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How Long Blog Posts Should Be & Why It Matters

It is 2021. We need to move past the generic content studies that tell you an ideal length and understand how & why blog length matters and that it isn't a one-size-fits-all approach.

"How long should this blog post be?"

A question we've heard probably a thousand times.

Marketers and bloggers have been researching and debating the topic of blog post length for years now and yet it always leads to the same answer: it depends.

Sure, there are some studies that have been done that give some good, directional data on how blog post length correlates to rankings, social media sharing, etc., but it doesn't give a once-and-for-all, definitive answer that can be applied across all content creation. And they shouldn't!

In this post, our objective is to give you the what and the why so that you can better discern for yourself on a case-by-case basis how long a blog post should be.

The rising popularity of long-form content

Starting around 2012, the idea of long-form content (aka really long blog posts) became a topic that we believe became one of the biggest drivers in content & SEO becoming so closely intertwined.

While the intentions of long-form content are good, the adoption of it has led to 7-8 years of changes in blogging and content marketing and, without a doubt, has been a source of tension between SEOs and writers from time to time.

When Google indicated in 2013 that they were introducing new search results to better service in-depth articles on broad topics, the internet began to race towards in-depth content and longer blog posts to align to the changes from Google and research the impact, strongest ranking factors, and more.

“Users often turn to Google to answer a quick question, but research suggests that up to 10% of users' daily information needs involve learning about a broad topic. That's why today we're introducing new search results to help users find in-depth articles. These results are ranked algorithmically based on many signals that look for high-quality, in-depth content.”

Google Technical Staff Member, Pandu Nayak

Some argued that studies show attention spans are so short online that no one would ever want to read content that was longer than 800 words, but as it turned out, Google's direction to priority in-depth articles for informational queries and broad topics was a good one. When people are trying to research a broad topic and they find a resource that covers that topic well, they will in fact read longer-form content.

The key is quality over quantity

One of the biggest areas where the rise of long-form content has hurt blogging is quality. The demand for all blog posts to be longer has driven down the quality. Budgets for writers were stretched further (by finding lower-quality writers) and attention to detail became a nice to have for millions of blogs.

However, many companies and bloggers that have put in the time and effort to a high-quality piece of content on a broader topic have found the opportunity to use quality as a positive differentiator. And quality has since become more than just how well the content is researched and written, it also includes the quality of the web page design, unique graphics or illustrations, supporting elements like video, and on-page structure.

Elements of long-form content

While not all of these elements are required in each piece of long-form content, it is common to find some or all of them in quality pieces. They each play a role in transforming the content from a long blog post into a quality resource that is easy to consume.

Navigation

It is common to see a table of contents with anchor links or some kind of sticky nav that follows you as you scroll and makes it easy to jump from one section to the next. This is great for the reader and when coded correctly, allows search engines to index URLs that will take people directly to the relevant section of your post from the SERPs.

Bullet points

Using bullet points, whether ordered or unordered lists, makes it very easy for readers to scan the information and in some cases, will help you get featured snippets.

Subheadings

H2s, H3s, and H4s have a greater role than just how the different fonts look on your site. Using the appropriate subheading tags, structuring the post correctly, and making them easy to understand boosts the readability and scanability of your content and also sends signals to the search engine crawlers on hierarchy and context.

Additional resources

When possible, quality content includes custom graphics or charts, videos, and other relevant resources to enhance the overall experience and present information in more formats than written text alone.

Why content length (long & short) matters for your business

The word count of your content matters for more reasons than just SEO. Quality content and great content marketing can improve your brand and marketing results while also building you up as a subject matter expert.

Not all content needs to be a certain number of words. It is more important to understand your audience and your goals and create content that is the best length to accomplish them.

Benefits of shorter content

There will always be a time and a place for shorter posts and short-form content. Especially if it is content that you do not intend to rank on the first page of Google.

Short posts can be easily digested, great for sharing via newsletter or social, and can get your point across quickly. Even if organic traffic is important to your business, your marketing and brand will always be bigger than SEO. Create the content you want to create and that accomplishes your goal and don't try to make everything optimized for search.

Unless you are actively churning out dozens or hundreds of low-quality posts of just a few hundred words, you don't really need to worry about thin content.  

Benefits of longer content

So does that mean that longer posts are only for SEO? Not at all!

You want your longer blog posts to be high-quality and optimized for organic search, but this content can have a number of other benefits.

  • Your sales team can send these posts to educate prospects and show domain expertise
  • Your brand can be elevated as a leader and the authority on topics covered in long-form content
  • You can build other campaigns or content for other channels that builds on the content already created for those blog posts

Those are only a few examples but the point is, the investment in long-form content and the impact it can have on your overall marketing is far greater than SEO alone.

Social media engagement & sharing

Publishing and sharing content on social has become a massive space and rightfully deserves its own set of best practices and tactics.

Understanding your audience, staying on top of current events and trends, and delivering up content that spans multiple social channels in various formats can drive a lot of content decisions for your marketing team.

The more your team can share quick articles, point people to in-depth resources when they are asking for examples, and break apart larger pieces of content into bite-size posts to share and engage on social, the more well-rounded your social strategy and content marketing will become.

