Are Short Blog Posts Worth It in a Long-Form World?
8 minute read
Published on November 27, 2018
How long should your blog posts be to attract visitors and rank highly with the search engines?
Are shorter blog posts your best bet, or does long-form content generate more engagement?
In a world of shifting content marketing expectations, it’s easy for companies to miss the mark and suffer the SEO consequences. Here’s what you need to know about blogs, length and getting the most for your digital content dollars.
Long Story Short: Content Trends
The title gives it away — long-form content is quickly becoming the standard for sites that want to drive solid SEO. Total it up, and you’ll find that this piece falls into a sweet spot of 1,200 to 1,300 words — enough to offer more in-depth insight without overwhelming audiences.
But what’s driving this trend? And are companies really seeing a difference between long and short blog posts?
To answer the last question first, absolutely. As noted by Search Engine Land, long posts rank extremely well.
Top-ranked posts typically break the 2,000 word mark, and longer posts generate more backlinks on average. According to Small Business Trends, search engines theoretically find long-form content easier to categorize and contextualize.
At first glance, it definitely makes sense to write or buy blog content in excess of 2,000 words to capitalize on this trend.
But is that the whole story?
The Value Challenge
The data is clear. Longer pieces generally perform better, make it easier to add links and, as noted by The Next Web, can help improve social media sharing.
So why bother with short-form blog posts?
Because there’s a marked difference between a good blog post that happens to be short and a long blog post that’s only long because it “should” be. And that difference has a name: Value.
Longer posts aren’t just generating traffic because they’re long — they offer companies the chance to go in-depth about topics that interest them and add value for users.
However, it quickly becomes very obvious if businesses are prioritizing post length over value.
Think of it as finding a balance between fluff and fact. If you only need 500 words to get the message across, don’t write 1,000 words. While smaller posts may not generate as much traffic, they’re often a great source of inspiration for longer posts that draw out or dive into specific details.
And while data seems to indicate that longer posts perform better (and on average they do), that’s largely because they better satisfy searcher intent. If you do an excellent job satisfying searcher intent with a shorter post, you may outrank competitors with longer posts that are made up of weaker information.
Short Blog Posts: Finding the “Write” Amount
Numbers should be your secondary concern behind searcher intent. If you can answer customers’ questions with short content or solve their problems with a short blog post, do it. Prioritize creating content to solve searcher needs and not word count targets if positive organic outcomes are your goal.
That said, word count is your secondary concern, and you should be aware of how long your competitors’ content is. I’d recommend using a tool such as SEMrush’s SEO Content Template to see how long your competitors’ content is and what topics they’ve covered. While you don’t necessarily have to write more than they have, this can give you a good ballpark and guide you to create more semantically complete content.
Because every search term has a different competitive landscape, how much you need to write varies a lot. In general, though, different lengths of blog posts are going to serve different objectives.
So what’s the ideal amount to write? Let’s break it down:
- 500 words(ish): These quick-hitter blogs are useful if you’re reporting on newsworthy items, announcing new products or bringing in guest posters. Don’t expect massive traffic returns here, but a well-written piece may generate some organic shares and comments.
- Sub-1000 words: Content that’s anywhere between 500 and 1000 words is still considered short content and remains the length of choice for most online journalists. It’s long enough to tackle one topic and delve just below the surface, in turn prompting further discussion.
- 1000 – 1500 words: This is what many advertising and content marketing firms now consider the “ideal” blog post length. It’s not exactly long or short, falling somewhere in the middle and making it possible to take on multiple aspects of a single topic in one post. Well-written pieces of this length can generate solid SEO and reliable traffic over time.
- 2000 words and over: These are the big ones — in-depth, well-researched blog posts that don’t shy away from going deep and discussing complex topics. If they’re well-written, these longer posts own the ranking game. Keep in mind, though, that low-quality posts are easy to spot and entirely ignored by curious users.
Look Before You Long-Form
If everyone else is going long-form, you should too — right?
Not without a plan.
Longer content alone doesn’t guarantee consumer interest, organic shares and backlinks. You need to create content that users want to read.
Start with what’s sometimes referred to as the “skyscraper method:”
- Research top keywords that align with your business objectives to see what content tops the list.
- Read through and discover what type of content is already on the web. How long are these pieces? How in-depth?
- Look for spaces where your company can fill in knowledge gaps or offer deeper coverage to stand out from the crowd. Tools such as SEMrush’s SEO Content Template or MarketMuse can help you identify possible topic areas and begin building out your content strategy.
What does this mean for longer posts?
If you find high-quality short content that’s generating significant traffic for your competitors, consider building out a long-form strategy that leverages key points but delivers more in-depth analysis.
If keyword analysis turns up minimal content of any length, start with short-form pieces to prime your audience and update the pieces over time as needed.
No matter the existing content landscape, remember that your goal isn’t just to hit a particular word count or write longer posts than your competitors — it’s to create high-quality content that aligns with consumer interest and delivers immediate value.
Short posts also come with a unique advantage over their longer cousins. They’re quicker to read and digest. Sure, this is obvious, but what’s not so apparent is the impact on users if they’re interrupted while reading a long-form article.
Let’s say they’re halfway through a 2000-word piece you’ve put weeks of work into. A colleague or family member breaks their concentration, and after the distraction, they try to refocus on the post at hand. As noted by Inc., however, it takes 23 minutes to recover after a distraction and get back on track. The result is that readers may give up halfway through your content — not because it’s poorly-written or missing the mark, but because they can’t find enough time.
Short content in the 500 to 1000 word range can be consumed in 2-5 minutes, making it far more likely that readers will stay until the end and be curious enough to comment or read more.
The Short Stack
Long isn’t always better. There are some areas where short-form posts excel. These include “episodic” content posted over a set period of time; smaller connected posts published at regular intervals can help keep readers engaged. Diving into cluster items from SEO topic clusters are also well-served by shorter posts since they may not require the depth to support longer-form content.
Don’t just take our word for it. As noted by Forbes, sites like Tech Crunch are out there generating $2.5 million every month. Take a look at their site, and you’ll find the vast majority of content is less than 1000 words. Meanwhile, massively popular site Huffington Post covers breaking news with pieces ranging from sub-500 words to more than 2,000.
The stats are in. It’s a long-form world — in-depth, deep-coverage content outperforms shorter blog pieces.
But this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. Badly-written, extremely long content won’t do you any favors, while tight, short copy can help engage users and set the stage for more in-depth discussions, comments and social media shares.
Bottom line? There’s still a place for short blogs posts in a long-form world.