Short, Shorter, Long: What’s the Ideal Length of a Blog Post?

Posted By on December 10, 2012

An update as of 4/25/14: We stand by our original contention that a blog post can be any length you want. However, BuzzSumo has done the research and it’s clear that long form posts get shared more. Take a look at the chart and you’ll see that if you’re going for virality, the answer to how long should a blog post be is looooonnnnngggg.

Our thanks to OkDork.com

Average Shares by Content Length

 

Whatever length you decide to post, the key to measurement is how well the post keeps the reader’s interest.

When was the last time you asked about the ideal length of a movie? Not recently, I’m guessing, because all we really care about is whether they hold our attention. The same is true for blog posts. Generally, they should be short, anywhere between 250 and 800 words. But if you learn to blog in a way that engages readers, they can be as long as you want.

Whether they’re long or short, you need to follow blogging best practices:

• Snag the reader’s attention by the end of the first paragraph.
• Use the right mix of visuals, text, and media (videos, webinars, etc.).
• Format for online readability.
• Write in a unique voice.

Aspire to Be Short

It’s easier to be long-winded than concise. Saying something in as few words as possible means going back and cutting and finessing. That takes time.

Scott Hanselman’s post The Computer Backup Rule of Three is not only short (just 411 words), it’s got attitude and incredibly useful advice.

 

Used under CC. Photo by Jon Ross

He makes you immediately snap-to on seeing the smashed hard drive and reading his words with their “Hey, I’m talking to you” tone.  And he freezes your hand on your mouse by spelling out the problem he’s going to solve—all in 72 words.


Now watch how his headers telegraph what you’re going to learn (while being entertained at the same time):

1. These Are Not Backups
Translation: What he knows you’re doing wrong

2. The Computer Rule of Three
Translation: What you should be doing

3. Why So Paranoid?
Translation: How I learned the lesson the hard way

4. What Should I Do?
Translation: Specific advice about what you should do

5. Recommended Reading
Translation: More info you should read so you don’t f*** up again

I don’t know about you, but as soon as I finished reading his post, I signed up for a cloud-storage account. How many words did he use to get me to take action? 411.

Long Can Feel Short

If Scott’s post were longer, would you keep reading? More than likely. Why? Because it’s pointed and useful (it prevents a future crying jag or technology tantrum), and it’s structured for online reading. All of these are essential attributes of longer posts that work.

But there’s a key difference. In a post that’s, say, over 1,000 words, you need more visuals—whether those are images, videos, webinars, slides, etc. And you need to integrate them with the body copy and headers so that the piece flows. By “flow,” I mean that you give people one readable and viewable chunk at a time so that they easily absorb it and move on to the next—flow with it.

Here’s a long post by Cynthia—about using Microsoft Word(!) Picture Effects to improve your photos.

Notice how:

• She tells a story right off the bat to grab our attention (whereas Scott uses attitude), and then uses the story to teach us something.
• Her headers tell you exactly what you’ll learn (see below).
• The photos in each section show you what the header said you’d learn.
• And the paragraphs that explain them are short and to the point.
 

Her post is more than 1,000 words—but you never notice that. Instead, you’re improving your skills, listening to a story, learning how to use a software program, and getting to look at cool pictures. Who cares how long the post is?