Blog length: Go deep, not shallow

Avoid thin posts

Jacob Nielsen called it, back in 2007, in “Write Articles, Not Blog Postings.”

The best length for effective blog posts

Into the deep Showcase your expertise with fewer, longer, more insightful posts. Image by Jeremy Bishop

“To demonstrate world-class expertise,” he wrote, “avoid quickly written, shallow postings. Instead, invest your time in thorough, value-added content that attracts paying customers.”

Now, years later, the king of usability has been vindicated. Turns out long, in-depth posts not only showcase your expertise better than short, superficial ones. They also climb higher on search engine results pages, or SERPs, and get read more carefully and shared more often.

So … what’s the best length for effective blog posts?

Longer posts do better on search.

The more words you include in your blog post, the better chance it has to climb higher in search engine results pages, or SERPs.

More than 200 words for Google. Google ignores pages with less than 200 words of text. Short text is one sign of “thin content.”

Google also dings pages with poor grammar, spelling errors and vague writing. After all, Google seems to be asking, are these pages worth the click?

More words = more search terms. Plus, the more words you have, the more longtail keywords and phrases you can include. That increases your chances of showing up higher on search engine results pages.

Higher rankings for longer pieces. As a result, posts that made the Top 10 search results averaged more than 2,000 words, according to serpIQ.

Of those top posts, the longer posts — up to more than 2,450 words — performed better in search than shorter posts.

Longer's better?

Longer’s better? Top 10 search results averaged more than 2,000 words, according to serpIQ. Of those top posts, higher-ranked posts tended to have more words.

HubSpot’s research confirms this: Its posts of 2,250 to 2,500 words get the most organic traffic.

Longer posts get more links

Once posts land higher in search results, they get more visits. If those posts offer a great deal of value, visitors might link back to them in their own social media status updates. Those links boost SEO, which boosts visitors, which boost linkbacks.

Call it The Circle of SEO.

The Circle of SEO

Pass it on Posts with 1,800 or more words have a higher average number of links than thinner posts. Chart by Moz

No wonder posts averaging 1,800 words or more get the most linkbacks, according to research by Moz.

Longer posts get more shares.

Sharing also increases with word count.

One popular online journal learned that its longer articles got shared more, reports Neil Patel. Their posts with more than 1,500 words got 51% more tweets, 66% more Facebook shares and 87% more LinkedIn shares than those under 400 words.

Share, but not alike

Share, but not alike One popular online journal found that its posts with more than 1,500 words got 51% more tweets, 66% more Facebook shares and 87% more LinkedIn shares than those under 400 words. Image by Neil Patel

His own posts of more than 1,500 words receive 68% more tweets and 22% more Facebook likes than shorter pieces.

Longer posts get read more carefully.

Reading also increases with word count: Time spent on a blog post peaks at 7 minutes, according to Medium.

Beat the clock Time spent reading a blog posts peaks at 7 minutes, according to Medium.

So, Medium suggests, strive for 7-minute posts.

How long is that? Figure 7 minutes of reading time at about 200 words per minute for about 1,400 words.

So how long for blog posts?

Those sweet spots are:

  • For search: More than 2,000 words average, peaking at about 2,500 words
  • For linkbacks: More than 1,800 words, peaking at around 3,000
  • For shares: 1,500 words or more
  • For reading: 1,400 words or so

How to write a long-form blog post

When writing long:

  • Go deep, not shallow. Make it “How to write long-form blog posts,” not “How to write.”
  • Deliver the goods. These aren’t just your musings about the topic, right? You’ve done your research, delivered your data points. Right?
  • Use the feature-style story structure. At 1,500 words, an inverted pyramid will fall down.

Finally, don’t fluff it up. You will not get these results with 2,000 words of filler. As author Maureen Howard said, “I like density, not volume.”

  • Cut Through the Clutter in LA

    Bookshelves buckle under the weight of usability research showing that the less readable your status updates, the less sharing you’ll see. That the more you pack into your paragraphs, the less people will read. That the longer your sentences get, the less your readers will understand.

    Get proven-in-the-lab lengths for the most engaging blog post, Facebook status update, tweet, Instagram caption and more.

    But how long is too long in social media? In this session, you’ll learn how to:

    • Hit the right targets: What’s the most effective length of a blog post? A Facebook status update? A tweet? An Instagram or Pinterest caption? A YouTube description? An online paragraph? A sentence? A word?
    • Execute a “reverse mullet” to put your message where their eyes are.
    • Get a paragraph-by-paragraph analysis of your piece to identify the best opportunities to radically increase readability.
    • Entice visitors to read more of your story by hitting one key on your keyboard more often.
    • Avoid using one “unretweetable” punctuation mark. It’s been proven in the lab to reduce sharing.

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Sources: Lindsay Kolowich, “The Character Count Guide for Blog Posts, Videos, Tweets & More,” HubSpot, April 25, 2017, updated Oct. 31, 2017

Neil Patel, “How Long Should Each Blog Post Be? A Data Driven Answer,” Quick Sprout, March 31, 2014

Mike Sall, “The Optimal Post is 7 Minutes,” Medium, Dec, 2, 2013

Kevin Espiritu, “How Important is Content Length? Why Data-Driven SEO Trumps Guru Opinions,” serpIQ, April 26, 2012

Casey Henry, “What Makes a Link Worthy Post – Part 1,” Moz, Oct. 19, 2009

Jakob Nielsen, “Write Articles, Not Blog Postings,” Nielsen Norman Group, July 9, 2007

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