Statistics say you won’t read this post completely even if it’s highly valuable to you. Want to know why? Read on…
Let the arguments begin…but first, a back story. Some years ago a few “friends” and I were sitting around a literal round table discussing such heady things as Obi Wan vs. Spock and what soccer would be like if played with square balls. Then we got around to things where religious fervor can come in to play like which social site will dominate for our market sector. Then it got really nasty when we started talking about The Length Of Posts (as in how many words). Opinion soup was the fare of the day with numbers ranging from 750 to 5000 or more. Yes, 5000 – or more.
Now people who take the fast lane need to be ready for some challengers so since I was in the 1500 to 2000 crowd, based on some actually factual evidence from years of writing and publishing content for a variety of clients, I threw down the gauntlet: what does the data say? Oh, that darned data. We love it, we hate it, we can’t get enough of it. So here I am, 3 years later, finally getting around to addressing the question of how many words should a blog post be. With data references I should add. Because it’s just possible I may have been wrong.
The average content length for a web page that ranks in the top 10 results for any keyword on Google has at least 2,000 words. The higher up you go on the search listings page, the more content each web page has. (QuickSprout)
Admittedly a large percentage of the articles I have been hired to write fall into the 750-1000 word variety (my prices start at $49) and they have helped a lot of sites move up in the results categories, including conversions, but maybe not in the Google PR category, inbound link category, and comment category. Since inbound links are pretty important that helps me encourage site owners to upgrade and go for the 1500 word range (about $100 starting price). I’m including prices because (a) I sell content and (b) it’s important for people who do not write to have an idea of what it’s going to cost. Of course those prices include only minimal research so that’s something to keep in mind.
Bring on the data!
First let’s look at some stats on the average post length of top ranked pages according to Google. Are you ready?According to CopyPress it’s 2416 words. Now if you have written as many blog posts for pay as many professionals you will immediately see dollar signs. So maybe it translates that posts which require more resources translate into posts have have a higher search and reader value. Which does make sense. Humans like quality – of course this statistic doesn’t say anything about the quality or content of the posts. It only gives an overall average based on the sites surveyed.
If a post is greater than 1,500 words, on average it receives 68.1% more tweets and 22.6% more Facebook likes than a post that is under 1,500 words. (QuickSprout)
Relax, there’s a big caveat in that number above. According to SerpIQ (the people who provided the actual data analysis) that number includes every bit of text on the page from the content, sidebars, header and footer. Another very interesting point is that the older ranking content (10 years plus) had the higher number of words per page and the new content (1 year or less) had only about 1/2 the amount of the older pages.
“Here we see that fresh domains generally have less content on the ranking page, averaging around 1800 words. Domains 1-10 years old are at around 2100 words of content, while domains over 10 years old close in on 2800 words.” – SerpIQ
So if you have a time machine you’ll really need to hammer out some content to get those numbers up. Fortunately, if you want to look at it from a “word count only” perspective, if you’re writing today you’ll do better with a lower number. But, wait; I’m not writing all of this to encourage you to write for word count. I’m writing all of this because it is a valid question and quite often a contentious discussion amongst so-called content marketing gurus. Somehow factual data doesn’t really solve the argument so please examine it and make your own determinations.
What about conversion rates?
All of my clients can tell you I have said these words to them, “Traffic costs money. Conversions generate revenue.” Keeping this in mind helps us to know why we’re writing and what we are writing about. It also reminds us that businesses are online to convert visitors to customers. How that is accomplished is another highly debated topic regardless of the data. And, it’s far too involved to include in this post. So hopefully you’ve subscribed to the feed so you’ll get that information when it becomes available.
