By Will Hockin,
It’s a question I hear fairly regularly. ‘How long should my blog posts be?’ ‘Is my content too long?’ The answer, invariably, is that it depends. It’s a very boring answer, but it’s true. The length of your content should not be pre-determined by some unwritten rule. It depends what the purpose is, who it’s for, what you’ll be doing with it, how much spare time you have – lots of things
The perfect length for blog posts is a hot-button issue in the digital marketing industry. Not so long ago, short-form content reigned supreme. Anyone who was anyone was talking about 3-500 word blog posts and how going viral was everything. But times they are a changing, and trends in this industry can change with the wind.
Now, long-form content is gaining ground. Almost out of nowhere internet gurus are telling the world that your blog posts should be over 3000 words at least. This may seem a little extreme, but they came armed with graphs, and stats and anecdotes to boot! What could we do? We submitted to the long-form content regime.
The trouble with these diametrically opposed approaches is that they’re both very hard to do well. Making great content when you’ve only got 400 words to do it in is difficult! How do you squeeze as much value as possible into that? Equally, dragging out every blog post to 2000 words when you don’t really have that much to say can be excruciating.
What’s the answer then? Well, that depends a lot on what aspects are most important to you and your business. Let’s go through blow by blow and by the end, hopefully, you’ll feel more confident!
Ultimately, the content you create is for the benefit of your users, customers and prospects. (If it’s not, you’re doing it wrong.) As such, it should be tailored to them and how they digest information. This will be influenced by what sort of product or service you’re selling and how well your customers and prospects know you. If you’re writing a blog post aimed at veteran users of your product, to highlight a new feature or remind them of something, then short-form is perfect. You don’t need to waste their time, or yours, extolling the virtues of a product they know intimately.
But, if you’re aiming at prospects doing their first bit of investigation into a new area then you’re probably better off focussing on long-form. A piece of industry analysis, for example, would look silly if you squeezed it into a 600-word limit. You’d be laughed at, and rightly so. Give it the time, and depth it deserves, go into detail. You’ll also find that you’ll help your users answer questions they didn’t necessarily know they needed answering – you’ll be at the forefront of their mind then when they come to buying time.
Becoming a Thought Leader Through Content
A lot of organisation’s content strategies are focussed around becoming a ‘thought leader in their industry’. It’s a bit of an annoying, nothing phrase, but it’s important – especially in the context of short vs long-form content.
Simply put, it’s hard to demonstrate to prospects and customers the extent of your knowledge and expertise if you never go beyond 500 words on a subject. For 95% of subjects, this is barely scraping the surface. You’ll hamstring yourself by only answering the questions they can already find in Google. Give yourself the chance to answer their deeper questions and concerns by going into detail and covering several aspects. You’ll add much more value.
On the other side of that, short-form content also has its place. A short introduction to a subject or a small reminder can work great in this format. This is especially true when your content strategy is focussed around topic clusters. This makes it easier for prospects to delve deeper into the specific areas they want. It’s also great for your SEO.
That moves us nicely on to SEO. This one is a bit one-sided I’m afraid. Overwhelmingly, the evidence suggests that long-form content is far superior when it comes to the slippery, dark arts of SEO. On average, the top 10 results on Google are over 2000 words in length. There are a few reasons for this.
Firstly, long-form content is naturally optimised for the way the modern internet user searches. Historically, when the internet was less crowded, we optimised websites and content for one or two keywords or search terms. This tactic doesn’t work anymore. People search for long-tail queries. They are looking for exact answers to specific questions. Over 70% of search queries are long-tail. This is good news for long-form content because, very simply, with more words you’ve got more chances to include a greater number and variety of long-tail keywords.
Secondly, Google (and other search engines) also favour long-form content. Google’s algorithm is designed to pick out “high-quality in-depth” content. The sort of content that is over 2000 words. It’s in Google’s interest to find the answers to people’s searches and provide good quality content – they’ve built their business model on it. Google (and others) simply find it easier to find answers in long-form content, ergo, you’re more likely to appear higher in SERPs.
Finally, the lengthier content also means you’ll naturally accumulate more backlinks. No secret formula here, just simple maths/probability. Backlinks are an extremely important aspect of SEO, and one too detailed to go into now, so if you want to know more, head here.
Ease of Implementation
Part of the reason we’re all so scared of embracing the long-form content doctrine is that producing that much content, of a high quality, is incredibly difficult and extremely time-consuming. If you’ve ever wondered why 500-word blog posts are so popular with companies, this is it. Convincing people to spend time and budget on digital and inbound marketing can be hard enough – harder still when you explain that actually, your content should be over 2000 words. That’s a tough sell.
A long-form content strategy simply isn’t always appropriate or possible for organisations. Given this, I would always advocate some content over no content – and so we turn to short-form. This is not necessarily a bad thing though. Done well, using topic clusters, and plenty of links you can provide significant value for your users. If you’ve got the time though, try it – if 2000 words seem intimidating I assure you, you’ll have more to say than you think! Another benefit of long-form content is that it has an incredibly long life-span. Because it covers so many aspects of a topic due to its length it can be reused again and again. It may need updating occasionally but that shouldn’t stop you.
Hopefully, that answers more of your questions than it has given you new ones. There is no need to choose one form of content at the expense of all others. Both long and short form have their place, and my recommendation would be that they both form part of your content strategy. Used correctly, they can both bring value to your campaigns.
I would urge you to try long-form content though. The benefits for your users and your site’s SEO can be significant. Despite being told that the human race now has a shorter attention span than the humble goldfish, long-form content is becoming more and more popular. The value of things going viral is obvious, but that’s a different subject. We’re talking about adding value for your prospects and customers with high-quality content. For me, long-form wins that one.
If you’d like help implementing a long or short-form content strategy, get in touch with us today, or give us a call on 0333 335 0425.