Is It Time to Re-Think Long-Form Content?

The topic de jour for content marketing this year has been quality over quantity – and it’s about time. Studies clearly show the value in posting a few great, highly informative posts rather than cranking out a bunch of keyword drivel.

To underscore the point, check out serpIQ’s study on the average length of content. As you’ll see, the average length of the top 10 rated posts they looked at was usually more than 2,000 words.

So, is it time to roll up your sleeves and start cranking out a 5,000-word opus?

Not necessarily.

How Much Do People Actually Read?

You should aim for about 1,600 words for your blog posts, on average.

At least, that’s the data gleaned by Medium, which says the ideal blog post is about seven minutes long. That translates to around 1,600 words. Medium took a look at the average seconds spent on their posts, then compared that total to the actual length of posts.

The reason, of course, should be obvious: Readers appreciate content with thought and effort put into it. From Medium’s post, “The Optimal Post is 7 Minutes:”

“It’s noteworthy that at the beginning of the trend, the longer posts tend to see more visitors. This suggests a possible correlation between length and quality—that, on average, the longer posts are higher quality, resulting in more sharing and, consequently, more traffic.”

But when it comes to social shares, don’t assume those long posts are going to be shared all over the Internet, as pointed out by Farhad Majoo in the Slate post, “You Won’t Finish This Article.” Slate turned to traffic analysis firm ChartBeat for some analytics on their content.

“… There’s a very weak relationship between scroll depth and sharing. Both at Slate and across the Web, articles that get a lot of tweets don’t necessarily get read very deeply. Articles that get read deeply aren’t necessarily generating a lot of tweets.”

People Aren’t Reading as Much of Your Content as You Thought They Were

In fact, Chartbeat’s analytics can be a bit disheartening for writers. Of the Slate articles that were analyzed, viewers only read to about the 50 percent mark or 1000th pixel. That’s not very much content. To put it in perspective, the typical article online is about 2,000 pixels, and most browser windows are around 700 pixels. Overall, Chartbeat’s analytics show that people only read about 60 percent of an article.

The bottom line, according to Majoo?

“… Readers can’t stay focused.”

Is Less Truly More?

So, if people are only reading about half of what you write, isn’t it natural to assume that you should dial it down a notch and aim for much shorter blog posts?

In a word: No.

And you can thank Google for that.

Google has made a strong push in recent years to weed out all the crud found online with its algorithm updates. Therefore, the media giant is trying to make sure all those well-researched posts of yours are seen by more people than the 500-word, keyword-stuffed garbage you might have cranked out at breakneck speed when you first started content marketing.

As Kevin Espiritu wrote for SerpIQ in, “How Important is Content Length? Why Data-Driven SEO Trumps Guru Opinions:

“It’s evident that a fully fleshed out site with a lot of quality content is going to be favored by Google. In fact, (recent) updates from Google have shown that they’re actively working on improving their detection of poor quality content.”

Translation: People might not be reading all your content, but if you want them to give it a chance, then you have to aim for longer, well-thought-out posts.

Just Focus on Great Content

The final word comes from Garret Moon, co-founder and marketing leader of CoSchedule, a social media editorial calendar for WordPress. Moon engaged in several discussions with readers of his blog post, “How To Get People To (Actually) Read Your Content.” The 1,700-word post pointed out that, on average, only 10 to 20 percent of people typically make it to the bottom of CoSchedule’s blog posts. So he was asked in the ensuing discussion why he didn’t consider writing much shorter posts.

“These stats can be discouraging, but I am not sure that the solution is to write shorter posts. My guess would be that readers would still only read the first 20-30% of text before leaving. That’s just the way it is, and it really isn’t new for blogs. This has been happening for years in the newspaper industry.

Rather, I think the correct course of action is to focus on GREAT content that works as hard as possible to keeps readers, knowing that it won’t win them all. This is the stuff I covered like short paragraphs, many (chunks) of text/content, lots of great images/illustrations, and an inverted pyramid style as best you can.”