This question is asked many times whenever I speak about blogging at networking events. I know why people ask it – they are worried that blogging is going to take up a lot of their time, so they secretly hope I’m going to say a blog post should be short and sweet.
But actually I’m going to burst your bubble and suggest ‘the longer the better’. According to my research, the optimum length of a blog post that will capture the most attention from the search engines is actually between 2,400 and 2,500 words long!
Help! I hear you cry inwardly. And I’m not surprised. This is almost as long as a thesis appropriate for a PhD. This is a real headache for anyone who is not used to writing, and the idea that you’ve got to write 2.5K words will put many people off from blogging. But I want to educate you that although it is suggested that longer is better, it is not size that matters, but what you do with it that counts.
Why is longer considered to be better?
Long posts are better for SEO (search engine optimisation) because there is more content to index and work on the keywords within it. It isn’t necessarily the main keyword that is affected here, but also other secondary or relative ‘long tail’ keywords Google can find that will satisfy its search matching requirements.
I’d better explain this. SEO consists of placing keywords within a blog post to make it more attractive to a search engine. The idea is that these keywords need to be matched up with a search query like a game of snap. The more relevant the connection or match, the better the chance of your post being brought to the top of the search results.
What are ‘long tail’ keywords?
People’s habits in what they type into the search query box has changed. Single or few disjointed words are no longer entered, instead it’s whole sentences or questions. These are called ‘long tail’ keywords. The problem is that these are quite difficult to weave into a blog post without the copy seeming contrived or stilted, and this is much more prevalent in a short post.
Therefore a longer post will rank better for these kinds of keywords. Google likes these best, because the more succinct the match to the request, the more likely the post will be selected. And this means it’s important to think of a suitable ‘long tail’ keyword that people are more likely to type into the search engines and work your post around this, and certainly place it in the headline.
Google will be able to give you suggestions in its Adwords site, but usually these are inappropriate to the subject you want to write about, so a bit of juggling or copywriting rearrangement is necessary.
The art is to think of a phrase that your target reader is most likely to ask or think about in order to search in Google for the answers. A tip is to focus on the problems rather than the solutions, because if the reader knew the solution they wouldn’t need to ask Google for it!
I never said it was going to be easy
Writing longer posts is not an easy task. It requires a different skill than creating a short, snappy post, which are usually used to introduce a subject or alternative media such as a video, podcast or an infographic. Short posts work best with the fun factor, fantastic ideas, announcing exciting news, poignant observations or other forms of entertainment, and are good for time-hungry readers with short attention spans.
Whereas long posts are used to explain subjects in more detail, usually with additional meaty material such as statistics and pie charts, visual examples, case studies, educational videos and relevant links to other websites that reinforce an idea or concept. In fact a long post will benefit from being interspersed with alternative media to break it up, as a sea of writing can be just as off-putting as an academic white paper.
What are the techniques?
Long posts are more difficult to create and achieve success because they take a long time to write, let alone read, and need to be carefully constructed to keep the reader’s attention throughout. Inexperienced copywriters may cop out of this by filling their posts with fluff and drivel. This can become a problem, as the forced practice of needing to write a lot of stuff to satisfy the idea of a long post may become detrimental, and undermine a good writer’s expertise in creating excellent copy.
Jon Morrow from CopyBlogger suggests that writers certainly should contribute stuff that is interesting in their posts, but then edit them to take out all the uninteresting stuff that isn’t needed. This means that failing to remove all the superfluous fluff that is purely positioned as padding can be the difference between a good post and one that is long-winded and boring. I know exactly what he means, as filling a post with concise and poignantly relevant and necessary material is vital to maintain the interest factor from your readers.
Converse with your readers
A conversational style is another way of ensuring a long post will be read, just like a garrulous speaker who is entertaining and exciting in keeping their audience spellbound. The idea is to treat your writing as a translation of how you imagine speaking to your readers. Envisage your ideal listener sitting next to you, having a cappuccino in a café and enjoying a piece of chocolate cake, and the conversation flows freely, albeit one-sided, as you explain what you need to share with them.
Conversational posts arise if you are able to transcribe the speech that goes on in your head straight onto the page, without inhibition of content, constriction from English lesson nightmares and other grammatical horrors! It is an art I have been cultivating over many years, and still aim to get right!
The process of transcribing a conversation in post form is a necessary skill within social media. It encourages engagement and interaction, and these concepts certainly help towards search engine attraction both within and outside the blogging environment. It is important to understand what your audience wants to read, what will interest them and make their lives better with the information you impart, as you unleash the extent of your knowledge or reveal the results of the research you have been doing.
Can this really go on for ever?
At this point this post is kicking around the 1,000 word mark, and I am beginning to get exhausted! The idea of 2,500 words may prove to be inappropriate to accomplish, let alone maintain the attention of the reader, and if the search engines haven’t got the jist of this post by this point, they probably never will.
To be honest, this was an experiment to see if I could achieve the lofty heights of achieving a long post. Goodness knows how those copywriters who are successful manage it, as I certainly can’t. I suppose if I was armed with lots of quotations, statistics and visuals I might be able to continue a little longer, as these would provide me with the necessary leverage to pad out my post, but I don’t want to and neither do I have these resources to hand.
What results will this bring?
This experiment will continue as we see what response this post will bring, both from the audience and from the search engines in the statistic results it produces. WordPress.com is a bit limited in the analytics it provides, but you never know, it might make more of an impression on Google than a shorter post, and certainly I wouldn’t have been able to express myself so freely within such constraints.
Some bloggers say 1,500 words is best
And yes, I agree! This post is fast approaching that milestone, and for my mainly British readership this is more than enough. The idea that the optimum post length is 2,500 words is frankly ludicrous, and if you’ve made it this far, then I salute you! Thank you for staying the course! Who has the time to waste reading so many words, we probably have better things to do (let alone spending that amount of time writing this)!
Blogs are written to impart knowledge that is easily accessible, understandable and actionable, whereas articles that ramble on for pages cannot be given the time of day, let alone the accolade of being called a blog post. I think Seth Godin has got it right, with his famously provocative short posts, hitting us between the eyes with his amazing knowledge and succinct communication skills.
So what do you think? Please leave a comment below…
About the author:
Alice Elliott is a online marketer and blogger whose website Fairy Blog Mother teaches beginners and post-beginners how to blog using ordinary, everyday words with easy to understand, highly visual workshops, e-courses, videos and e-books.