Why content length is important for SEO

When your goal is to create content that ranks on Google and drives consistent organic traffic to your site, there are some technical aspects to understand how and why content length is a factor in your ability to accomplish your goal.

Topical depth & authority

Topical depth, content depth, and topical authority are all terms that circle the same concept. Related to how search engines evaluate the content and the semantic relationship between terms and topics, topical depth refers to how thoroughly your piece of content or collection of blog posts (aka topic cluster) cover the topic.

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This is really the sweet spot that ends the question of how long a blog post should be or attempts to make every blog post roughly the same length. Focusing on creating the best blog post or collection of web pages to cover the topic should dictate the length required, whether that's 1,200 words or 12,000 words.

Our process for creating content briefs at Ten Speed is heavily based on topical depth.

The volume of keywords & queries

When people think of keyword research or creating content to rank for certain keywords, it is often focused on a single keyword phrase.

The reality, however, is the nearly all content matches to and ranks for at least a handful of queries, if not hundreds or even thousands of different queries. The example below shows that while keywords like ‘purple bed’ or ‘purple mattress’ are top keywords for their top pages, each of the example URLs ranks for thousands of keywords.

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So, the length and depth of your content matters. The more in-depth you cover a topic, the more keywords and phrases your content can match, which improves the overall ability to rank, generate impressions, and drive organic search traffic to your site.

Staying competitive

If you do a Google search for a topic and review the length of the content in the top 20 spots, you will likely narrow in on some general range. Yes, there will be outliers, but there should be some commonality among all of those that are ranking in the first two SERPs.

This is a signal for what it takes to be competitive. Writing 1,200 words on a topic that others have written 4,500 words is going to make it more difficult for most companies to have a shot at ranking. Topical depth and being competitive are closely related!

Picking up backlinks & referring domains

One of the most common reasons that people link to content on other sites is to give their readers a credible and robust resource to dive deeper into a topic.

By producing content that is fully covering topics and you are an authority on those topics, you are creating more opportunities for your site to get more organic backlinks.

Having high-quality content also gives you more to include in any link building outreach you are doing. When you reach out to someone to ask for a link to your content, you will have higher rates of success when your content is great and they know that by adding a link from their site, they are enhancing the experience for their visitors.

The ‘dwell time’ factor

Dwell time is a metric the search engines measure to understand how long searchers stay on a page they went to from a search result before they click back to the search engine.

This a commonly misunderstood and misquoted concept and a metric that site owners don't have visibility into, but the important point here is that search engines generally attribute a higher quality to higher dwell time.

The length of your content alone doesn't impact dwell time. People can leave a page with 10,000 words on it just as fast as they can a page with 100 words on it. However, when you create quality content that aligns with search intent and goes in-depth on a topic, you have a greater likelihood of people staying on your site larger.

What we've found from the industry research on word counts

As we mentioned earlier, the topic of word count and content length has been researched extensively. Below are a number of companies that have done this research along with our take on the data.

Overall, our take on this is that no matter how companies go about doing this research, there are always a ton of caveats, the data sets are either too small or too general, and there is often confusion and misuse of causation and correlation. If you optimize to the average, you will probably end up being average.

Hubspot

This research done by Hubspot does a good job of avoiding a universal word count recommendation and they take the data a step further by breaking down ideal lengths for different types of blog posts like pillars vs listicles vs what is posts.

There are a couple of concerns we have with this data that you should take into consideration.

  1. Hubspot based this on an analysis of their own content. While they certainly know what they are doing when it comes to their own content & SEO, this probably includes more of a bias to internal process & interpretation than other studies.
  2. We agree that pillar content will typically be longer and they show a pretty healthy range for the length of that content (2,137 to 10,939 words), but we don't understand breaking down listicles vs. how-to posts vs what is posts. Those are more tied to search intent and really on a case-by-case basis as to which angle to take and how long it should be.

Backlinko

Brian Dean and the team at Backlinko have started to do some pretty wide-scale studies across a massive amount of data points that bring to light some unique insights. However, at this scale, the insights are so generalized that it really doesn't apply as a rule of thumb, just interesting to see.

In their recent study of B2B content marketing, there was a small mention of the length of the content correlating to a few different metrics. They don't offer a specific word count but do show that long-form B2B content generates more social shares, backlinks, referring domains, and organic traffic than short-form content.

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The biggest problem we see with this is that while it doesn't prescribe a certain number of words as the best length, it is a very generic insight that implies that by simply writing a long blog post, you will get more from those metrics than if you didn't.

Buffer

This data & infographic from Buffer spans a wide (and somewhat confusing) range of stats and recommendations on everything from blog post length to YouTube video length to the optimal width of a paragraph.

Ultimately, there is just one section on blog post length if you don't feel like scrolling through everything they put in that post. Buffer's conclusion is that 1,600 word blog posts are a good guideline and they share data from their own content showing that posts with 2,500+ words perform best for them in terms of most social shares.

buffer.png

Of all of the studies done, we wouldn't put much weight behind this one since it is only based on Buffer's own data and measured on the sole metric of social shares.

