What is the optimal length for online content?

Ever wonder if your blog post is too short or your article too long? I’ve been wrestling with the issue lately, so I set out to find answers. As it turns out, the answers aren’t black and white, but savvy marketers can weigh the considerations below to help identify the optimal length for their own content.

Note: Here, I’ve focused on online articles and blog posts – not other forms of content, like videos, downloadable e-books and printed white papers.

The SEO perspective

Does Google rank long- or short-form content higher? Several studies show that long posts usually perform better than short posts. Backlinko, for example, found the average word count of first-page Google results was 1,890 words.

SerpIQ also published a frequently cited study that shows long content ranks better than short content: The top-ranked search result typically has about 2,400 words.

The reader engagement perspective

Do readers tend to share and engage more with long or short posts? Again, the data favors meaty content. Buzzsumo found that long-form content gets more social shares than short-form, with 3,000- to 10,000-word pieces getting the most average shares.

Long content also earns more quality backlinks (external websites linking to the article): Hubspot found that articles with word counts exceeding 2,500 earn the most links.

The attention span perspective

How long do people spend reading online content? It’s great that Google might reward a long-form post, but will anyone read the whole thing? The data here is mixed.

Research by Chartbeat shows that half of visitors who click through to an article hardly read what they land on: 45% spend less than 15 seconds on the page. On the other hand, Medium has found that posts which take seven minutes to read are the most popular. Average adults read about 250 words per minute, so seven minutes equals roughly 1,750 words.

The important caveats

It can be tempting to see the above data and think “long-form is my best bet.” There are, however, several reasons to be cautious about blindly applying the word-count ranges suggested by these stats. Correlation does not necessarily equal causation; longer does not necessarily equal better. Before we commit to exclusively writing 2,000-word articles, let’s consider these key points:

  • First, according to online marketing guru Neil Patel, “Word count is not a standalone ranking factor. Word count only has merit if the content quality is high!” Search engines and readers alike are looking for high-quality content: Pieces that are trustworthy, useful, interesting, substantive, accurate and well-written. Publishing fluff is worse than publishing a short post.
  • Next, Rand Fishkin, previously of Moz, notes that averages shouldn’t necessarily be prescriptive. He advises marketers to let searcher goals and business objectives determine optimal content length:

Rather than applying a tactic like long-form content universally or setting length as the bar (or even a metric) for greatness, we [should] instead match our content to our audience’s needs and our business/personal goals.700 more words will not help you reach your goals any more than 7 more words. Create content that helps people. Do it efficiently. Never write an ultimate guide where a single image could more powerfully convey the same value. Trust me; your audience and your bottom line will thank you.

  • Lastly, short-form content can be highly effective – just look at the wild successes of Seth Godin and IFL Science. Their typical posts are well under 1,000 words and are widely read and shared.