Respect Editors’ WishesThere’s just one rule of write club... the editor is always right. The days of setting words in stone and then printing them onto a page may be almost over, but some consideration for editors and designers is still needed. Online magazines usually have a target word count for their articles: Providing copy that is within around 50 words will vastly increase the chances of your article appearing as you wrote it. Because if you don’t edit it to size, somebody else will. Even if you’re guest writing for someone else’s blog which has a definite style, it remains common courtesy to write to their usual length.
Setting a Target is Good for Your WritingA strict word count forces the author to edit and prune ruthlessly and that is usually a good thing. Therefore, it may be worth setting yourself a target even when you are writing for the love of it, or for your own website. What’s more, by writing to a regular length you’ll build up a certain style or personal brand, and your readers will know what to expect when they see your Tweet telling them you’ve rolled out a new post. Before they know it, they’ll be choosing the perfect time to savor your thoughts over a coffee. And that time will last seven minutes.
The Scientific AnswerOpinions as to the ideal length of a blog vary wildly. Even excluding the picture bloggers, gif-copiers and news-spammers of the blogosphere, popular formats range from around 300 words to over 2,000. This admirably detailed post on Medium aimed to take a scientific approach, by analyzing the number of clicks and links which blogs of various lengths get. Concentrating on the time it takes to read an article, rather than the word count, Medium’s conclusion is that for SEO purposes at least, you should be aiming for 7 minutes. At around 1,600 words—perhaps a little less if you include lots of pictures and graphics to slow people down, that seems like a lot. Contrary to what your grandparents might say, people’s attention spans haven’t got shorter—it’s just that there are so many distractions out there. If your readers are at work, how long is their break? When will the boss be back? 1,600 words is great for a thoroughly researched article but if you’re looking to produce regular comment which shows your expertise and can be written more or less off the cuff, you’ll be in danger of boring people.
The Tried and Tested ApproachFor the purposes of a well crafted opinion piece, aiming for the length of a newspaper or magazine column seems a good bet: That means between 600 and 1,000 words. That is a nice size for your readers to enjoy in their coffee break, with a chance to think about it and hopefully share it on social media before going about their day. This is why a lot of the premium content in newspapers is of this length: it’s a golden nugget of someone’s time, often when they take a break from their main activity. It’s also about the maximum length the average office worker will be willing to commit to without fear that they will truly look like they are procrastinating. Of course, the scientific evidence points to 1,600 words as an ideal length for SEO, and that’s not to be sniffed at. But what if you split that blog into two - part one and two? Medium’s analysis doesn’t make clear if your two shorter blogs will gather more clicks than one long one, but with a broad bell curve on the graph, its a good bet they will.
The Epic PostsOn the other hand, it’s great to have the odd longer piece on your site as well. These could well be in the 1,600 word range or even longer. Yoast, the SEO specialist, has this to say on long blogs:
If you write a really long blog post (1,000 words or more), you have a higher chance of ranking well in Google. At Yoast, we have quite a few articles containing more than 2500 words and these really help in the growth of our organic traffic.Yoast goes on to point out that these epic posts have the advantage of allowing many instances of your most important keywords to be included, without cramming. But it warns that you will need good writing skills to create these posts and keep them readable. Even if you are a competent writer, these lengthy articles are unlikely to be pure opinion. You’ll need to put in research and take time to craft them. They are ideally suited to ‘how to guides’ or tutorials that will address an important need in your readership or client base and crucially, will remain relevant for years to come. That way, your hard work will pay off.
The Healthy BalanceIf you’re producing a regular blog for a combination of SEO and reader engagement, which is entertaining if also thought-provoking and informative, you’ll need to strike a balance. Try to develop a theme for your regular posts. Then occasionally, when you have time and inspiration strikes, write a really epic post. When you do this, make clear that you are giving your readers something out of the ordinary. SEO aside—and I think we’re allowed to say that again nowadays—a good writer wants their blog to be read in full. If readers get bored, are interrupted, or even feel rushed, they won’t read to the end and they will immediately forget about you. That means no shares, no links, and no adoring fans.
Dominic Jeff is a journalist and copywriter who has worked on The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and the Plymouth Herald. Since leaving the newspaper industry in 2015, he has worked closely with award-winning PR agencies and ambitious early-stage companies to produce great websites, exciting press releases, and closely-followed blog series. His own writing can be seen at www.dominicjeff.co.uk
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