I love content marketing, it is one of the greatest things for both marketers and consumers. Marketing is truly successful when you find a way for both sides to win, and I believe that the new content marketing push is a perfect example of both sides winning. I will write another post (or maybe a whole book) about what content marketing is, but for today I want to focus on specific aspect of content marketing. The question that so many people ask when they start content marketing is this: “What is the best length for a blog post or content article for content marketing?”
That is truly a great question, so let’s dive into some statistics and answer that question.
Define What We Are Really Looking For
So the first question we need to tackle is what we are trying to accomplish with our post. Since my blog is full of people reading about how to improve their marketing efforts, I am guessing that you are trying to maximize your ROI (return on investment). That is to say, how do I get the biggest “bang for my buck” with content marketing? This is different than what has the highest results, which is what we will see when we investigate.
So we are maximizing our ROI. If you are a startup than this is really important, because you have almost no money. You need to make every penny count. I also have a lot of friends with personal blogs, who again don’t have massive budgets to dump into content marketing efforts. So we are going to make every penny count here. That is what you want.
For most of us, our costs are minimal and many of the bloggers I help often tell me “it costs me nothing to make a blog post”. This is very inaccurate, and so I want to define our costs now so you understand them. Since I run marketing for a large company, I am forced to live in a world where everything is defined by costs. The biggest, most valuable cost you have is your time.
Please, let’s pause and do yourself a favor. Give yourself an hourly wage. I wrote an excellent article focusing on this if you need some additional help. It’s important that you establish a wage for yourself even if it is “not real” yet. The reason for this, is that it helps us be productive and make smart decisions.
The average wage I tend to see for bloggers is about $30 an hour, so let’s roll with that for now as an example. It is going to take you 4 – 6 hours to write a 1,000 word post. This means your cost for this post is $120 – $190 right off the gate. In contrast, a 2,000 word post is going to cost you about 6-8 hours, or $190 – $240.
Why doesn’t a 2,000 word post take twice as much time as a 1,000 word post? Well that is because you have what we call in the industry, fixed costs. These are things you have to do for every post and take roughly the same amount of time no matter what. For example, you need to research extensively. Your time to research a 2,000 word article probably won’t be a whole lot different than a 1,000 word article, you are just writing in more depth. The time you spend promoting your post will be the same regardless of how long the post is. If you are working on SEO based articles (which you should), then you have keyword research, title optimization, and meta description writing, which will all be exactly the same regardless of the post being 50 words or 5,000 words. These are fixed costs. Really the only part that is significantly different is the actual writing and proofreading.
To keep things simple, let’s take the median for our two blog post lengths. So for a 1,000 word post let’s call it $150 and for a 2,000 word post let’s call it $210. There are many other costs I would calculate if I was running this myself, including the cost of promoting your post, the cost of hosting and maintenance, and so forth. I would encourage you all to add these costs unique to you, but for simplicity of this post I will stick with the costs I just defined above.
So the question is, how can I maximize my revenue and time? Would it be better to save some time and write a shorter post, or should I go the extra mile, spend more time on it, write a longer post and reap great rewards?
Do Current Search Results Give Any Clues?
I find the most impactful data comes from actually looking at existing search results. It gives us a great place to start our journey whenever we start questioning something related to SEO or internet popularity in general. So taking a look at current search results, I want to thank the people over at CoSchedule for doing a study on this. The data that we see here, shows the average length for the top 10 results in Google (the first page). The results are very revealing.
What you notice here, is that there seems to be a very strong relationship with the length of the content of the first 5 results and the length of the bottom 5 results. We don’t know why this is the case yet. But this study indicates that top posts in SERPs tend to also be longer in length.
Another study attempted to do nearly an identical story and found similar results.
So what I noticed here, was that the results higher on the page tend to be longer in length. Also, there seems to be a pretty direct correlation between the length of the post and where it ranks relative to similar posts.
Again, I want to emphasize that we have not yet discussed WHY this is the case, but it is clear, that at least right now, the top results on SERPs tend to be much longer.
Why is longer better?
Now that we know that longer posts tend to rank higher, let’s dive a little deeper and figure out why this might be the case. As a marketer I feel more like a scientist than anything else. We look at the data, make a hypothesis, test the hypothesis and then write about our results. Marketers are scientists, it’s that simple.
So allow me to make a hypothesis as to why this tends to be true. First of all, I don’t think that google looks at length of a post (beyond making sure that its more than at least 350-500 words) when ranking them in search results. But I believe that other ranking factors are increased when a post is longer, so we tend to see trends like this, where longer posts rank higher. Some of these ranking factors that can be increased naturally would be backlinks, time on site, bouncerate, and social shares. Let’s look at each one in more detail.
The number one most important ranking factor getting high on google SERPs is to have the most backlinks. In Google’s mind, they rightfully believe that if a ton of people link to that page, then that page much be valuable. With the exception of people that game the system, I believe this to be a valid measure of a page’s value as well.
So the idea is, maybe longer articles get more backlinks. Quite some time ago, my favorite site Moz, posted a slew of statistics, and one of them was the relationship between length of posts and the number of backlinks they received naturally.
This data is based off of Moz’s own posts. They found that their longer posts tended to earn more backlinks around the web. This is very interesting to discover and a lot of other assumptions can be made off this data. One suggests that longer posts provide more value to the reader. When a reader sees a post as more valuable they are more likely to link to it. I have read many articles before where I think to myself, “wow the author put a lot of time into this, I am going to link to it.” These ideas I think are strong indicators to why longer posts get more backlinks.
