Did you know that Michael Jackson released a 39-minute music video in the 90s? Bet you forgot what it is called but clearly remember the shorter videos for Thriller, Beat It, and Smooth Criminal. (It’s called Ghosts by the way, a music video/ short film directed by Spielberg.) In the newsroom, you will often hear (mad) bosses say: “If you can’t tell your story in a sentence then you don’t have a story.” That is the reality of telling a story, may it be a news package, a music video, a movie, or online content.

In creating content, size matters. In content marketing, online marketers are often faced with this dilemma: Did I say too much? Was that enough? Did I leave readers hanging? How do I know when to stop?

length of content
Photo courtesy of Håvar og Solveig via Flickr

Our generation is one that skips advertisements on YouTube, one that refuses to deal with videos that take too long to upload and one that patronizes lists from BuzzFeed. We like bite-size information like lists because they are short and straight to the point (at times funny). The dot-com generation is a group of impatient people. They just don’t have the time. Well actually, they do have time; they just don’t have the time for bad (and boring) stuff.

There is no fun in “it depends” when it comes to content length so here are a few guidelines, from tweets to blogs.

How long should everything be?

When Twitter was born, suddenly we learned to converse more efficiently, directly, and creatively. Once in a while, we still complain regarding Twitter’s 140-rule but according to a research by Buddy Media, you won’t be needing all 140 characters when you want to get your message across. The research found that tweets shorter than 100 characters get a 17% higher engagement rate. A similar research by Track Social in a study of 100 well-known brands garnered the same result. Why less than 100? The research said that these “medium” length tweets get more re-tweets because they are long enough for the original poster to say something of value and short enough for a re-tweeter to add his or her comment.

Rules are stricter for Facebook. Every minute, there are nearly 300,000 updates so the competition is obviously tougher. On Facebook, 40 is the magic number. Jeff Bullas, in his study of retail brands on FB using “likes” and “comments” as measurement found that posts with 40 characters or less receive 86% higher engagement. Those with 80 characters or less get 66%.

For Google+, one-liners are the way to go. Demian Farnworthof Copyblogger found that a headline should be kept within 60 characters to stay on one lne and not get bumped.

When it comes to headlines, stay well within six words. In a post by KISSmetrics, headline expert Bnonn said readers tend to absorb only the first three words and the last three words of a headline. So if you want everything absorbed, be faithful to six words.

When blogging, don’t get carried away

Now, let’s talk about blogs. The optimal content length for a blog post is 1,600 words that will require approximately seven minutes of your reader’s time. If you are using photos and sidebars, you can trim the word count to 1000. According to a research by Medium, the seven minutes is crucial because after that, readers tend to lose interest. When the objective is to rank higher on Google searches, you have Google Panda to impress. The Google Panda algorithm rates how useful and relevant a content is and matches them to a search query. A 1600-word blog for example is long enough to contain all relevant information. These posts are least likely to be branded as having “thin content.” Search engines like Google are critical of articles that contain 300 words or less and are usually at risk for infringing or thin content.

Aside from length, there’s width and depth

To ensure maximum comprehension, a line should only range between 40 and 55 characters. That is equivalent to about eight to 11 words. In addition, social media expert Derek Halpern said a paragraph should always look simple and easily comprehensible. In short, make it easy for your readers to understand you. As much as possible, stick to one thought per sentence and paragraph.

Mind your length, rank better

Assuming that the content is relevant, longer blog posts and articles tend to get more leads. Neil Patel, co-founder of Crazy Egg and KISSmetrics, proved that content length affects rankings and conversions. While it is possible that shorter posts give the same information, longer blogs look more credible as a source. Journalists, bloggers, and other websites link longer articles more because they take time to explain. More links mean higher ranks.

Patel did an A/B test on his site. His homepage with 1,292 words performed better that the one with 488 words. This was because the longer version was able to say more to the readers. It contained more information that can actually solve their problems.

Length does not only mean word count. The ugly truth is most of your readers are not likely to stay with you in all your 2000 words. However, you can keep them captivated from top to bottom by adding videos, graphs, and pictures. Lay out your content the easy way by using a sensible font, shorter paragraphs, using sidebars and bullets. The online content length that converts is one that is easily consumed.

There is no hard-and-fast rule as far as content length is concerned. There are researches to back you up but in the end, it is knowing who your market is that matters. Keep in mind that the attention span of an average reader is that of a goldfish: nine seconds. Keep your readers captivated from the headline down to the bottom. Mind your content length and make sure that every sentence and paragraph is useful, relevant, and exciting that even a goldfish won’t be bored. Match the length with content your readers can use.