blogging best practices

Shhh, don’t let the cat out of the bag, but there is no such thing as the perfect blog post. Some posts get more visits, views, inbound links, comments, conversions and social shares, but they are not perfect.

As for copy length, it depends on your audience–so blogging best practices vary. A 350-word blog post is just the ticket for some, while a 1,000-word post is ideal for others.

Yet many “experts” recommend blog posts between 600 to 1,000 words. I mentioned this number to one of my colleagues on Friday afternoon as we wrapped the week up over a couple of beers. She disagreed, claiming 350 words are better. “People don’t read blog posts,” she said. “They skim, so it’s better to be brief.”

She had me there. People DO skim blog posts, but in my gut I still believed the longer post was better. But why? And are there any stats to support what ‘better’ actually means?

After a lot of research I eventually found the answer: longer content tends to rank higher in search engine results pages, attract more inbound links, get more social shares and convert better.

Google prefers longer content

serpIQ examined the search engine results pages of over 20,000 keywords, then looked at the length of the content on the pages ranked in the top 10. The top-ranked pages contained over 2,450 words, while the number 10 ranked pages had over 2,000 words:

Content length top 10 results

The copy length for each web page in this research includes sidebar text so the copy length is longer than the actual copy on each page.

Still, we can conclude that Google prefers longer pages.

But what do people prefer? We all accept that people skim online. But even though I sometimes skim, I actually prefer longer copy. If I land on a post of less than 400 words it has to be really stellar to engage me.

With all the changes to SEO in the last 18 months, it is safe to assume the reason Google ranks long-form articles higher is that people prefer them, too.

Consider inbound links. Google determines a website’s authority by a number of factors, including the number of other sites pointing to it.

Moz examined their 500 most popular blog posts and found that longer posts attract more inbound links.

This chart shows Moz’s 500 most popular posts by word count:

moz 500 posts based on word count

The order of the data remains unchanged in this chart that shows the links each post received:

moz links by word count

There is a reasonable correlation between longer articles and the number of inbound links.

Long-form content receives more social shares

Neil Patel divided 327 blog posts on Quick Sprout into two categories. The first included blog posts with less than 1,500 words while the second included posts with more than 1,500. He then analyzed the number of tweets and Facebook likes each post received.

The shorter posts were shared an average of 174.6 times on Twitter and liked an average of 59.3 times on Facebook. Longer posts were shared an average of 293.5 times on Twitter and liked 72.7 times on average on Facebook, increases of 68% and 23% respectively versus the shorter posts.  

social shares by copy length

Long copy converts better than shorter copy

Patel also used an A/B test to show the difference in conversion rates between a short version of his home page (488 words) versus a longer copy version (1,292 words) where he had placed forms “way below the fold.”

Surprisingly, the longer, original page converted 7.6% better than the shorter version.  Even more surprising, the leads from the long form version were of higher quality and better qualified than leads from the shorter page.

Marketing Tips

#1 Despite the evidence noted above, there are no best practices about copy length for blogs. While longer content tends to perform better, the ideal word count depends on your audience.

In a LinkedIn discussion on this topic, Shade Wilson of Scalability Project suggested that if your audience is professional engineers, longer content is probably better as they value detail and fact. On the other hand, he continued, if your target persona is sales managers, shorter copy with bullets and headlines will pay off.

#2 Do not just write longer copy for the sake of having longer copy. Some topics are better suited to short blogs. Decide on a word count as you plan your posts, before putting “pen to paper.”

#3 Always edit your copy and eliminate unnecessary words—your readers will appreciate it (and, as a result, so will Google).