The important thing to note is that it appears that longer posts get more backlinks (for whatever reasons) and those extra backlinks can be a major factor into why the longer posts rank higher, it’s because they have more backlinks. But maybe there is even more to the story.
Another thing to consider is that longer content will have more words and phrases in it that are likely to be picked up for more search results. More search results gives you more traffic. More traffic eventually leads to more backlinks or more social shares.
This is to say that as you add more phrases, especially many of the long tail keyword phrases, you have a higher chance of getting picked up for a search result. This may also cause a domino of events which attribute greater value to the post and lead to higher results in SERPs.
Time on Site & Bouncerates
Many of you might not know this, but Google also does track the time spent on your site as a ranking factor. This is a fairly new discovery in the SEO community, but this factor makes sense. What Google does, is it tracks you as you click on links in search results. If you click link #1 and then back right out, and then click link #3 and spend 10 minutes on that page. Then Google starts to learn that link #3 might be more valuable than link #1. If it sees this trend continue with other searchers, then it will pull down the ranking effects of link #1 and push up the effects of link #3.
So it makes sense in our study, that a longer article will take longer to read and thus, you will spend more time on the website. This causes Google to assume that the content is more valuable since you spent more time there.
Another awesome blog I follow a lot is Buffer (and I also post a lot of articles from their blog to my twitter feed, follow me there for the best of the best). They discovered that the best time length for engagement is 7 minutes. As they go longer, people tend to drop off, and if its too short, people tend to bounce because there isn’t enough information for what they are looking for. When a customer bounces off the site, it makes it look really bad for the search engine. So when someone looks at an article that is either way too long, or way too short, they will bounce, both of which is bad for you.
Now, the average American reads at about 250 words per minute (meaning 7 minutes is 1,750 words). Depending on your target audience that might go up or down. So for me, my audience (you) tends to be much more educated than the average American, so I am guessing you read at about 300 words per minute, which is 2,100 words. So as you can see, that 2,000 word article we are talking about, is right in that perfect time period that people are looking to spend time reading a post.
Note: for anyone interested, my “minutes to read” calculations on my site are all based off of a 260 wpm reading speed. But i have considered making it 290 or 300. Let me know how accurate you think they are in the comments.
This is a secret metric. So let’s keep it on the DL (down-low). Google claims that social shares do not have any effect on search results. This is to say Facebook likes, Twitter shares, Pins, and so forth do not have an effect on SEO. Google has said that +1’s from Google Plus have a minor effect, but only on personalized search. Even normal Google+ pages actually rank as their own page and carry their own SEO independent of your article, but that is a longer story for another day.
However, despite Google denying that social shares do not matter, I can guarantee that they do! I have seen many studies done by very smart and respectable SEOs that have shown this to be true and I have even seen it myself with my posts and my company’s posts. Personally it makes sense that social shares should count, since for most people, its the normal way that you would link to a site and show value, which is what Google is built on.
Anyway, if we assume for now that social shares increase your search ranking, then let’s look at how long form posts rank when it comes to earning social shares. Noah Kagan is an internet hero of mine, and he posted an awesome study with Buzzsumo (who tracks social shares) to see if there is a correlation between longer articles and the number of social shares they received.
As seen here, the longer the article, the more likely it is to get social shares. Actually, unlike everything else we have seen so far, there doesn’t appear to be a point of diminishing returns with this one. With most of the other metrics we have looked at, we have seen that if you keep writing longer and longer, it eventually stops benefiting you or possibly even hurting you (for example increasing bounce rate). But with social shares, the longer the article the better it is.
This would indicate that people want to post longer, more informative content to their friends. This also leads to backlinks and eventually adds to the virility of your post. Maybe Google doesn’t track social shares directly. But we do know that social shares contribute in some way to things that Google likes. Such as increased traffic, decreased bouncerate, or increased time on site.
So we have learned some very powerful tips about why longer form content is more valuable to search engines. I think it is safe to conclude that longer form content does get higher results in search engines. It leads to more engagement in general, so not only are you getting more content via search engines, but you also get it from referal traffic (backlinks) and from social traffic (social shares).
Does it Provide a Positive ROI over Shorter Content?
If you remember, I didn’t just want to study if it provided better search engine results, I wanted to study if it had a positive ROI. The thing to remember, is even if a short post doesn’t rank quite as high as a long post, you can write more short posts. This is the idea of diversification and in the early years of SEO and Content Marketing, it was actually considered the best. You could cast a wide net over lots of different keywords and phrases. So does this still ring true, or are we entering a new age of Content Marketing?
We are definitely entering a new age for Content Marketing. I ran through the numbers (remember I am a data nerd) and came up with a 505% increase in value for a long form article versus a shorter 1,000 word post. By increasing the length of your blog posts from 1,000 words to 2,000 words you can experience as much as a 505% increase in value.
[tweet “Increasing the length of blog posts from 1,000 to 2,000 words, can experience 505% greater value”]
To be completely transparent with you, I had to do my best with this estimate. There is no hard figure to draw without more information about what the post is about. But I did my best to take the information and studies we discussed here and put a hard value on it to emphasis why it is worth your time to write longer, more valuable content. I know this is crude, but here is how I calculated my results.