Businesses with websites of 401-1000 pages get 6x more leads than those with 51-100 pages. (HubSpot)
The folks at Marketing Tests did a nice, simple, down and dirty A/B test using content length as a qualifier to test for conversion performance. What they found was longer content outperformed shorter content by over 40%. Most people would quickly realize that’s a good thing. When you sum it up like in their quote below and put it on the banking counter it really starts to become important. Now remember the quote I give all of my clients and read the quote below:
“In our initial micro-test, long copy outperformed short copy by 40.54%. Click-through traffic sent to the short copy page was unprofitable (-14% ROI), while traffic sent to the long copy page produced an ROI of 21%.” – Marketing Tests
Raise you’re hand if you would prefer an ROI of +21% over one of =14% – exactly as suspected. Everyone likes to profit from their efforts even if they are “just writing for a hobby”. We want more followers, more likes, more shares, and many of us really like more revenue in the form of dollars and cents. Whether the revenue comes from ad sales, product sales, or service sales we like money. It helps us keep our hobbies, like eating and living in a warm/cool spot possible. So what did they consider short copy or long copy? It really doesn’t matter. The test was run 10 years ago and we’ve already learned back then long meant more than 2800 words and now it means 1800 words.
How do you test?
The number one way I prefer is to use Google Analytics. Since most search, at the time of this writing, comes from Google’s search engine it makes sense to start there. I do also use Bing and some third party apps, but Google is the launching point. If I notice search traffic, time on site, and bounce rate all improving I must be doing something better, if not right. So I continue with that trend and make minor adjustments. Of course much more can affect this than simply the length of posts such as trending topics, external interest (a television appearance for example), or others. The difference is those trends don’t last and you can usually identify what happened to cause them. Changing tactics like increasing the length of articles on your site(s) is going to be a constant as opposed to a temporary trend.
61% of global Internet users research products online. (Interconnected World)
You may want to engage in A/B testing and tracking the results. This would simply mean creating two versions of your content using the same key words (the ones you are tracking) and monitoring the performance on each page. For the purpose of this challenge I would recommend one article of about 500 words and another version with your target number of words – say 2000. Make sure you can track search terms, time on site, and bounce rate (people who only viewed that one page). These numbers will give you enough information to know which direction you need to go. If you get 0 hits to both pages we need to have a separate discussion!
What should I be writing about?
Write about what you do. Write about what your readers are interested in. If you’re a news source that could be all over the board. If you’re a real estate agent who needs to improve both search performance and conversion ratio you had better write about your local area, the homes you have for sale or have sold, and about how you serve your customers. If you are a chiropractor the chances are good people will want to read how you intend to make them feel better. Every industry and every market will determine what you need to be writing about…and when.
One word of caution is to write to your audience. This is another huge bone between so-called content professionals: reading level. (Check some here at Read-Able). Before you take off and do your best to write at a graduate level degree let me remind you to check three things.
(1) Do you only want to engage with people who have a Master’s Degree or higher?
(2) Are people with a post-graduate degree going to be the only ones who convert on your page?
(3) Who are you trying to impress?
The caveat of this, of course, is that if you are a practicing physician writing a peer reviewed paper the chances are strong you’ll be writing at that level. If, however, you are a family practitioner writing about health issues for prospective clients you may want to think in the 6th to 10th grade range. Don’t believe me? Okay, go ahead and show off your vast amount of high education and listen to the…crickets. A wise man once told me, “Never make a prospect think about anything other than doing business with you. The minute they start thinking about something else is the minute they become something other than a prospect.” Prospects are not going to convert if they spend their entire time on your site Googling words they don’t understand. Keep in mind this is situational, but if you’re the average service provider you’re going to thank me for telling you to write to that lower level.
So what does content look like when written to an 8th grade level? You’ve been reading at that level for the last few minutes. Readable, informational, inspirational, motivational, and transactional can all fit in that grade level. Chances are you didn’t have to Google even one single word – so your attention stayed on this content. Did you read this far? If you read this far leave a comment with your web address in the comments section below. We all want to see what you have written and how you’re using these same tactics to propel your site to the top of the search engines.
“Round Table” Photo Credit: Simon Blackley via Compfight cc