The Secrets to Word Count

Whether your company wants to update its long-standing content marketing plan or you’re developing a strategy for the first time, article length should be a key part of your plan. No matter how you generate website traffic, word count can make or break your content’s success rate. Discover the secrets to word count, the ideal length for your posts, and how getting both pieces right can significantly improve your metrics.

Why Should You Produce Long-Form Content?

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Image via Flickr by hellothomas

Content that’s short and sweet might be efficient to produce and easy to consume, but this type of content won’t necessarily help you meet your marketing goals. If you want your content to hit home, consider producing long-form blog posts and articles.

To prove this point, Medium conducted a study to analyze the site’s own content and how readers engaged with it. Instead of simply charting page views, Medium looked at article length and the amount of time site users spent reading to seek content of an ideal length. Ultimately, Medium found that posts that took readers seven minutes to consume performed best in terms of engagement. For the average person, seven minutes of reading equals about 1,600 words.

Even if your content marketing goals extend beyond audience engagement or time spent on your brand’s website, long-form content still offers benefits. For example, Buffer determined that blog posts of at least 1,500 words typically receive more social shares than shorter posts. This finding holds true on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, so long-form content performs better no matter which social platform your brand relies on most.

Long-form content also comes out on top for search engine optimization (SEO). After all, short posts with minimal content don’t give search engines much to go on. According to Yoast, posts greater than 1,000 words give Google and other search engines many clues about the keyword and the topic. In turn, long-form content has a better chance of achieving a top spot on a search engine results page (SERP) and generating more organic search traffic.

When to Go Even Longer

Since long-form content provides benefits that range from generating social shares to optimizing SEO, you might start to wonder if extra-long content has the potential to do even better. For some content marketers, the answer is a resounding yes. Hubspot found that its articles with more than 2,500 words generated the highest number of social shares and the most inbound links. If your brand’s audience is similar to Hubspot’s audience and tends to respond best to in-depth content and well-researched guides, producing articles with more than 2,000 words could be a smart decision.

If your brand chooses to pursue longer articles, take the time to develop a well-crafted content marketing strategy. Make high-quality content creation your first priority and source professional writers who can give your articles the expert edge they need. Make your content easier for your audience to consume by giving it more structure and breaking up the material with multiple sections and subheadings. At the same time, take extra steps to optimize your content to allow search engines to easily find and highlight keywords and phrases.

Finally, have a plan in place to promote each piece of content to give it the attention and social shares it deserves. Calling out snippets worthy of tweets in longer articles is a great way to break up text and give attention to the main points of your article. This tactic is also a smart one for encouraging social shares, which can drive more traffic and generate more inbound links.

When Shorter Is Better

As beneficial as longer content typically can be, producing posts greater than 1,500 words isn’t the right choice for every brand or all articles. If you publish posts multiple times a week, for example, creating shorter content might be ideal or necessary. Content type also impacts post length, since shorter introductions tend to pair best with interactive media such as infographics or videos.

To decide whether shorter content meets your brand’s needs, take a closer look at how your content has performed over time. Do short-and-sweet posts receive the most comments, shares, or traffic? If your audience responds better to shorter posts or if your message meshes with a briefer format, tailor some of your content to meet this demand.

Take steps to make sure that any short-form content strategy that you develop takes into account more than audience engagement and social shares. Keep in mind that some short content won’t rank on most SERPs, which means your material might not receive much organic search traffic. In general, search engines only rank posts that contain at least 300 words.

Why Shouldn’t You Keep Word Count to a Minimum?

Shorter can be better in some cases, but how short should you go? Some content creators praise the power of tight writing as exemplified by the posts that innovative marketing guru Seth Godin publishes on his personal blog. He’s perfected the art of composing short, sweet posts and pithy articles that force readers to think. Many of his posts are a few hundred words long, while others have only 25 or so words.

Godin has honed his blogging chops for more than a decade, attracting a massive and highly engaged audience in the process. His success, however, isn’t necessarily something that other content marketers can or should copy. His to-the-point posts inspire ideas, promote thought leadership, and showcase his brand, but they don’t accomplish many of the goals that most content marketers create.

If you want to meet a long list of goals, such as better SEO, more shares, and extra opportunities for link-building, you shouldn’t keep the length to a minimum. Instead, go longer and give both readers and search engines something to chew on.

As your content team hones its strategy and develops your brand’s style guide and editorial calendar, keep these secrets to word count in mind. Although they’re not hard-and-fast rules that apply unilaterally to each industry, they’re tried-and-true guidelines that will help your team zero in on the ideal blog post length for your brand.

About the author

Anna Sonnenberg

Anna Sonnenberg is an experienced writer and editor who focuses on digital marketing, travel, and natural products — but rarely all at once. With a background in research and the arts, Anna has a solid sense of the art of storytelling, along with a drive to gather the supporting data.