— September 11, 2017
There is no magic formula for the perfect blog length. But if you want your page to rank well for SEO, you’re better off going longer.
If you read the title of this article and crinkled your nose a little in a look of annoyed exasperation, don’t worry. I understand.
I might as well be asking how long the proverbial piece of string is, right?
There is no single, clear, definable answer to the question we’re trying to answer. To use a well-worn phrase, a blog should be as long as it needs to be. We don’t ask how long the ideal novel is, or the ideal poem.
So does size matter when it comes to the ideal blog post length?
A potted history of blogging
The perspective of time is always helpful. So before we start on our quest for the Holy Grail of blog length, let’s remind ourselves what blogging is, and where it came from.
Back when the internet was young, freedom was the watchword. Based on the egalitarian principles of its inventor, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the whole point of the World Wide Web was to allow the free dissemination of information and data, with open access to all.
In this kind of climate, it made sense that the internet should also offer a platform for people to self-publish. Blogging started out as a form of online diary writing, with early bloggers literally creating a record of what they did online – ‘blog’ is really short for ‘weblog’, which means ‘a log of the web’.
With a few clicks of a mouse, people could suddenly become published authors, with their work available to millions online. No publishing houses, no agents, no editors, no endless rejection letters. Blogging empowered ordinary people to write what they wanted, and allowed other people to read it. Soon people were blogging about anything and everything they saw fit to write about.
You can probably imagine that with this approach to blogging, few people asked questions about the perfect blog length. You wrote as much or as little as you wanted or needed to. All that mattered was that you had the platform in the first place.
So what changed?
In a word — business changed.
It didn’t take too long for the world’s corporations and enterprises to catch on to the popularity of blogging. Business blogging started out largely as a PR exercise, and a way for businesses to present a friendly face to the world.
Then, as the dot.com boom took hold on the back of social media, bloggers began to realise they could make money. With a big enough audience, helped by lots of shares on social media, blogs could attract enough traffic to generate income from advertising. This list of the world’s 50 richest bloggers demonstrates how successful this tactic has become.
Google decided that it would start ranking websites in search based on how ‘fresh’ the content was. This caused a seismic shift. Suddenly, businesses had to start churning out fresh blogs weekly, or even daily. Running a blog quickly became a cornerstone strategy of pretty much every school of marketing known to humankind.
So blogging is no longer just about people expressing themselves. In the corporate world of money and brand visibility, performance matters. Whether it is drawing in a big enough audience to make a fortune from advertising, or ensuring a company hits the coveted top spot in Google search, blogs need to earn their crust and be heard among millions of others. This is where questions about ideal blog post length stem from.
Content is king, and SEO the crown prince
Will the length of a blog significantly influence whether people click through to your page, read what is there, and then click through somewhere else on your site? Probably not.
But it will influence is how readily people can find you in search.
It is now widely accepted that the amount of content on a page is one of the determining factors used by Google and other search engine algorithms to rank search results.
To explain why, I refer you to marketing guru Neil Patel, and his exploration of the question now in hand.
Neil’s key point is simple. Content is everything. And though video, music, photos, games, and interactive content are great, text still accounts for the overwhelming majority of what you consume. That means, when it comes to SEO as well as grabbing and holding the attention of an audience, the written word is the best tool at your disposal.
The written word is a powerful thing. It has the ability to captivate, to inspire, to move, to enrapture. Certain patterns of words, certain structures, certain layouts even perform better at grabbing and holding people’s attentions. And, yes, word count is a factor too.
Don’t believe me? There are stats to back it up.
Search loves longer content
Neil Patel refers us to a SERPIQ study when making the case that, from an SEO perspective at least, longer blog posts work better. In fact, the study goes a step further than that. It actually tells us what the best ballpark word count is to hit the top spots in SERPs.
The researchers counted the number of words on the pages that make the top 10 SERP spots for dozens of different Google searches, and then took an average. The results are pretty clear:
- From search position two down, the average number of words declines steadily
- In straightforward probability terms, pages with more written content are more likely to hit the top two positions in search rankings.
The average amount of content per page in ranking positions one and two is just over 2,450 words. In position 10, that average is just over 2,000 words.
