google (top 10 results) for a range of keywords.
According to a blog post on the SEO Pressor Connect website in January of this year research conducted by the company Medium in December 2013 showed an ideal blog post length was 2100 words and took about 7 minutes to read. This is in the same ballpark as research conducted by keyword research tool maker SerpIQ which suggested that on average the top 10 results for Google searches were between 2,032 and 2,416 words.
Online marketer Neil Patel has produced a blog post that breaks down what he believes to be the ideal article length for a number of industries in the US. These range from up to 3,000 words for a marketing or advertising related article to just 300 words for content related to gadgets. He also lists a number of other factors that could influence how well an article performs. These include how often you post, the format of the post, and the style of writing.
Are the Conclusions Misleading?
However, despite the authority of the sites, the mathematical presentations these posts use and the conclusions they reach, they can be misleading.
There is plenty to question. For example, the keywords used, the businesses producing the content, and the audience reading it.
- If an article containing a certain number of words performed well and is seen by a vast number of people how sure can we be that this will be the case for all types of articles, on all sorts of subjects, containing different types of keywords?
- Would it make a difference if the article contained words specific to your niche or industry? Would a similar length article using the keywords that your prospects use achieve the same results?
- Would it make a difference if the businesses writing the articles are not similar to yours?
- Do articles with certain word counts only work well if they target specific audiences?
Most of the articles looking at content length relate word count to the content's position in Google. Google ranking can indicate the amount of traffic going to a page, but not necessarily the quality of traffic that goes to it. The traffic to these pages could be made up mostly of people interested in buying, opting-in to an email list, sharing the content with others, or just interested in gathering information. None of the articles address this, yet what readers do after reading your content is important to your business.
Many of the blog posts on this topic seem to assume that it is only the length of the post that is a critical factor. Can we be sure that it is the word count that puts an article at or near the top of the Google ranking? After all, Google does not simply count words, it also tries to measure relevance and quality of content.
We need to be careful if we are going to draw conclusions. Just because two things happen at the same time does not necessarily mean that one causes the other. For example, people in the UK tend to spend more when it's cold and less when it's hot. However, this doesn't necessarily mean cold weather causes a spending spree. Peaks in spending can be due to events like Christmas and new year sales.
Perhaps there are even factors outside the article itself that determine how well the article performs. For example, those with the resources to produce a good quality long post may also be likely to have the resources to promote it more effectively.
What To Do
So what should you do to discover which article lengths would work best for your business?
- Use the results of research as a starting point. You can start with the ones referred to in this article.
- Research your competitors' content. Look at how many comments their posts are getting. If they have share buttons on their sites you can also get an idea of how well and on which platforms the posts are being spread. To get an idea of word count, reading time and keywords copy and paste their articles into Word Counter. You can use this resource when it comes to preparing your articles too.
- Look at the results of your own posts and articles. Which are being read most, shared most, or receive most comments? What are the keywords used and word counts of your most successful content?
- Match the goals of your content to the goals of those searching for information. Those looking to solve a problem with a quick, easy answer will appreciate a short article. They will not be interested in an in-depth analysis, they'll just want a solution. However, if the subject you want to address is a complex problem and you have some unique information and insights it would probably be best to use a longer format.
- When producing content do not focus just on word count. Break up your content for easy reading with subheadings, bullet points and/or images. This can help to make content more engaging for readers, eventually leading to more sharing and incoming links.
- If readers share your content or link to it you will rank higher because an increased amount of sharing implies that the content is good. Set up social media share buttons with your posts and also dedicate some time to sharing your own content on other appropriate sites.
- Experiment. If someone in your industry has written a long article about a topic you could offer a short article. If you see short articles written by your competitors you could write a long version, provided you have good quality information to add. Stretching content out with filler is not going to impress your audience.
None of the research has conclusively proven that word length alone determines the best performing content. The success of your content depends on many factors. Your readers may prefer in-depth, long articles in some situations and shorter articles in others. Make your content of good quality and an appropriate length so that it answers all their most important questions (unless you want them to contact you or click a link for more).
The bottom line for content is the same as it is for many aspects of a business. Know what your audience wants and provide it.