You hear this argument all the time in digital marketing circles: How long should articles be? It’s a natural question as you launch a content marketing initiative, or as you seek to improve what you’ve already got going – we all want to get the most bang for our buck when it comes to the hard work of creating content, so we want to create what’s going to work.
But here’s the unsatisfying truth: There is no right answer. Unfortunately, the only accurate answer is, “it depends.” It depends on your audience. It depends on your goals. It depends on other factors as well, including your distribution strategy, your brand personality and writing style, and the frequency that you publish content.
SEO professionals the last few years have focused on long form content. They tend to recommend longer articles because they see that they perform better on Google. Yes, there’s value to that, but it isn’t necessarily the most important thing for every business. Everybody seems to obsess about organic search, but that might not be what is going to help you sell more of your product or service; it could be that you’re best served by having a tightly focused list of email subscribers. In this case, you articles should be whatever that audience wants.
It’s absolutely true that there’s a ton of content available to all of us now, and in this environment the audience will find higher value in content that goes deeper into a topic and explores it in greater detail. However, deeper isn’t necessarily the same as longer. You have to create something the audience considers valuable. Those are the articles that get shared more frequently, and earn backlinks from other sites. Because they are authoritative, those are the articles that help to position your company as a thought leader.
For instance, if you’re creating content for B2C healthcare, you likely want to focus on bite-sized “news you can use” that generates a conversation around healthy habits in your community – these articles are not going to be 2,000 word deep dives. If you’re creating content about health insurance for HR directors, you likely need to dig deeper to clearly explain that rather arcane world; surface-level content isn’t going to move the ball forward.
If you’re merely writing on and on and on trying to reach a prescribed number of words, I assure you that you’re doing it wrong.
The point of writing a blog post or article is not to reach a certain word count; it’s to tell a story.
Experienced writers know that it is typically more difficult to write something short than it is to write long. Writing long allows you to simply pour out whatever is in your head. The difficult part of writing is editing it down, making sure that only the essentials survive. Good writing is concise. It tells a story without wasting the reader’s time. In newsrooms, the rookies tend to write longer; the more experienced pros have figured out how to tell a story in fewer words – less words, more meaning.
There are plenty of articles out there that are longer than they need to be just because someone who doesn’t understand storytelling demanded that they be a certain length.
When it comes to your content, you need to understand your audience – what do they want? What fits for them? Often they want both well-researched long form content and easily digestible quick content. As Jon Bernstein wrote in The Guardian last year,
“… this isn’t really about length – it’s about execution. Long is not necessarily bad. Rambling is bad. A lack of structure is bad. Scant regard of the reader’s needs is bad.”
So, should you write short posts or long in-depth articles?
The answer is “yes.”
Your audience is looking for both – as long as you’re delivering quality.