There are a few solid SEO reasons which explain why search algorithms seem to prefer more text. Again, Neil Patel’s analysis of this topic is solid. Here are the mean reasons:
- Indexing is quantitative. In other words, at a fundamental level, search engines gather up and analyse all of the different types of content you have. The more ‘stuff’ there is, the more goes into the index. Think of it like spreading your bets – the more you have in the index, the higher your chances of winning out.
- The longer a piece you write is, the more chance you have of hitting all of the different keyword search terms and phrases for your topic. This is a matter of good quality writing as much as it is SEO. During journalism training, for example, you get taught never to avoid repeating words and phrases within a paragraph. You therefore become accustomed to always thinking of ways around saying the same thing. This is perfect for SEO. For any given key phrase, there are bound to be at least a dozen alternatives. In a short piece, you may only have the opportunity to use three or four of them. In a longer article, you might end up having to use them all, just to avoid repeating that first one. There, in a completely natural way, you have nailed your keywords.
- It is a misconception that, from an SEO perspective, the most important content on a page are how specific keywords are used, H1 header tags, maybe words that are bold or italicised. Search algorithms have become a lot more sophisticated than that. They now use natural language analysis approaches like latent semantic indexing (LSI) which, to give a very simplistic definition, assesses how well the content on a page explains or expands on the topic in the title and the meta description. It basically boils down to quality control; Google bots are looking for content that is thorough, relevant and informative. In many cases, longer content seems to perform better on these scores.
Is 2,500 the magic number?
All of the data and analysis covered above makes for compelling reading about the relationship between the amount of written content on a web page and SEO. But there are a few caveats to throw in:
- The SERPIQ study is for all types of web page that appear in rankings, not just blogs. Also, its measurements are averages. The problem with the mean is that it can quickly become distorted – by, say, a handful of truly massive pages with tens of thousands of words of content each.
- Even down at page rank 10, the average was still around 2,000 words, which suggests there was probably a large range from the smallest to the largest word count in that position too.
- Given that this is all averaged out, it is hard to say that 2,500 words is the ideal blog post length. It just happens to be in the middle. Rather than be so precise about word count, all you can really conclude is that longer performs better — in general.
This is all probability. Yes, the data suggests a longer post might make it more likely that your page will rank well in search – but it does not guarantee it. SEO is far more complex than that. It would be perfectly possible to write epic-length blog posts without ever getting a look in on search.
The short blog theory
Some of you may have been reading this with a puzzled look on your face for past few paragraphs. Some may even be shaking their head in disbelief. Wait a minute; all the advice I’ve ever been given is that shorter content works better on-screen.
This is true. It is extremely common to hear that the ideal length for a blog or any other kind of web article is 400-600 words. In fact, so common is this thinking that the 500 word blog has almost become the default.
But you’re seen the stats. On average, a 500 word blog is less likely to rank highly in Google than something of 2,000 words or more. So where does this cult of the 500 word blog come from? Are there reasons even more pressing than SEO which make shorter blogs best?
Reading vs. scanning
Pretty much everyone agrees that blogs have to be at least 300 words to get a reasonable amount of detail in. So the trend for short blogs could be based on an assumption of exceeding that minimum, but without overspending on any one post.
Other valid arguments made in favour of shorter blog posts include:
- Readers’ preferences (more on that below)
- How people physically read from a screen compared to paper
- Research claiming people simply don’t have the time to read long blog posts
- Tests that suggest the human eye prefers to scan for information from a lit screen, rather than read closely line by line
- The role the PR industry plays in the world of business blogging; experienced PR professionals are more used to writing press releases.
Before working in PR, I trained and worked as a consultant. So I happen to know that the standard length of a page lead news story is 500 words. I also know that, as a PR professional, you write most of your press releases to 500 words because it increases the chances of it being used. Any hard pressed editor is always delighted to have a made-to-measure article ready to plonk straight on the page without any editing. These rules of page space obviously don’t apply to blogs, but perhaps old habits die hard.
The trend for 500-word posts may have come from journalists and the PR industry. But you don’t have to stick to old methods.
