Picking the perfect blog length

Picking the perfect blog length

As the owner of a public relations firm many requests cross my virtual desks that ask for arbitrary lengths of blogs. I refer to them as arbitrary because they don't take into account the amount of actual available information on a topic, the average length of other blogs written on that topic area or what mobile readers enjoy.

A recent contract requested 4,000 to 7,000 word articles. At first, I thought I'd landed an e-book contract, but no. My client puts these on a website… as a single web page. They showed me examples. Now, I adore and love them as I do all my clients because I enjoy writing cool creative pieces and the fact that I get paid for this bliss. (Being a writer was actually one of the grown up gigs I dreamed of as a kid. I feel blessed every day that my dream came true.)

Back to the client. I was flabbergasted to see the two or three exemplars they had up which, indeed, like the Energizer Bunny, kept going and going and going. I scraped through my first 7,000-word piece barely and vowed to write one short blog about how to determine the appropriate blog length.

Plenty of information.

Have a heart. Rather than arbitrarily determining a length – say 4,000 words on a topic – please, make sure there is enough distinct information available as source material to reach that word count. I see a bevy of requests for 1,000 words on topics that have enough source material for about 400 to 500 words. This is bad. Choosing an arbitrary number because it sounds good or you read a source that recommended that just doesn't work well.

Conduct an Internet search on your topic. Click on the top six links to check the content. Many sites duplicate the content of others. The top two or three might be Wikipedia clones or take the Bloomberg information on a business and duplicate it with a tiny bit of added information from Wikipedia or the company's own site. Click the news tab in the search engine to see how often the topic or company gets covered. Also, look for recent articles. As a general rule, you need 1,000 words of distinct resource material for 200 to 250 words of business, news, or explanatory article. For example, this article will top 1,200 words, but if you used it as a source, you'd only use the topical portions. About 250 to 300 words of it is personal anecdotes and humor. You'd rewrite the topical information using only the highlights and attribute this article via link.

Don't get trendy.

Another client recently hired an SEO keyword specialist. He really knows his long tail keywords. Alas, the latest trend toward r-e-a-l-l-y long blog articles also appeals to him. So, every request literally comes with a request for either an 800 or 1,200-word blog using a specific keyword. Heh.

As a journalist and a publicist, I will honestly tell you that is not the optimum way to plan your blog content. It does make for amusing writing though as I valiantly try to fit random long tails into hard news articles.

Now, it may provide an SEO advantage to use longer articles, but what good is it for people to find your site, if they don't want to stick around to read your content? The idea is to HOOK the reader, suck them in and get them to stay, explore and convert them through your sales funnel. Even if you don't have a paid product, you have a sales funnel because you're trying to sell your site. Maybe you'd like them to share their e-mail address for your weekly or monthly newsletter. Maybe you want them to subscribe to your RSS feed. Perhaps you offer an e-book download. Just getting them there is a tiny part of the battle. To win the war, you need to provide them germane content that's geared toward their needs.

Competition analysis rocks.

Your blog or your client's blog probably has a central topic. Maybe it's HVAC systems or MMA or the construction industry or lean systems implementation. Whatever you write about has an industry. That industry has competing blogs. You should look at each of those to see how lengthy their blogs run. If your competition all uses blogs that go for 300 to 400 words or come in at 500 words, you can probably assume that is what all of their readers enjoy, especially if you don't see tons of comments requesting even more information. Their readers are your potential readers. Cater to them.

Check the algorithms.

Bing and Google love to tweak their algorithms. I mean, they live for it. It's like crack to them, seemingly. If they update to favor 800-word content, (Please, don't Bing and Google. Please.) but if they do, hey, throw in one or two 800 worders in between the short pieces your readers like. You'll still pick up higher ranks without pissing off your readers. Again, what good is a high rank if no one who visits stays? Your goal as a blog publisher is to write something they love so much, they stop for coffee, curl up and read. Slurp.

Serve your readers.

Hand them the equivalent of chocolate and expresso on a silver platter over the Internet. That's content they can use in the format they need. So, if your super busy readers consuming your pithy blog on their morning commute dig short, quick 300 to 500-word pieces that they can scan, give them that. Now, how do you know what they want? You ask, my friend. Survey them. People tend to like it when you ask them what they like and you follow it up by listening and giving it to them.

An old friend once told me he wanted food for Christmas. He's comfortable with a gorgeous home and three touring bikes Lance Armstrong could've raced on, so he could literally buy whatever in the store. Dude knew I can bake, so he wanted what he could not buy himself – home cooking. Not only for that Christmas, but for every holiday thereafter, I baked my friend a basket of baked goods for his gift. Never once did I get that crestfallen look that says, you didn't listen. Never once did I get re-gifted. I did, however, get invited to a number of potluck dinner parties where the invitation requested I bring dessert after my friend shared his baked goods and got others addicted. Cake. People love cake. They also love when you ask them what kind of content they favor, when they like to read it and where. Most folks don't want to watch a video on the subway commute because they have to compete with the train sound and everyone else who is also watching a video. They read. Videos get watched in the office on lunch or at home.

Now, I have to hit the hay because I have three articles for other folks to author tomorrow. One is 500 words, one 600 words and one is 1,200 words. All will go on websites. All are serious, non-fiction and newsy. Guess which two readers will likely read all the way through? Of course, if you made it this far, I appreciate that you read all 1,229 words. Thanks.


Carlie Lawson writes about tech, mobile and online video, entertainment, sports and fashion. She wrote for JollyJo.tv and Movitly for a combined seven years. A former newspaper journalist, she now mostly ghost writes for her clients via her company, Powell Lawson Creatives. Invalid Inputs is her first independent, formal blog. She earned BAs in Journalism and Film & Video Studies from the University of Oklahoma. She also earned her Master of Regional & City Planning at OU. She has also worked as a model since she was 17.

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