The Goldfish Conundrum: Short vs. Long Blog Articles

By December 11, 2019 Blog No Comments
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With our short attention spans, you might think shorter blogs are better. But the reality of the “best” blog length isn’t quite so simple.

Have you heard the one about the human attention span having deteriorated to the point where it’s shorter than that of a goldfish?

Turns out it isn’t true. However, if you’re like a lot of us, most days it feels very true, since in a world intent on multi-tasking we’re pulled in a hundred different directions at any given moment. As a result, we’ve shortened and simplified books, movies, commercials and more to accommodate the new state of human distraction.

If you write blog articles for your business, you may have wondered whether short or long blogs work best for maximum engagement. What is the best blog length? The answer is (of course) that it depends on what you’re looking for.

The Long and Short of Short and Long

So, what word count determines whether a blog article is short or long? A generally accepted guideline considers articles short if they’re between 300 and 1,000 words (research shows at least 300 words is needed to fare well in search rankings; it’s hard to make SEO work with fewer words than that). Typical content for this length article is usually a surface exploration of a single topic—say new product announcements or interesting news.

Once the word count exceeds 1,000, you’ve entered long-article territory, with the space to cover topics in more depth. Word counts of 2,000 or higher allow you to get authoritative with white papers and other long-form articles backed by more extensive research.

WDGT? (or, What Does Google Think?)

“Google, what’s the best blog length?” It’s not exactly a secret that search ranking is everything. So, what does the almighty Google think of longer blog articles? Why, it loves them!

A few years ago, a company called SerpIQ did a study on the average length of the highest-ranked Google results. As you can see in the chart below, they discovered that the average content length of the top 10 results (so that coveted first page) was 2,200 words.

When you think about it, that makes sense. After all, shorter content doesn’t give you much room to work in SEO and keywords (although don’t get us wrong, it’s definitely possible). However, longer content gives you more room and opportunity to play with those factors.

In reality, there is no such thing as a “best” blog length. There are advantages to both long- and short-form content:

Short articles…

  • Are great for covering a single topic that doesn’t require a lot of depth—e.g., an upcoming sale or a promotion announcement.
  • Are easy to put out on a regular/scheduled basis, since your topics are narrower and require less research. They’re also fast to format and post—perfect if you like to post every day, or more than once a day.
  • Are simpler for less-experienced writers to create.
  • Are a good way to showcase writers whose style is lean and direct.
  • Have been shown to be more effective in getting a reader to take action.
  • Entice readers who don’t have a lot of time to spare.
  • Suit short attention spans, since the average amount of time readers spend on a blog post is 37 seconds (goldfish or not, the fact is, attention spans are shorter these days).
  • Are more likely to be read in full in one sitting.

 

If you’d like to look at some generally acknowledged masters of the short-form blog article, check out the blogs of author, entrepreneur and marketing deity Seth Godin; David Vandagriff, a lawyer whose blog The Passive Voice has become a must-read for those interested in the publishing industry; and the ever-popular Disney Parks blog.

Long articles…

  • Are a great way to showcase your expertise and establish your reputation as an authority.
  • Allow you to cover the more complex topics your audience demands.
  • Are best authored by strong, experienced writers who are confident learning and researching topics at length.
  • Let you take full advantage of SEO/keywords, since you’ve got more real estate to work with.
  • Give readers who love to dwell and ponder lots of ponder-fodder.
  • Keep those engaged and pondering readers on your site longer.
  • Are (believe it or not) more likely to be shared and linked to on other blogs. Kind of counter-intuitive, isn’t it? But according to Forbes, blog posts of 1,500+ words are 68% more likely to be shared on Twitter, and 22% more likely to be liked on Facebook.
  • Are more likely to spark reader comments and create a conversation.

 

Sites that have seen much success with longer posts include Pioneer Woman, which artfully intersperses the posts with photos that illustrate Ree Drummond’s recipes and her ranch life. The Verge: Longform covers tech, science, culture and transportation in depth, and social media marketer Buffer shares in-depth articles about workplace culture and marketing, among other subjects.

Even if the examples we’ve included in this article don’t quite match up with what your business does, it’s a good opportunity to see both long and short articles in action, understand what type of information gets the spotlight and see how that information is conveyed. (Plus, c’mon, Mickey Mouse and Star Wars!)

Best Practices for Any Blog Article

Instead of worrying about the best blog length, focus on best practices. Whether you’re writing short or long blogs, here are a few tips to make them more valuable and readable for your audience, regardless of post length:

  • Always, always, always write with your audience in mind. The big question to ask yourself: Does your post meet their interests and solve their problems?
  • Be sure you know what purpose the blog post will serve before you start to write. Are you trying to add names to your email list? Announce a sale on your product/service? Convey important company or industry news? You’ll find that often, the purpose will inform the length.
  • Take advantage of infographics, graphs, video and any other visual aids you have. Depending on the topic, you may find that your visual aids end up serving as the centerpiece of your article, which means you only need to write enough copy to support your main point and call to action. (Win-win, as they say!)
  • Break up your wordage with scannable lists and obvious headlines that make it easy for your readers to scan and digest the information.
  • Don’t write long articles just to have enough words to rank higher in search results, and don’t sacrifice quality for speed. If a post opens like the most fascinating, wonderful, informative post ever, but then sags in the middle and fizzles out at the end, your readers won’t be inclined to return.
  • If you’re having a hard time deciding on the best blog length for your business, here’s an excellent tip (yes, we know it’s a bit of work, but it might be worth purchasing the content from a content agency to kickstart your blog plan). Post 10-12 persuasive, well-written short articles on your website, then add 10-12 long articles of equal quality. Watch to see which posts do the best—more traffic, comments, shares, or conversions and fewer bounces. The results will give you a clearer view of what your audience needs.

 

As you can see, the answer to “what’s the best blog length?” doesn’t come down to a number…well, not completely, anyway. What it does come down to is knowing your audience, and knowing what you want your content to achieve. And once you know that answer, the number of words really don’t matter all that much. As long as you engage the audience you’re looking for, and they’ve got the information and knowledge they need, everyone wins.

(Even those poor goldfish, who can finally put the embarrassing myth that their attention spans are equal to humans to rest once and for all.)

 

Could you use some guidance in creating blog content that will enhance your target audience? Contact our Content Manager, Robin Porter, at rporter@sprypub.com or 734-788-6768 to learn more about how we can help.

 

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