The final possible explanation for a trend towards short content centres around budget and resources. For many people, writing 2,000 words is daunting. There is the issue of the time it takes to research and draft, and then the skill it takes to make such a long post readable and engaging.
(You might also run into budget problems if you don’t brief your blogger efficiently.)
What do people prefer?
SEO might be important, but it is not the be all and end all of blog writing. Even if you do get that coveted high SERP ranking, you need potential customers to click through, and enjoy what they read. You want them to be interested, moved or inspired enough to start exploring the rest of your site, or even better share what you have published with their circle on Facebook or Twitter.
- The speed at which people read obviously varies from individual to individual, but most sources I found in a Bing search seemed to agree that the average adult reads at around 300 words per minute. So that means that a 2,500 word post should be comfortably manageable within 10 minutes. That doesn’t seem excessive.
- According to Buffer’s infographic on the optimal length of everything from Twitter posts to YouTube videos, the ideal length of time to keep someone reading your blog post is seven minutes. That is based on a Medium survey which claims seven minutes translates roughly to 1,600 words. (The same source also references a stat claiming that the ideal blog post length for social shares is 2,500 words.)
- Longer articles cannot attract the most social shares if people avoid reading them because they are too busy. Referencing research from Pocket which found longer blog posts were more popular with readers than shorter, Julie Neidlinger makes the point that, when something grabs our attention, our attention spans are as long as they need to be.
And if time is a factor, the solution surely should be to find ways to help people consume longer content more flexibly, with page markers and easy download options, rather than resorting to shorter content for fear of scaring them off.
Size isn’t everything
In order to conclude this epic post, I need to step back and look at the evidence on the likely ideal blog post length. But here’s the thing: whatever you want to achieve with your blogging, you cannot do it by looking at word count alone.
Neil Patel does us one last service in his excellent exploration of this topic by listing all of the other factors that you need to consider when writing a blog. They are, to paraphrase Neil briefly, as follows:
- Substance. Have you got something worth blogging about?
- Frequency. How often do you post?
- Format. Does the layout of your blog, however long, support readability and allow people to scan quickly for information?
- Purpose. What exactly do you want to achieve through blogging?
- Audience. Do you know who you’re writing for?
- Medium. Choosing a different medium can take word count out of the equation completely.
To these, I might add two more: style and tone. Some audiences will be won over by humour, whereas others will respect a more authoritative style. Likewise, some topics will lend yourself to be more playful in your tone, whereas others need to be treated more soberly, and perhaps with sensitivity.
Style and tone may also vary depending on the purpose of your article – defending a strongly held position in a comment piece may require a strong voice, while an advice piece usually works best with a more conversational tone.
If in doubt, quality wins out
Whatever your purpose, quality content is the key factor. From choice of topic to content to manipulation of style and tone for your audience, and from the length of what you write to how you present it on the screen, quality depends on weighing up all factors and creating the best possible amalgamation.
If your posts are good, people will take time to read them. But you may need to write longer posts to elevate the quality to that degree. That’s the answer to the question we’re trying to answer.
Final thoughts: the ideal blog post length for businesses
I hope if you have made it this far you have guessed my answer. There is no such thing, because quality is more important.
I will, however, edge far enough one side of the fence to say this. On most of the usual metrics used to measure how a web page performs — SEO, back links, social shares, and so on — longer blog posts do perform better than shorter ones. And we are not just talking a small hike from 500 words to 1,000 here. The stats suggest that blogs in the 2,000 – 2,500 word range are the real high performers.
The most important thing, however, is engagement. Seth Godin, and other bloggers like him, are successful because they do not get too caught up in ideal blog post length. They write what they need to write.
If your purpose is to provoke thought, stir up a reaction, get people laughing or illustrate a simple point, brevity can work very well. If you are in the business of informing, explaining, advising or offering thought leadership, you may be better served giving yourself the word count to do it properly. The ideal blog post length is, therefore, the word count you need to do your subject justice.
The magic ingredient is quality. Whatever you have to write, and whatever you want to achieve by writing it, make sure you write it well. The word count will take care of itself.
SerpIQ research graph licensed under Fair Use.