October 29, 2015 at 1:06 pm #31170
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.December 10, 2015 at 11:29 pm #31245
I think a big part of why you might be seeing so many speak in favour of longer content is because, by and large, business owners are strongly biased towards ordering short pieces all the time. There’s no reason to argue the case for shorter content, clients already want it, and they want it much more than is appropriate.
Clients also tend to have very warped perspective on how long “long” actually is. They see 500 words as a long piece.. when really it’s under 2 minutes in reading time. If you want to write for buyers then you want to be holding attention and building rapport for longer than that.
Sometimes there is a good case for 500 words or less, but most of the time it just screams that somebody somewhere is being cheap/lazy/cutting corners/phoning it in.December 11, 2015 at 12:37 pm #31246
I’ve actually found the opposite. Years ago clients would order more shorter content (and my longest-time clients see that it still works very well and they still order quite a bit of it). But most new prospects I hear from now want anywhere from 1000-5000 words. Very few new prospects request short content up front.
When I talk with them about their overall content strategy and how these projects fit in, it’s almost always the same reasoning — they were told they needed long content now if they want to rank in Google or they read it on some marketing blog and think it’s true.
There are plenty of reasons to use short content. And there are plenty of times when longer content is more appropriate. It’s a writer’s job to help their clients figure out what’s appropriate on a project-by-project basis based on their target readers, the intent of the content, and its fit in the larger content strategy.
It’s not a matter of anyone “making a case” for longer content vs shorter content. It’s about these marketers using faulty statistics and preaching them as the cure for companies’ rankings woes. That’s lazy and dishonest on their part.December 14, 2015 at 8:21 pm #31249
Longer content is absolutely the way forward if you’re chasing search traffic. It’s a way better idea to go for a 4000 word article than eight 500 word ones. Come linkbuilding time, the white hat links will go to the best/most comprehensive/most in-depth resource that’s out there. If you’re investing in substantial content then you have much greater scope to produce the best resource of its kind on the internet. Trying to get great white hat links to phoned-in 500 word resources is just an awful, thankless time. You’ll also nail other ranking factors like quality score and time-0n-page metrics with a more adequate quantity of text. Because search visitors are likely to not know who you are it’s also important to keep them for some reading time with them to establish rapport, authority and trust. Most really short pieces utterly reek of trying to do the bare minimum that you can get away with.
I’m not really too bothered by their use of statistics.. shares are a bit of an underpants gnome metric in the first place.December 15, 2015 at 8:12 am #31251
But the misuse of statistics to support an argument was the point of this post. 😉
I’m not knocking longer content. There’s a place for it of course. The mistake is when people assume all content has to be long form content. Not only is that completely untrue but it leads to a lot of fluff-filled crap on the web when bloggers focus too much on length rather than getting their points across. We’ll have to agree to disagree about rankings. In my experience across a variety of niches (my sites and clients’) short content is still ranking extremely well in most cases. It’s not true in every niche, but that’s why it’s important to test. Long content does make it easier to build links, especially for new bloggers with no existing following. But it’s not the only factor. As I pointed out in the post, frequency is another important point. And you’ll never know what works in your niche, for your audience, without testing (as opposed to blindly following advice from bloggers backed up by misleading data). That was the bigger point of this post — not so much long vs short content as any sort of absolute rule.January 12, 2016 at 8:45 am #31352
What bugs me about these statistics is that they don’t factor in the reader. Sure, they say this stuff is shared more, but by whom?
I myself don’t normally read lengthy posts unless they’re relevant and well-written posts. Maybe it’s just me, but 3,000 words on a blog post would be too much of a time commitment.
Yes, it has its place. Still, I don’t think there’s all that much correlation between the length and the share. Relevance, in my opinion, would be the reason. At least for me it is.January 13, 2016 at 9:20 am #31362
Sharon Hurley HallParticipant
I’ve also seen an increase in the number of clients asking for longer content, but I don’t think there’s a blanket approach. Some content needs to be short and sweet; other content needs more depth. Like Lori, my personal experience is that I don’t always read long posts; instead I save the ones that look good for later. Short posts are easier to consume, though I still expect them to be valuable.January 13, 2016 at 9:36 am #31364
It’s not terribly surprising. When SEOs and internet marketers wouldn’t shut up about needing a constant flow of short posts, clients seemed to want more of that. Too many follow whatever the latest buzz is rather than doing what’s best for their actual readers. Hopefully the writers they work with are helping them form more well-rounded content strategies so they don’t end up playing another round of “update the archives” when Google’s whims change again. One client in particular became obsessive about that a few years back. He put all of his energy and budget into trying to change older posts that he didn’t invest enough in truly new content. The site took a huge hit in Google (and therefore his revenue because of the traffic drop) even though he was doing what SEOs told him Google wanted. He learned the hard way that he really did need a more balanced approach.January 13, 2016 at 7:23 pm #31367
3000 words is not a huge time commitment at all. Articles on Vice or Cracked.com typically come in at around 3000 words. These are quick articles aimed at people with short attention spans – the sort of thing you might read in an idle moment on the train or waiting for a friend. These sites totally kill it with social traffic too.
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