The Ideal Content Length

If you’re sitting down to plan a content strategy—say, for a business blog—one of the things you’ll need to consider is how long you want your posts to be. What performs better—long posts or short? Does it matter?

The numbers don’t lie

The short answer is that, yes, it does matter how long your content is. There has been a decent amount of research on this topic, and there is a consensus: longer content is usually better. It tends to rank higher in searches, and it tends to foster greater levels of reader engagement. There is more to the story than just length, of course, and there are plenty of situations where shorter content is more appropriate.

In general, though, long-form is the way to go. Let’s dive into the reasons:

Longer content ranks higher in search

SerpIQ is one frequently-cited source of that research. They studied how content length correlated with search ranking. You can read the results here, but the chart below is pretty clear—the higher the page rank, the more content it had. In fact, the top ten are all above 2000 words:

There is a very simple explanation for this: more content means more things for the web crawlers to index. The more things they index, the better your search performance.

Longer content is more engaging

Another bit of frequently-cited research was conducted by Medium in 2013. They were curious about “what post length captured the most attention on average.” The full write-up is great and has a bunch more pretty charts, but the gist of it is that a 7-minute read is optimal for generating engagement from the reader.

We want our readers to be engaged. Engagement is the magical stuff that converts leads, drives sales, and turns readers into fans of your brand. Engagement is critical.

So, what do 7 minutes translate to in terms of word count? Based on an average reading speed of around 200 words per minute, we come up with a target post length of around 1500 words.

That’s shorter than the 2000+ that serpIQ found, but the reality is that Google’s web crawlers aren’t the only ones reading your posts—actual people are, too. People get bored. Looking at the chart above, you can see that engagement drops steadily beyond that 7-minute mark.

Longer content allows for more depth

It’s hard to write authoritatively on a subject if you’re limiting your word count too much. Short 500-word blog posts are great for some things, but deep dives into technical topics are not one of them.

Why does this matter? Because blogging provides an excellent opportunity to show your expertise off to potential clients. Deep, detailed posts are a great way to build brand authority, credibility, and trust. Credible, trustworthy brands win sales over their competitors. That’s all there is to it.

Sometimes shorter is better, though

Now, I’m going to complicate things for you, because nothing can ever be easy.

There are a few scenarios where the needle moves toward the other end of the spectrum, and shorter content becomes the better bet.

Mobile users ain’t got time for that

The first is when your readers are on a mobile device. This demographic strongly prefers shorter content, whereas desktop users are more likely to sit and read longer pieces. This makes sense; if you’re reading something on your phone, there’s a good chance you’re out and about somewhere and other things are competing for your attention.

More and more traffic is coming from mobile. Look at your analytics. If most of your traffic is coming from mobile, it may make sense to deviate from the suggestion above and target a shorter content length.

Social media kills attention spans

The same is true for people who are coming to your content via social media. Someone browsing a never-ending stream of posts on Facebook might click your link, but if the content is too long, they might decide it isn’t worth their time at that moment, with so much else in their feeds competing for attention.

They probably won’t be back to try again later. You typically get one chance to capture someone’s attention, so make it count.

Sometimes you just need to shut up

You never want to pad your writing with useless crap just to hit some arbitrary word count. If you’ve said what you needed to say in 600 words, and it doesn’t make sense to keep going, don’t. Let it be.

Don’t forget the golden rule

The content needs to be good, or none of this other stuff matters; a blog post that’s loaded to the brim with filler is not going to be good.

Remember, content is king. Take care of it, and it’ll take care of you.

Do you prefer a certain length of content? Have you found one to perform better than the other? Share your thoughts on content length with me on Twitter!