I blame the PR background, but I've always been bothered by statistics. You see, in PR, you're taught how to use and manipulate data to make specific points. And that's not a kind of PR I wanted to take part in. What's worse, however, is when I see bloggers take data and pass along misinformation about what that data really says.
In most cases, it's not an issue of them trying to manipulate the data. It just seems like the majority of bloggers either don't know how, or don't take the time, to evaluate data critically before jumping to conclusions. And then, of course, once one big blogger says something, others jump in and repeat them without adding anything of value to the conversation. Pretty typical, and sad.
A great example of this is blog post length. It's not uncommon to see bloggers say you need to write long, "epic" posts of 2000 words or more if you want to maximize social media shares or rank well in Google. But, as I've talked about on the podcast and blog here before, this simply isn't true. And if you really look at the data these bloggers present, you can understand why that is.
Here's an example I came across today from my Twitter feed -- one of many posts and charts implying that longer content is better if you want more social media shares. Now I'm not saying these posts themselves are the problem, but rather the way these charts and data can get blindly passed around (and ultimately misunderstood). Click the image to view the original post.
Here's the thing. This chart shows you could nearly double your social media shares writing a post of 3000+ words as opposed to writing a post under 1000 words. But here's what this data doesn't factor in:
- The actual ROI for time spent creating content at varying lengths
- The impact of blog post frequency on readership and social media shares
Let's consider the issue of length. You might write one 3000 word post per week. Or, for the same amount of time, you might be able to write two or even three posts in the 500-800 word range. If you wrote two shorter posts, based on the chart above, you'd see approximately the same number of social media shares -- maybe slightly more. If you wrote three, you would see around a 50% increase in social media shares as opposed to writing one 3000 word post. Which is really better if your end game is increased shares?
Even that doesn't factor in the frequency issue. And in this case you have to know your audience. In some niches frequency is a big deal. Readers expect multiple posts every week. If you don't provide that, they stop following. And if they're not reading and following, chances are good they're also not sharing. Ultimately, to maximize blog post shares, you have to maximize readership.
Other reader groups might be fine with one longer post every week. But even if a lower frequency doesn't hurt reader numbers, you need to consider how frequency can impact sharing in other ways. For example, if you post once per week, your readers are exposed to only one post to share. If you post twice per week, you give them two options to share. Some will share post A. Some will share post B. Some will share both. With just one longer post, you only give them the option to share post A with their networks.
None of this is to say that you shouldn't write longer blog posts. They have their place. But so do shorter posts. And the best content strategies usually incorporate a mix. The real key is remembering to think critically when some blogger throws data at you and tries to tell you what it means. Don't take blanket advice and completely overhaul your content strategy as a result. Know your audience. Test your options. And always find out what works best for your blog.