Do People Actually Read Long Articles?

      6 Comments on Do People Actually Read Long Articles?

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.

amazed bored sign

(Image – “Amazed Bored Signpost Shows Dull And Amazing” by Stuart Miles freedigitalphotos.net)

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.

baseline standard marketing text

sample 1 -baseline and standard marketing text

 

In this first piece it shows standard website description.

 

 

concise text

sample 2 – reduced word count increased usability

In this example the word count was reduced, which increased usability by nearly 60%

 

text is concise, scannable and objective

sample 3 – text is concise, scannable and objective increased usability 124%

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.

heat maps show reader patterns

Neilsen showed we have a F pattern in our reading

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.

For example

  • 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 –

describing an image - circle

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.

serpIQ results comparing domain agar and content length of blog posts

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.

Further reading

There are other articles on this site that may be of interest on content development, such as;

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.

6 thoughts on “Do People Actually Read Long Articles?

  1. Therese Roth

    This is eye-opening information for me.

    I was also of the opinion that length matters, because I’d been told from every side, that it does…

    But if I’m brutally honest with myself, my own internet consumer behavior reflects something else….

    Nice work, very informative- and educational!

    Greetings
    Therese

    Reply
    1. Marie Post author

      Hi Therese thanks for sharing your own insights because I think sometimes content marketing writers forget that they aren’t just writing for a search engine. There are real people at the end of your page and if you can’t appeal to them then all else fails. The search engine is just one more tool to try and reach your audience, so yes you have to work along with the likes of Google, but the writing doesn’t stop there.

  2. Angela

    Interesting article on how long articles should be to get read. I have heard so many different answers to this and most stating that a decent article would consist of 1,000 to 1,500 words, but then again when doing your articles you should have a variety going from 1,000 to 2,000.
    I guess everyone has to experiment and find their own average
    I like the fact that you stated to use a format that is more easy to scan and read, such as with bullet points or numbers.
    And yes I can see the results of using visuals. Not using such advantages would just leave an article to more of a term paper. Not for me!
    Thanks,
    Angela

    Reply
    1. Marie

      Hi Angela thanks for commenting and like yourself I have heard many conflicting answers about ideal content length. One thing to remember as well is that comments also add to the length of the article, so an older site might have an article of 600 words but over the years it has collected more than 1,500 words in comments.

  3. Matthew

    I think the article length is not as important as the quality and the value it provides. If an article provides a lot of useful information, I am willing to read the entire article even if it’s a long one – unless I am in a hurry.

    I actually prefer to read long articles instead of short articles because I have noticed that short articles usually tend to be plain useless providing little to no useful information for me. They are more geared towards click baits and getting more people to read them while longer articles actually provide the information I am looking for.

    Reply
    1. Marie

      Hi Matthew I’m with you on that one, I find there’s nothing worse than just getting into a subject and then the article has finished. It’s back to writing to suit the topic and the audience, there’s nothing wrong with long articles if it suits the subject matter.

      Shorter blog posts tend to suit more specific topics, like answering a specific question or introducing a video.

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