You’ve heard the statistics before, and you have to admit they’re convincing:
Given that most business owners are not necessarily positioned to publish scientific papers or op-ed pieces in the Wall Street Journal or join a university as adjunct professor, blogging is the most accessible way to distribute good, actionable content about your product or service to the people who need that information the most: your potential customers and clients.
But blogging isn’t easy, as many would-be bloggers find to their chagrin. While anyone with a keyboard and an internet connection can upload content to a blog, uploading the wrong content is just as harmful as uploading no content at all. You can actually drive customers away either by promoting your product in a way that does not appear credible or by coming off as uninformed about your industry. You can also simply render yourself invisible by failing to meet search engines’ exacting and constantly shifting standards for “good content.” That last is by far the most common mistake bloggers make, and much of the problem has to do with blog post length.
The hard truth in blogging is that size matters. More specifically: length matters. And the right length is not necessarily the same for every audience or every search engine. We’ll drop that “size matters” analogy now before we all get a little too uncomfortable…
When you blog for a search engine, you are blogging specifically in terms of word count. That is nice and easy, as long as you know the word count. Here is what Google has to say (indirectly) about word count as of 2019: If you look at the top-ranked pieces of content on Google in your niche, they will indicate how long a blog post in your niche should be. If you already have a blog underway, you might also want to look at the top-ranked pieces of content on your blog. Then, compare these averages. In 2019, Google was most “affectionate” to blog posts that were between 1,000 and 2,000 words long. That’s a lot of writing!
However, the bigger issue is not how long your content pieces are, but how short they are not. In fact, Google “likes” anything over about 500 words, though you certainly will want to sprinkle in some longer pieces from time to time in order to really mop up that search engine love. What Google (and other search engines) do not like, however, is content shorter than 300 words. That’s right: Whoever told you “Just post anything on your website because it’s the posting that counts!” was wrong. Google does not just dislike short posts, they have a label for them: thin. Thin content gets you results just like really meaty content does, but you will not like these results. These results bounce you right out of the search results entirely, sometimes for months. You cannot afford thin content. It could result in your needing an entirely new website to make up for your “bad behavior.”
Content length is not just about word count, however. Think about your audience. Are they likely to read a 2,000-word blog post? That is four pages of small-print text with no pictures in a magazine, to give you a visual idea of how that many words will feel to your readers. In most cases, your audience is not going to want to spend more than five or maybe seven minutes reading your blog post, and that is good news if the 2,000-word daily blog post was giving you writer’s cramp.
Search engines “know” (or the engineers do) that length is not the only consideration when you are blogging. They realize you also have to consider who will read your post and, to accommodate that issue, a search engine will factor in how many people click on your posts and how long they stay on your website. The more clicks and the longer stays, the better your ranking and the higher your profile in your industry.
Think back to high school English class. There was always one kid who bragged about how they could “B.S.” their way through any topic without actually thinking about the topic one iota in advance. “I just B.S.’d my way through that essay test,” they would gloat, as you quietly wished them a 2.0 grade point average for the semester. While those students might or might not have gotten their comeuppance, if you attempt to B.S. a search engine, you will definitely get a failing grade. So how to bulk up your posts without just padding your descriptions with an extra half-dozen adjectives?
You have options:
Videos and graphics make your post more attractive to search engines and more readable for your audience (especially if you know they’re an audience of skimmers versus deeply detailed readers).
Today’s internet users love lists. In fact, there is even a word for online lists: “Listicles,” which are articles that are basically just lists. You can leverage this love of lists for your own purposes by picking a compelling topic for your audience and then making a list of five points, which will nearly always net you a relatively long blog post. For example, if you are a sports photographer, you might make a list of five ways most professional sports photographers ruin shots of children playing junior-league sports or even a list of five ways to get the best cell-phone shot of your child in action. Think you’re putting yourself out of a job? Think again. Most parents would rather let the professionals handle their pics of “junior” to make sure they’re insta-worthy, and you’ve established trust and credibility by telling the truth and providing good information.
If you are truly sharing actionable information that is valuable to your readers, then they will appreciate a little more detail in your posts. Remember, your goal is to get at least some longer posts on your website, not to dominate your site in an avalanche of words that will intimidate your readers. When the topic warrants, go into detail. This will give you a longer resource on your website that you can link to from shorter pieces of content as well.
At the end of the day (OK, the article), you will know when you have hit the “magic spot” with your blog posts when you start to see an increase in traffic and longer stays on your website. Just remember, this doesn’t happen overnight. The key is to post regularly (the best do it daily) and to track your results after you post. If you get a post that is hugely successful, then see if you can identify what made it so. If one is a complete bust, try to identify the problem: Was it too long, too short, or just not on-topic? Remember, not every post will be a homerun. A lot of them won’t even be “base hits.” However, over time, a well-maintained blog will grow to be a permanent mainstay of your business.
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