Long or short blog posts, which are better?

Long or short blog posts, which are better? -- Mervi Eskelinen

It's easy to become obsessed about minute details of blogging. Especially when you are struggling to gain traffic or get the attention you feel you deserve, the little things start to seem like the big ones. You might get too involved with the perfect kind of a blog title or trying to include call to actions in each one of your blog posts. One of the common blogging obsessions is the content length. Like many other bloggers, you are constantly trying to find out how long your blog posts should be. You want to know if length matters in obtaining more shares, getting more people to read your blog and in earning higher search engine ranking.

Make a quick search and you'll find a whole bunch of answers to the question of how long should a blog post be. Some people will tell you the shorter is better and many will tell you to write lengthy articles with lots of details. Is it all confusing you? Maybe all the answers are only giving you more questions. Which way should you go? Are shorter blog posts better than the long ones?

Short is better

Because lots of people only skim through articles and don't seem to have time to actually read anything short seems like the better way to go. There are cases where short is the way to go. For example Seth Godin writes famously short blog posts. As far as I know his blog is very popular and the short, often witty and somewhat sarcastic posts are linked from other blogs and shared around social media. Godin was known and had been writing many books before he begun blogging, so he had that going on for himself. In Godin's case short is better. He has a very brief style and can easily provide quite a lot of information in a short post. Similarly photo heavy blogs, such as those which publish fashion and design related content, may only use very few words very successfully.

Many short blog posts perform very well. I have some quite short ones which create lots of traffic and have good search engine visibility. The allure of short blog posts is in the fact that they are generally easy and fast to read. They don't steal too much time from your readers. My studies included writing lessons where we also practised summarising texts, which is a surprisingly useful skill. Lots of people are looking for brief answers to their questions, quick information about some subject. They don't have time or interest in deep analyses and pondering of all the sides.

There are downsides in being short. If your writing style isn't very brief you might not tell everything you need in a shorter blog post. It is a good exercise though, a way to practise more concise expression. You could be worried about how long your website visitors stay on your site and short texts don't necessarily help them to stay longer. At least if they don't click the included links. Short posts may seem less important to your readers if they are in a thinking that longer means deeper and more researched texts.

Long is better

Then longer must be better. If you ask any content marketer or blogging guru, they will tell your blog posts must be at least 1600 words long and preferably quite a lot longer, somewhere around 2000 to 2500 words. Buffer had found out that those of their blog posts which were over 2500 words long were the most shared ones. Medium had studied blog lengths too and assessed that visitors read mostly blog posts which take them 7 minutes to read. 7 minutes! For a fast reader like myself this sounds like the first chapter of a book or something.

According to lots of different data the longer contents rank better on search engines than the shorter ones. Apparently search engines see content length as a signal of quality. Search engines also use the amount of (quality) backlinks as a ranking signal and longer posts often gain more of those too. Additionally the more you have content, the more keywords there will be in the content. The more keywords and search phrases appear in your content, the more likely that content is to appear in search results of those keywords and search phrases. That makes sense.

Still longer is not necessarily always better. As I mentioned, lots of people only skim blog posts and don't want to get into longer writings. Of course if you can write a concise text about a subject it's not a good idea to try and make the text longer just to apply to the rules of perfect length. Actually trying to stretch a text just because will probably only make it ranty, repeating and lower its quality. Plus it will make your readers really annoyed and think you are an idiot or assume them to be idiots. You don't want either. If you post on your blog many times a week you might not have time to write long blog posts either and on the other hand your readers might not have time to read them. Long blog posts always take more time and effort from your readers.

Quality over quantity

As Neil Patel writes, getting too obsessed with content length is not a good idea. Data does say longer is better. Search engines are more interested in longer content and it looks like long articles get more shares and backlinks. There are however those who successfully constantly write short blog posts and gain lots of engagement and traffic with them. Seth Godin is only one, yet perhaps the most prominent example.

