Long articles (2,00 words or more) are considered to be essential for good SEO practice according to some gurus in the field. But if that is the case then you would imagine there was a strong demand for in-depth very long articles and content.
However if a recent discussion on a marketing forum is anything to go by, most people here stated they hated very noisy, long articles.
People in the article commented that they prefer their information to be shorter and to the point, something that research in this article also supports.
So if this is the case then who reads the long articles and if your target audience doesn’t like them is there any sense in writing them just to get ranked?
What is the Ideal Length of a Blog Post?
In a previous article I looked at the different types of blog post you might produce and how for some shorter is actually better.
However as competition increases for specific keywords, Google has to look at other factors related to the article and these other factors will then affect ranking positions.
One of the things that seems to be considered is the length of the post – with research showing that longer posts appear to consistently rank better. Or do they?
One of the best supporters of long content is probably Neil Patel, famous for his 4,000 long posts although even he acknowledges that,
Longer is not necessarily better. Shorter is not necessarily better. And people do actually read your content. - Neil Patel 2014.
The last point he mentioned was in response to the theory that people don’t actually read content anyway, something Neil claims is a myth supposedly based on the findings of Jacob Neilsen in 1997 in his piece on How Users Read The Web.
How Do Users Read On The Internet?
In Neilsen’s work he claimed that 79% of readers only scan new content and only 16% read every word on a page.
Neilsen carried out an experiment of changing the text layout and format to see if there was an increase in reader usability, which was calculated using metrics such as later recall of material and whether readers felt the content was better and presented clearer.
I have selected three of his samples starting with the baseline text and then two different versions to show how layout increased usability.
In this first piece it shows standard website description.
In this example the word count was reduced, which increased usability by nearly 60%
In the final example the text used a combination of factors including a concise format and also easily scannable (with bullet points).
So the question is not so much who reads your text, but how many users find it easy to read?
It’s also interesting that this research is still relevant today despite being written nearly 20 years ago. So has anything changed in the last 20 years that influences what readers are looking for today?
How Do Users Read the Web in 2016?
Finding research to show how readers use the internet in 2016 is not easy, Neilsen in 2006 re-affirmed his theory that people only scan articles by using heat maps to track reader patterns.
These maps illustrated where our attention focuses on different areas of a web page.
Neilsen said that readers on average had an F pattern to the reading. Looking across the top of the page and then focusing on the left hand side of the page.
This applies to web search results and pages with no sidebars on the left hand side.
You can check your own website content by adding heat map plugins and monitoring reader results, for pages of your own content.
Video Content, Images and Podcasts
One of the ways that our use of the internet has changed is our access to alternative media sources. Content may still be King, but written content is not always the best format to use.
According to some studies as many as 65% of the population are visual learners, which means that they need to see things in front of them in order to understand the topic.
- if I were to describe the following –
A line that continues round in a circular fashion and is filled in with a light blue colour
- or show you the following –
which is easiest to understand?
So if we learn and absorb information better through images, and if Neilsen’s theory of users not actually reading content is still relevant, why is there so much emphasis on developing longer written content?
Why Do We Need Longer Content Length?
In a study by serpIQ (in 2012) they examined the average content length of the top ten positions on Google. They found that the higher the position the longer the content, with 10th position pages having on average 400 words less than 1st position pages.
Although their findings have been taken literally, in that the top positions all had longer content, there was also a correlation between content length and age of domain.
One of the reasons that domain age plays a role in ranking is because more established sites have more backlinks, have greater amounts of content and more pages indexed.
All of these things add to authority which affects page ranking positions.
Content by itself is not a deciding factor, and in fact serpIQ discovered that in the most competitive keyword results content length mattered less. Instead other factors were more important such as backlinks, authority and solid SEO on page optimisation.
Conclusion -Know And Write For Your Audience
Ranking on Google is all well and good, but if your intended audience is not interested in your well written 3,500 word blog post they won’t stay long and they won’t be buying anything either.
The thing to remember in 2016 is that content and the way it is delivered is evolving and audience expectations are increasing.
- Present content in a meaningful and useful way, if it works well for readers it will work for Google.
- Combine media in your content use- images, photos, graphs, videos, podcasts and links to other articles / sources.
- But don’t get too noisy, or like the forum members mentioned at the start of this article your readers might find it is too much.
- Be mindful of word count but don’t be restricted by it either. A mixture of post lengths will suit a broader audience range unless you know your own audience’s needs and then stick to what works for them.
There are other articles on this site that may be of interest on content development, such as;
- 9 Ways to Get Your Audience to Read Your Full Blog Post
- Writing Blog Posts – The Long and Short of It
I’d love to hear your own thoughts on the ideal length for blog posts and what works for you as a reader, so please leave a comment behind in the section below, thanks.