A good editor once pointed out to me that every journalist wants to be a documentary maker, when they should be concentrating on finding more stories and giving them the treatments they deserved. No longer, no shorter.
Seeing as, at the time, I had to give my stories the treatment he thought they deserved (he was usually right), the adage is more useful to me now than then. The internet era has done away with strict word counts and in theory, every online article can be as long as the author feels necessary to cover the subject.
Unfortunately, many bloggers forget the second part of the old joke relating to dresses and speeches (and articles): they should also be short enough to be interesting!
So, how long should a blog be? If you’re guest writing for a publication, or even for someone else’s blog, the simple answer is that it’s as long as the editor or blog owner asks for. While this was a strict rule in the days of print because the text had a slot to fill – even longer articles had to be within 25 words of the target – it remains common courtesy today.
There are certain advantages too: a strict word count forces the author to edit and prune ruthlessly and this is usually a good thing – see my last post for the relevance of old-school style. But it’s also worth remembering that major blogs and online magazines still have a style to stick to.
Editors really appreciate copy that is to length, and it will vastly increase the chances of your article appearing as you wrote it. Because if you don’t edit it to size, somebody else will. Even if you’re not given a target length, it may be worth emulating what is currently on the site you are writing for.
What about your own blog? Can each post be as long as the subject deserves? Maybe it’s my newspaper background but I think that some sort of adherence to a style is desirable. For a start, it forces editorial discipline and stops you getting carried away into the realms of the documentary.
Opinions as to the ideal length of a blog vary wildly. Even excluding the picture bloggers, gif-copiers and news-spammers of the blogosphere, formats range from around 300 words to over 2,000.
This admirably detailed post on Medium aims to take a scientific approach, by analysing the number of clicks and links which blogs of various lengths get. Curiously, they concentrate on the time it takes to read an article, rather than the word length – Medium’s conclusion is that for SEO purposes at least, you should be aiming for 7 minutes.
They don’t give a word estimate for that, but this blogger did the calculation and comes up with a whopping 1,600 words. That drops to around 1,000 if you include lots of pictures and graphics (assuming people stop to look at them) but it it still sounds a bit too long to me.
It’s not that people’s attentions are short – it’s just that there are so many distractions out there. If people are reading at work, how long is their break? When will the boss be back? A 1,600 word article looks like it will take a good chunk of time. Personally, I think you’re getting close to the length where you might consider writing a ‘white paper’ or downloadable report.
For the purposes of a well crafted opinion piece, aiming for the length of a newspaper or magazine column seems a good bet: That means between 600 and 1,000 words. That is a nice size for your readers to enjoy in their coffee break, with a chance to think about it and hopefully share it on social media before going about their day.
This is why a lot of the premium content in newspapers is of this length: it’s a golden chunk of someone’s time – when they take a break from their main activity.
Of course, the scientific evidence points to 1,600 words as an ideal length for SEO, and that’s not to be sniffed at. But what if you split that blog into two – part one and two? Medium’s analysis doesn’t make clear if your two shorter blogs will gather more clicks than one long one, but with a broad bell curve on the graph, its a good bet they will.
Here’s one I did for a client recently – hopefully you’ll be tempted to read the second half too!