Why Should I Care About Word Counts?

You may be trying to breathe some new life into your content marketing plan or you may be creating your digital content marketing strategy for the first time. But before you flip open your laptop and start applying your fingers to the keys on all those great blog posts and clever marketing copy you want to write, take your word counts seriously: the right length for the right occasions.

When You Need Long-Form Content

You may be fooled by the myth that all content you produce needs to be brief so that it’s easy for people to read. But if you always defer to the short and sweet, you might miss an opportunity to get your content to register with your audience.

Medium dug into its own site content to see what type of its posts got the most reader engagement. Instead of relying on page views alone, Medium considered article length and how much time readers spent reading their articles. Medium discovered that posts that took readers seven minutes were the posts that garnered the most engagement from readers. How many words per minute does this come out to? About 1,600 words.

The folks at Buffer also studied the relationship between long-form content and reader engagement. Blog posts of at least 1,500 words tended to generate more social shares than short posts. You’ll also find this situation to be the case with Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, making long-form content a better performer on social media.

Additionally, long-form content also gives your material some advantages when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO). Yoast noted that posts with word counts of 1,000 words and greater help give Google and other search sources some indicators for keywords and topics. As a result, long-form content can give you a top ranking spot on search engine results pages (SERPs) for your subject and create more opportunities for your material to generate reads and shares by people who care about what you’re writing about.

Go Long(er)

So if long-form content is good, what about even longer-length content?

Hubspot also did some research on the subject of word counts and discovered its own content that was greater than 2,500 words attracted the largest number of social shares and the greatest number of inbound links.

But with quantity also comes quality. If you’re aiming to produce these longer-length articles, make sure your content marketing strategy supports them. Quality content is the first order of business, so make sure you either recruit from within your company or enlist the help of creative content marketers who can give these pieces the attention they deserve.

How do you sustain reader interest with longer-length content? Give your pieces some structure and substance; use subheadings and visuals to complement the writing. Let’s also get back to SEO for a moment: Give your content some SEO love with keywords and phrases to catch the attention of search engines.

Think about how you’ll promote that work you spent time creating. Intriguing pull quotes or standalone statements make excellent tidbits to share in tweets. Sharing an attractive visual that calls attention to your piece in a Facebook post is also great for boosting engagement opportunities.

When Is It OK to Come Up Short?

Does longer work for every brand? Not necessarily. Blog posts that push north of 1,500 words may not be a good idea if you’re publishing material several times a week. In this case, shorter content might be your star.

Also think about the type of content you’re creating and how it’s going to be used. If your primary purpose is to share a video or an infographic, your introduction can be 250 or 300 words.

Deciding whether to come up short or go long involves taking a look at the material you’ve already created. Do the simple, to-the-point posts get the most comments and shares? If your audience responds best to those types of posts, or if you can adapt your messaging to fit the short-form length, then tailor your content strategy accordingly.

With short content, though, there’s a caveat: as we pointed out earlier, short content doesn’t do as well with search engine rankings, which can hinder your ability to attract traffic to your content. Also keep in mind that too brief posts (less than 300 words) won’t rank at all in search.

Of course, there are exceptions, and Seth Godin is one of them. This marketing master has managed to engage his audience with shorter posts that range between 30 words to a few hundred words.

Before you try to emulate his style, keep in mind that Godin cut his teeth in the marketing sphere more than a decade ago, and he’s built a highly engaged audience during that time. Granted, his posts do reflect the brand he’s built, and he does share thought-worthy bits of inspiration, but his aim isn’t what most content marketers target.

Know Your Goals

If you have a long list of goals your content needs to accomplish—more shares, more opportunities to reach influencers, and better SEO rankings—you need to give readers and search engines something of value. When you lock yourself into word count minimums, you shackle the potential for your ideas.

As you work to develop your content marketing strategy, build out your editorial calendar, and start crafting your text, think carefully about your word counts, but know thy brand and industry when you do.


Image Credits

“Word” image via Flickr by procsilas

Word scatter image via Flickr by Jon Assink

Computer keyboard image via Flickr by wuestenigel