I’m sure you’ve heard at least one of these figures before:
- People now have attention spans of less than 8 seconds (which is apparently worse than a goldfish)
- People read on average 25% of your articles.
- People stay on the page within 10-20 seconds unless you offer a clear value proposition within the first 10 seconds.
These make you wonder whether shorter blog posts are better to keep your reader’s attention, right?
And with conflicting information out there about whether shorter or longer content works better, you just want to know…
How long should my blog posts be, anyway?
I’ve got you. This is the most thorough guide to ideal article length on the internet. I’ll answer that burning question once and for all, using data, proof, and examples of what performs better (and better yet, why).
But if you suffer from goldfish-attentionspanitis, you can jump straight to the section you want:
How Long Do My Articles Need to be To Get Traffic?
I recently presented two sessions at SumoCon 2017 about content marketing.
In my presentation, I went over the six commandments of content that converts. One of those commandments is that content needs to be comprehensive.
The “best content on the internet”, in fact.
And everyone wanted to know how long their articles need to be. “Ballpark”. “Average”. This guide will give you that. But here’s the rub:
You can’t just read a few words, get a “ballpark” number and aim for it.
You have to know two things:
- The goal of your content
- Your audience.
Is your goal to crank out as many posts as possible or blog about your life as a sort of journal? The magic answer is 4.
Is your goal to get more search engine traffic, more social shares, or more emails, or more sales? Read on.
The Ideal Article Word Count for Search Engine Optimization
Tl;Dr: Aim for ~2,000 words of value to rank better on Google.
Backlinko analyzed 1,000,000 search engine results and found that on average, the results on the first page for any given keyword clocked in at around 1900 words.
In light of all those stats I mentioned above, how is it that long form articles perform better than shorter articles?
There are three theories behind this:
- Long form content keeps people on the page for longer. Most SEO authorities acknowledge that “dwell time” matters to Google (and other search engines).
- Long form content is more valuable content. Google wants to show the result their users want.
- Long form content gets far more social shares (which I’ll show you in the next section). This is unconfirmed by Google, but there’s a strong correlation between social shares and ranking.
Not into creating long form content? You probably will be after reading the rest of this guide, but if I still can’t convince you, know that some sources say that Google doesn’t rank anything fewer than 300 words.
Word Count for Social Shares
Tl;Dr: Aim for ~2,000 words of value to get more social shares.
After analyzing 100 million articles, BuzzSumo found that articles with more than 2,000 words were shared far more than articles with fewer than 2,000 words.
This makes sense considering people share articles they view as valuable.
My most shared articles on Unsettle have on average a 2,000 word count.
Create Long Form Content
Okay, so we know long form blog posts perform better on social media, search engines, and to sell your product.
“So what’s the magic word count?”.
I know what you’re thinking. And I can’t answer that right now.
But what I will tell you is going to help you get your content backlinks, social shares, traffic, emails, and even sales.
Nobody wants to link to, share, or buy from the second best, or third best resource on the internet. You need to create linkable assets. A linkable asset is an article that … surprise! People want to link to.
“But What About the 8-Second Attention Span?”
Apparently, humans (read: your readers) have attention spans worse than a goldfish.
But think about it for a second. We have 8 second attention spans for things that aren’t interesting to us.
Anybody who has watched a movie (IT, anyone?) or even a 45 minute episode of Game of Thrones on Netflix knows that their attention spans can actually be quite long if they’re interested.
But nobody (and I mean nobody) wants to read a textbook style block of text like this.
That’s enough to shorten your attention span to a split second and make you bounce.
What you need to know about your reader’s attention spans is this: People don’t read your content, they scan it.
So if you’re engaging in long form content, you need to make it navigable.
- No fat paragraphs.
- Narrow content width (between 480 and 600 pixels), according to Derek Halpern.
- Use images, gifs, charts, graphs, and quotes to break up the text. Eye-tracking studies show that people spend longer looking at images in content than reading the content itself.
- Include a table of contents to help the reader navigate the article:
Help the reader scan your articles (because rarely will they read them).
So Wait… if People Don’t Read it, Why Should I Write Long Content?
Longer content has a higher perceived value.
If they see your articles as a high perceived value, they’re more likely to follow through on your calls to action (sign up for your email list, leave a comment, share your article).
Did you know that 59% of people will share an article on social media without even reading it?
True story. They’re sharing it based on the perceived value. Even if they don’t read the article, they get a sense of the perceived value based on:
- The headline
- The length/depth
- A quick scan of the content that proves that it’s worth sharing
Then, they’ll share it if it meets their self identity (if I share this blog post, then I look good/knowledgable in front of my friends).
So longer articles lead to more social shares, and more social shares lead to more traffic.
And what can you do with that traffic? You can grow your email list. Because even if people don’t read the content you have on the page because it’s too long, you can still collect massive emails.
You just have to get your calls to action to sign up for your email list above the average read rate (which you can find out through Content Analytics):
Even though this 13,100 word guide that I wrote only has a read rate of about 38%:
It drove over 10,000 new email subscribers:
Because I placed the calls to action above the average read rate.
But… I Don’t Want to Give My Best Stuff Away for Free!
If you just had a “lifestyle blog” and didn’t care about making this blog thing a business, then you wouldn’t be reading this article.
