What blog post length is best for content-first marketing? Ever wonder if your blog post is too short or your article too long? A handful of our clients have wrestled with this issue recently, so I sought answers. As it turns out, the answers aren’t black and white. Even Google admits that word count isn’t a ranking factor. But savvy marketers can weigh the points below to help identify the optimal length for their own content.
Note: I’ve focused on blog posts – not other forms of content, like videos, e-books and white papers.
Blog post lengths and what's best for content-first marketing
Short- and long-form blog posts have their benefits. Let’s break down the typical blog lengths and the benefits of each:
- 200-400 words: These are the shortest and sweetest of blog posts. Short-form posts are great for making a brief announcement. Similarly, you can use them to talk about a familiar topic. On the other hand, this length doesn’t help search engine optimization (SEO). In addition, this length isn’t best for content-first marketing.
- 400-600 words: Some would say 400-600 words is the standard blog post length. But others may argue this length is the bare minimum. Consequently, it’s not the best for SEO, but it’s a good middle ground for social shares.
- 600-1,000 words: These are informative posts. Because of their length, they’ll have a more editorial writing style. This word count and above allows readers to scan headlines, bullets and links. Moreover, Google likes posts that readers can scan.
- 1,000-1,500 words: This length is a sweet spot for organic SEO. As a result, it gives you the opportunity to drive website traffic with link building and calls to action.
- 1,500-2,500 words: The purpose of long-form content is to provide useful information. Similarly, longer posts allow you to add more keywords (while still sounding natural). As a result, readers and Google love the detailed content. Moreover, meaty content provides value and is best for content-first marketing. It makes your content shareable and earns more quality backlinks. Backlinks are external websites that link to your content.
The SEO perspective
Next, let’s think about the two biggest factors when deciding the best blog post length for content-first marketing. They are:
- Subject matter
- Search intent
Let’s first look at subject matter …
What’s your post about? Is it an in-depth guide? Or is it a quick tutorial that solves a grammar riddle?
Next, let’s turn to search intent …
Blogging and content marketing should address your ideal searchers’ intent. What kind of questions are they asking? Are the questions easy or hard to answer? Are searchers looking to build out their own content marketing strategy? Or are they simply trying to find out the correct use of “compared to” or “compared with”?
The Google perspective
Does Google rank long- or short-form content higher? Several studies show that long posts usually perform better than short posts. According to HubSpot data, the ideal blog post length is 2,100-2,400 words.
But word count isn’t the only thing at play when it comes to Google rankings. Google also considers:
- High-quality content. As a result, creating pages that increase a user’s time on each page will lead to a lower bounce rate, signaling to Google that your content is helpful to searchers. High-quality content is also best for content-first marketing.
- Mobile-first. Mobile-first indexing kicked off way back in 2017. As of March 2021, Google’s mobile-first indexing is the only way it ranks and indexes a site’s content.
- User experience (UX). This comes down to making your web pages and navigation easy to use. Think front-end experience.
- Page speed. The faster your pages load, the happier your users (and Google) will be. Since sites are now indexed mobile-first (see #2), site speed is a top priority to ranking well.
- On-page optimization. This is the “in-the-background” components of your content and SEO. For example, think metadata, schema markup and featured snippets.
- Internal links. Including internal links, or links that lead to other pages on your site, helps users find more helpful pages. As you already know, Google is all about making users’ lives easier.
- Inbound links. Also known as backlinks, inbound links (from authoritative sites) signal that your content is worthwhile. In short, Google sees this as a good sign.
The attention span perspective
How long do people spend reading online content? It’s great that Google might reward a long-form post, but will anyone read the whole thing? The data here is mixed.
About 74% of a person’s viewing time is spent on the first two screenfuls of content. According to Nielsen, only 14% of viewing time is spent past three screens. Meanwhile, Chartbeat shows that more than half of visitors spend less than 15 seconds on a page. On the other hand, Medium posts, which take 7.8 minutes to read, are the most popular. Each is about 2,000 words. On average, adults read about 250 words per minute, so 7.8 minutes equals roughly 1,950 words.
It can be tempting to see the above data and think “long-form content is best for content-first marketing”. However, it’s important to be cautious about blindly applying the word-count ranges from these stats. Correlation doesn’t necessarily equal causation. Likewise, longer doesn’t necessarily equal better. Before committing to writing 2,000-word articles, let’s consider these key points:
- First, according to online marketing guru Neil Patel, “Word count is not a standalone ranking factor. Word count only has merit if the content quality is high!” Search engines and readers alike are looking for high-quality content: Pieces that are trustworthy, useful, interesting, substantive, accurate and well-written. Publishing fluff is worse than publishing a short post.
- Next, Rand Fishkin, CEO and co-founder of SEOmoz, notes that averages aren’t prescriptive. As a result, he advises marketers to let searcher goals and business objectives determine optimal content length:
Rather than applying a tactic like long-form content universally or setting length as the bar (or even a metric) for greatness, we [should] instead match our content to our audience’s needs and our business/personal goals. Seven hundred more words will not help you reach your goals any more than seven more words. Create content that helps people. Do it efficiently. Never write an ultimate guide where a single image could more powerfully convey the same value. Trust me; your audience and your bottom line will thank you.
- Lastly, short-form content can be highly effective. Just look at the wild successes of Seth Godin and IFL Science. Their typical posts are well under 1,000 words and are widely read and shared.
To sum up, there’s no hard-and-fast rule that your content should be a certain length. Instead, think of targeting valuable and educational content that will help your audience. That will make your audience (and Google) happy.