SERPIQ

This chart is shared across a number of blogs but none of them link to an original source, so we guess we will join in and do that as well. 🤷🏽‍♂️

serpiq.jpeg

All we know from the context of other posts is that this study was done by SERPIQ way back in 2012, so we can assume it is pretty outdated at this point.

This was the time when people were starting to make the argument for long-form content, so it makes sense that it is framing up the data to show that on average, longer blog posts hold higher rankings in the SERPs.

We had to include this because it comes up in so much content out there about how long a blog post should be, but we wouldn't recommend using it as a guide for your own content.

Neil Patel

In this post from Neil Patel, he pulls together a couple of general studies and then attempts to get more specific and contextualize the ideal content length by industry.

We think it is interesting to see some of the data across multiple industries but at the end of the day, it is still generalizing the data into ranges that simply aren't a true rule of thumb.

For any of one of those industries, there will be topics that require 8,000 word blog posts to fully cover the topic and others that will be fine at 1,300 words, so this just isn't very helpful.

Yoast WordPress Plugin

One of the features of the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress is that it will give you an indication on the length of your content. This is based on a pretty basic calculation based on the type of web page (they categorize as taxonomy pages, regular posts/pages, and cornerstone content).

yoast.jpg

In general the numbers are quite low and we would recommend treating that as the floor for a minimum and not that you are good to go as soon as you get a green indicator for that variable in the plugin.

Moz

This is a throwback Whiteboard Friday with Rand from August 2017. It isn't really a study like the others we have included here but does a great job of hitting on the same point that we are trying to communicate. The perfect blog post length is a myth and any study trying to prove it is either using a small data set with bias (Hubspot, Buffer, etc) or is so large that the data is generalized (Backlinko, Yoast, SERPIQ, etc) or somewhere in between like Neil Patel trying to create industry benchmarks.

rand-wbf.png

Rand offers some great points on how to think about blog content length and how to analyze your own content and keyword universe to determine the right path forward. You'd think that this was a bit dated now that it is coming up on 4 years old, but the core principles still very much apply today.

The data that you should consider

So if following any of the guidelines provided in the studies isn't the best path forward, what is? How do I know how long a blog post should be?

The data to consider includes keyword data, competitor data, intent competition, and content goals. It isn't a cop-out "it depends" answer. It just requires that you dig into the specifics for each topic or post.

Competitor data

Study the content of your business competitors (i.e. the people in your immediate product or service category that you compete against, not necessarily who you compete against in Google).

Analyze the pages and keywords that drive the most organic traffic to their site and compare it with your own content. Finding content gaps and learning what is working for your competitors can be a great use of data to inform not only your content plans.

Most importantly, if you are going to go head-to-head with your competitors on creating content on the same topics, the more you know about their approach and how it performs, the better you can create resources that outshine your competition and make you a valuable resource to your prospects and customers.

Keyword data & topic clusters

Before you determine how long a specific blog post should be, you need to understand what topic you are covering and everything that will go into that topic.

Analyze your keyword data and group keywords into topics and topic clusters to understand everything you will want to cover in that post in order to achieve topical depth.

Lastly, make note of any featured snippets that are related to keywords within your topic.

Search intent data & SERP competition

Once you have a general idea of the topic and the group of keywords that make up that topic, it is important to go deep in researching the content that already exists on this topic, related queries, and anything else that will help indicate the search intent behind that topic. This may also lead to modifying your approach to the topic or swapping out certain keywords to better fit the search intent.

foam-mattress-serps.png

Along those same lines, look at who your competitors are in the SERPs and analyze their content. Don't just calculate an average word count of the top 10 results and be done. Dig in and ask more questions and study the content in the top results.

  • How long are each of the posts in the top 5 spots?
  • What intent type are the optimizing for and what angle did they take?
  • How do the sections and sub-topics compare the ones you are planning to cover?

Spend the time doing this research on each topic and you will come up with a better, more targeted ideal content length than you ever would by using a generic range.

The goal for your content

You always want to make sure that your content goals align with the goals of the people searching for that topic.

If the search intent is informational, meaning it is research and learning-based, the goal of your content should be education and providing the best resources for the searcher to find what they are looking for.

If the search intent is transactional, meaning they are motivated to sign up or buy, the goal of your content should be to give them the details they need clearly and make it easy to accomplish what they set out to do.

No one will want to read thousands and thousands of words for a transactional query, nor will they be satisfied with a short, conversion-focused page when they are still in a learning and researching phase.

Make sure that your own internal goals and processes for content don't create a conflict with the goals of the one searching the query.

So, what is the ideal blog post length?

There is no best length, magical formula, or one-size-fits-all approach.

There are no tricks, tips, or optimization hacks to do this at scale with the click of a few buttons.

Even with a handful of the best SEO tools money can buy, this process still requires time to understand the data, the context, the intent, and the goals to craft a plan and write blog content that has topical depth, satisfies the search intent, and has what it needs to rank on the first page of the search engines.

At Ten Speed, we work with our customers to do this in every content brief we create and we believe strongly that this is the work required to be (and remain) competitive.