You’re blogging for a reason. Maybe you already have a product, or maybe you want to create a product. And maybe that product will be an ebook, online program or course.
How do you know what to give away for free vs. sell in your ebook or course?
And how do you create content that’s both long form and valuable but doesn't give away all your best stuff?
Here’s the first thing:
Have you ever read the $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau? A lot of it can be found on his blog for free.
Just like most online courses and digital products can be found on the creators blogs, podcasts, or YouTube channels. They’re just organized in an actionable way.
You need to give people a reason to pay you. In a world where information is free, you need to prove yourself. And you do that through content.
You want people to think…
Your Blog Posts Should Be As Long as They Need to Be To Add Massive Value
Writing long articles doesn’t mean cramming all the words into your post.
Make each section pull it’s weight.
In 2015 I wrote an article called “How to Write Shit People Actually Want to Read”.
It was about 1300 words. But recently, I realized it’s not the best resource on how to write good blog articles. So I refreshed it. I added actionable strategies, examples, and data. Now it’s over 6,000 words and I’ve recieved several emails from readers who loved it.
On the flip side, we recently refreshed the WordPress plugins article I wrote in 2016 for Sumo. I shaved off over 3,000 words. Yup, you read that right.
That made it roughly 100x better.
So it’s not as simple as adding words or taking words away. It’s about making the piece stronger.
- When you have a “pretty good” article: Ask yourself “how can I make this article 10x better/stronger? What do I need to include to make it the best of the best?”
- When you’ve packed as much value as possible into your article: Ask yourself: how can I make this shorter while still maintaining the same amount of value?
There’s no magic number. Take at the top 10 sales-driving articles on Sumo in 2016. The word counts range from 13,100 words to just under 2,300.
Ideal Blog Post Length Depends on Your Niche & Specific Blog
I found in my study of the top most popular posts of Sumo’s top customers (we’re talking huge media publications) that the articles could be shorter:
They have social proof on their sides, and people already visited the sites to browse.
But you’re probably not the Huffington Post or Entrepreneur.com.
So you can use BuzzSumo or EpicBeat to find out what the average word count is for the most shared articles with your keyword/topic.
First, log into your account (you need a Pro account for this). Then, type in a popular blog in your niche:
Export results to a CSV:
In the Num_Words column, create a formula to calculate the average:
Voila! You know the average word count of that blog.
How To Find Out The Perfect Length for YOUR Audience
People in my content marketing sessions asked:
- “What worked for Sumo?”
- “How do you promote your content?”
- “How long is your content on Sumo?”.
I saw them frantically taking notes when I mentioned that Sumo’s most popular content was 6,000 words to 13,000 words.
Here’s the problem:
Just because a 13,000 word article worked for Sumo to generate massive sales, that doesn’t mean it’ll work for you.
Just because my most popular posts are 1,000-3,000 words long, that doesn’t mean it’ll work for you.
Unless you’re creating Sumo or Unsettle v.2 (please don’t), your blog is your blog.
Proof? Here you go…
This is the data for Unsettle:
This is the data for one of my content marketing consulting clients (in the health niche that gets over 450,000 visits/month):
Vs the data for another popular site in the health niche that sees hundreds of thousands of visitors/month:
This is the data for another client (in the parenting niche that gets over 300,000 visitors/month):
And the data for Sumo.
The variation even between popular sites in the same industry (health, for example) is shocking.
- Reader’s expectations for each site is different. Both Sumo and Hubspot create marketing content. Yet Hubspot’s sweet spot is 1000-2000 words, whereas Sumo’s is 10,000+. What do your readers expect from you?
- Different audiences have different circumstances. Under what circumstances is your target audience reading your articles? Mother.ly is so popular probably because people are reading articles on their phones while they’re waiting for their kid to finish karate or nursing their newborns. They prefer shorter, more emotional content. Physiqonomics has a science-based, research driven audience who need the most comprehensive information on the topic.
“Oh, my target audience is busy. They’re [CEOs/parents/working long hours]. They don’t have time to read long articles, so I’ll just create 800 word posts”.
Stop being lazy.
Here’s how to actually find your content length target:
3 Steps to Find Out Your Audience’s Word-Count Sweet Spot
Take a look at your most popular articles on Google Analytics. You can find them under Behaviour > Site Content > All Pages. Filter for the last 3-6 months:
This will usually show you what your highest traffic pages are from SEO been during the timeframe you specified.
But you also need to know what’s performed best when it comes to social shares. Pull your most popular content in BuzzSumo over the past year:
Take a look at how long and in depth the most popular content is, and now you’ve found what has worked for your audience.
Shortcut: If you have a BuzzSumo pro account, click on Content Analysis, and scroll down to find average shares by content length: You should still do the manual labor with search engine data via Google Analytics, but this reduces the time spent significantly with BuzzSumo.
If you haven’t published more than 20-30 articles, this won’t give you a good view of what works. Instead, analyze the popular blogs in your industry.
There’s No One-Size Fits All Answer to Blog Post Length
If you’re looking for a quick win, that’s the bad news.
The good news?
One-size fits all rarely fits well. You don’t want an ill-fitting word-count solution any more than you want an ill-fitting suit.
I’ve just given you exactly what you need to know to figure out how long your articles need to be.
Now you just have to get writing.