Ahhh, the big question.
Please don’t hate me, but there just isn’t a simple answer to this one. Luckily however, I have found some interesting stats and expert opinions that help answer the online version of the age-old question ‘how long is a piece of string?’.
Firstly, let’s start with: What’s Normal?
I found this handy research over at Viper Chill, where Glen took random articles from a small selection of the most highly trafficked blogs across 8 industries in order to determine the average article length based on industry.
Some of the blogs he reviewed included CNN, PerezHilton, Copyblogger and Mashable, so there are some uber-popular blogs included in his research.
Here are the results:
Frequency and Length
As you can see: gadget, gossip and news blog articles tended to be the shortest of the bunch. If you think about the frequency of posts for these industries, often multiple posts per day, then it makes sense that they would focus on faster writes and therefore shorter reads.
As you get more technical, the articles get longer. Further down the list we see politics, health, marketing and finance creeping up in count, with personal development coming in at a whopping 1470 average words per article.
These industries also tended to post articles less frequently (from 1 to 7 times per week), so we see that same pattern at work with frequency of articles corresponding with blog length.
If I had a mathematical cell in my body I’m sure I could come up with an awesome algebraic formula about now to represent that.
Anyhow, I digress (please note the imminent use of unnecessarily impressive elongated vocabulary to shift your focus back to my considerable and impressive proficiency with language, away from my embarrassing lack of numeric talent).
Should you be the sheep or the shepherd?
If you’re new to this whole blogging thing, you might be tempted to be a sheep and just follow the herd. If the big guys do 3 short articles a day, it’s logical that you should too, right? Fitting in, giving people what they’re used to and all that jazz.
But what about standing out for once? If everyone else in your industry writes a 2,000 word novel once a week, how about writing a short insightful article every day? If your competition is all about being brief, consider becoming the in-depth expert in your field instead.
Let’s check in with a couple of industry experts with this question: Darren Rowse at ProBlogger, and Jonathan Morrow at CopyBlogger.
In his article: How long should a blog post be? Darren says:
“Here at ProBlogger I tend to mix it up a fair bit. I try to write at least one longer post per day that gives readers a bit of meat to chew on (whether it be a tips post, a review post, a rant etc) but I also throw in ‘newsy’ posts throughout the day”
Darren also mentions the 5 things blog writers could take into consideration when deciding on article length:
1 – Reader attention span
There are an annoying lack of stats about average time on site just for blogs, but one piece of research came out with the time of 96 seconds, although the research is a bit outdated now. That’s only just over 1 and a ½ minutes.
Whatever the number, the average reader attention span probably isn’t long. For our blog, the time on site is currently 2 minutes and 52 seconds. Hopefully that means we’re doing something right, even though I’m a shocker for writing long articles (sorry!).
2 – SEO
Very short and very long articles appear not to rank as well as far as search engines loving your content. Darren’s take on the ideal length?
“Of course no one really knows how many words are ideal – but the general opinion seems to be that a page of at least 250 words are probably a reasonable length. Similarly, many advise keeping pages under 1000 words.”
3 – Quality
One school of thought most bloggers subscribe to is that the more frequent you post, the better. For that reason alone, shorter posts are just common sense. How many posts as long as this one is turning out to be, can you crank through in a day? For me I can only manage about 1 of these mammoths a week without it cutting into the rest of my workload too much.
4 – Topic / Genre
Obviously what you write about has a lot to do with length. An article about today’s weather should not be as long as a review about the latest luxury race car for example.
5 – Comprehensive coverage
Darren’s comment on this consideration is one I 100% agree with:
“Ultimately this has to be the main criteria that bloggers go with. I can’t remember who advised this but at some point in the last year I read someone saying that you should write enough to comprehensively cover your topic and then stop. Long posts for the sake of them are not a wise move – but so are short ones that don’t cover the topic well.”
So let’s turn to another expert, CopyBlogger writer Jonathan Morrow and his article: Do long blog posts scare away readers?
“Many popular posts here at Copyblogger are over 1,000 words. But other times, short posts pack the most punch. It’s almost as if the length of a post has no impact whatsoever on how successful a post becomes.”
Here’s the truth about post length (according to Jonathan, anyway):
“A long post isn’t wrong. A short post isn’t wrong. In fact, the length of a post has nothing to do with how good or bad it is.
Here’s what matters:
Writing something that’s interesting
Taking out everything that’s not interesting.
Sometimes, it takes 3,700 words to make an idea stand out. Other times, all you need is a few sentences. What’s important is that you do your idea justice in as few words as possible. Professionals call it writing “tight.” Long or short, the piece couldn’t possibly be any shorter and create the same effect.”
So, and please excuse the pun (which I cannot believe I have patiently managed to wait to use until now), but now you know the long and the short of the answer to ‘how long should a blog article be?’.
My opinion? If you’re interested in the topic, you’re more likely to read to the end. If it’s well written, adds value, is fast-moving, maybe has a little humour and personality thrown in there, then longer is not a bad thing at all.
After you’ve been writing for a while, you’ll start to get a feel for when the story’s told. If it’s going on too long, introduce part 2!
Speaking of part 2, coming soon will be an article on tips to make longer blog articles more readable for your less patient readers.
In the mean time, please feel free to scroll up and pop your name and email into that rather bright pink box in the sidebar and join our mailing list. That way you’ll get the very best tips, tricks, tools and techniques for online success every month which we only share with our list (and yes, it’s free).
Like this article? Feel free to share it on twitter using the little green retweet button up there by the title. Thank you in advance :)
copyright Anna Gervai for Orchid Web Design, April 2010