Which ever length your blog posts are you need to emphasise the quality of your content. A long blog post can be very superficial and a short blog post can be insightful. If you can fit your keywords and most of all your case in a shorter post, that's great. If you need to write a longer post about the issue, that's great too. As long as the short article doesn't leave out anything important and the long one isn't empty and unnecessarily repetitive. Many bloggers also seem to squeeze lots of different subjects into one post. This does create more keywords per post, but can be bouncing from a subject to another in a way that makes it difficult to read. Length of a content, whether it's long or short, doesn't guarantee quality.

In case search engine optimisation is highly important for you there's one thing to keep in mind: Search engines are constantly improving their algorithms. The current situation where longer posts get often higher rankings today can change with the next round of improvements. However quality remains to be the key factor. The search engines want to highlight quality content and they are trying to put more weight on it as a ranking signal. Even with the data proving that length matters it doesn't still trump the significance of quality. Quality does go over quantity.

Jonathan Morrow at Copyblogger calls for tight writing for alluring readers. Tight writing gets to the point and is polished. It's not too wordy and it's precise. I'm not much of a tight writer myself, as aren't most of the bloggers. However I do try and drop off extra words or even paragraphs to make my writing tighter. It's because I hate reading blog posts which just never gets where they are going. You know, the ones that are setting up something and finally get there after way too many uninformative paragraphs. Instead of aiming for length, short or long, aim for tighter expression. Get to your point and cut off all the empty rambling. This doesn't mean your blog posts have to be short. I have read long, yet tight blog posts and short, but rambling ones.

Should your content be longer or shorter?

Generally this is one of those cases of it depends. In the light of the data it seems like long is the way to go. At least this is the case for informational blogging and search engine optimisation. But even with search engines that depends on the which data is collected and how. In some searches the short contents show up first and in some the long ones. I also wonder how Google's growing emphasis on mobile-friendliness affects this. Will short content be seen more mobile-friendly than long?

Like I wrote before, quality goes over the quantity. Tight writing can be both long and short and quality of a post doesn't really have anything to do with it's length. As pointed out, short works for some and long works for others. The length depends on your subject, your audience, format and style. If your style is wordy, then your blog articles are likely to be long. Some subjects, as this one, call for longer takes, while some work better when you go with short. If you are writing poetry, you might not want to write a 2500 words long poem. Sounds pretty heavy, doesn't it? Same goes with photoblogging and link roundups. Your audience also determines the blog length. In case your audience has a short attention span or are used to short blog posts, that's the way for you to go. On the other hand your audience could expect long format and take length as a quality factor. When you are writing for people like that, you need to write long posts.

According to the data others have collected the safe way to go would be with longer writing. Long blog posts can include more keywords and seems to be a high ranking signal to search engines. Of course writing long blog posts take more time and effort as well does reading them. With really smart writing you can include the keywords to shorter posts too. While long blog posts, 1600 words or longer, could be the data driven optimal way to gain more visibility and traffic, the short ones can be the right type for you and your audience. There's no telling, at least I cannot tell that to you.

Then what do I recommend you to do? Simply test it yourself and create your own data. Your own data tells you what works specifically for you. It's not just some general "this worked for others", so maybe it will work for you too. Testing is, of course, time consuming and takes you an effort, but it gives you much more accurate data and information. Go for the testing by writing different length posts. Track and analyse their performance, such as the shares, bounce rates, traffic and search engine ranking. Do this for a longer period of time. You can even write a shorter and longer post about the same subject and see how they perform against each other. If you want to be really crafty you will vary the lengths of your blog posts depending on the subjects and perhaps even the target audiences. Yes, you can have multiple different target audiences, no matter what the niche obsessed people tell you. Testing different lengths doesn't only give you data about the performance, but also about what works for you. Are you a wordy writer or are you more like Godin, a short form blogger? You might be surprised. Do take in account that any data you collect doesn't only depend on the length of your writing.

The data I linked earlier in this post is good and all those articles make excellent points. They fail in one thing. That's giving you the specific data about your blog, your audience, subjects, format and style. Obviously they cannot do that. That's why your own data and testing will work for you much better. And always, always go with the quality.

Well, this was a lengthy one. Next I'm challenging myself to write this same thing with way less words. Perhaps after a while I can then tell you which performed better.

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