[Updated 18 October 2019]
In 1994, Justin Hall, a student at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, started publishing an online journal called Justin’s Links From the Underground.
He was one of the first people to write one and, in 2004, the New York Times Magazine named him “the founding father of personal blogging”.
In 1997, Open Diary – the first-ever blogging community and the first platform that allowed bloggers to comment on each other’s posts – was launched.
And other platforms followed. Blogger arrived in 1999 and, in 2003, Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little got together and wrote the original code for something called WordPress. Which now hosts about 75 million sites and powers 34% of the internet (stats 2019).
Fun fact of the day: the term blog was invented by Peter Merholz when he split weblog into we blog just for the heck of it on his site Peterme.com in 1999
Blogging quickly evolved from a way to share personal experiences into much more than that.
In 2002, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott was forced to step down after blogs – rather than the mainstream media – reported his controversial comments about Senator Thurmond (a Presidential candidate in 1948), which revealed that Lott was an advocate of racial segregation.
The effect and spread of the story showed how powerful blogging could be.
What started life as a way of communicating with friends and the online community was recognised for its potential influence in politics, the media and business.
If we go back to 1998, a company called Google Inc. was set up and entered the online search market. They used backlinks and a website’s authority to figure out which search results to bring back.
Blogging very nicely brought together a way of adding keyword-rich content to a website and linking it to other web pages and sites (through permalinks, blogrolls and trackbacks).
So it’s no surprise that by 2006, 34% of businesses in the Fortune 500 were blogging and by 2012, 62% of all businesses had a blog.
66% of marketers surveyed used blogs in their social media content
Social Media Examiner, 2019 (Source: https://www.hubspot.com/marketing-statistics)
81% of B2B companies use blogging as a content marketing tactic
Content Marketing Institute, 2016 (Source: https://www.hubspot.com/marketing-statistics)
55% of marketers say blog content creation is their top inbound marketing priority
HubSpot, 2018 (Source: https://www.hubspot.com/marketing-statistics)
The effect of the Panda update
After Google’s Panda update, content marketing went crazy. People were spewing out blogs all over the place to get higher on Google without thinking much about quality. And, in February 2011, Google launched their first Panda update (now part of its core algorithm), which didn’t like “thin” or poor quality content.
At the end of 2012, Copyblogger announced that 2013 would be the year of the online writer after Google stated that they would focus on quality results and punish sites trying to cheat the SEO game.
In the hunt for quality and SEO juice, blogs started getting longer. In 2009, the average post was 250 words, in 2016 it was 900 words, in 2019 it’s over 1000 words.
According to serpIQ, the average length of the results on page one of Google was over 2000 words in 2012. The first result was an average 2416 words, the tenth was a bit shorter at 2032.
I’ve noticed that my reading and writing habits have changed over the years. I don’t read as many short posts as I used to, I’m much more likely to read a few long blogs than snack on short ones.
I’ve also noticed that I write longer posts for my clients. In 2012, all of my posts for a certain client were 300 to 400 words, in 2016 I was writing 950-word posts for him.
Now (in 2019), I’m regularly asked to write anything up to 1500-word posts and recent data shows that the best-performing blogs are over 1000 words in length.
Why are blogs longer?
1. More backlinks, more shares & better SEO
To get onto page one of Google for popular search terms you need to write longer posts. And remember: 75% of people searching never go beyond page one, 60% of web traffic goes to the top three results, and the number one spot gets an average 32.5% of clicks.
Long-tail keywords (which account for 85-90% of searches) have far less competition so you’ve got a good chance of getting onto page one if you focus on them.
You’ve still got to focus on quality though, a longer post isn’t necessarily better. Someone could smash out a 2000-word post in an hour but if it doesn’t answer a question or provide value to the reader it won’t be ranked highly.
There are more than 200 ranking factors in Google’s search algorithm and length may or may not be one of them (here’s a list of ranking factors – some known, some assumed – on Backlinkinfo blog from December 2018).
What we do know for sure is that Google looks at backlinks and social sharing, and you’ll get more of both with longer posts. Longer content is consistently shared more, posts with more than 1500 words get 68% more retweets and 22% more Facebook Likes (Source: Quicksprout).
2. To rise above the noise
Google has to index billions of pages competing for readers’ attention. There are 6.08 billion web pages (as of 24 September 2019 according to World Wide Web Size) and that number increases every day.
That’s a lot of stuff to read. And not all of it is worth reading.
We will learn to focus on value, quality and relevancy as very few can make volume, quantity and reach work
– Ashley Friedlein, Founder of Econsultancy & President of Centaur Marketing
If you really want to rise above the noise you have to stand out for the right reasons. A long, well-researched, well-written post gives readers more value than a short why-did-I-bother-clicking-on-this blog. Only 15% of web content is more than 1000 words so if you write a really useful post you can rise above the overwhelming noise of content being churned out.
3. To build relationships & become a thought leader
Long posts give writers the chance to get into a subject, write something original, share great information and show that they know their stuff.
Larry Page, Google’s co-founder and CEO, once said that the perfect search engine “understands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want”. And with 1000s of words, you can really start to get into a topic and answer the searcher’s question.
How long should a blog post be?
As long as it needs to be, but that’s not very helpful!
Think about what’s right for you
Before you set aside several hours to write a great long post (this one took me over a day) work out what’s right for you:
- Do the topics you blog about warrant a long discussion??
- Who is your target audience?
- Is being found on Google important for your business?
- What are you trying to achieve?
- Is there much competition to rank highly for them?
If your target audience is busy parents looking for things to do during half-term they probably don’t have the time or inclination to read a 1500-word post about the history of English Heritage.
But if what you do is hard to explain or you’re trying to show yourself to be a thought leader you may need to write long posts to do the subject justice and build relationships with readers.
I know some copywriters will spend a day researching and writing a detailed blog of 2000 words plus, and others who knock out a few hundred words. And that’s fine. They’re trying to achieve different things.
Don’t write long posts for the sake of it
Going back to Google, if no one reads your blog they won’t link to it or share it and it won’t rank highly. A blog should always be about educating, informing or entertaining – if you’re not doing one of those things you may not achieve much.
No waffle. No padding. Whatever length posts you write they should be good quality: well-written, well-researched, relevant, interesting and useful. And provide something of value, whether that’s a couple of minutes amusement or 15 minutes of learning.
Also, think about which search terms you want to be found for. If I search for “blogging tips for small businesses”, the first results on page one are long and detailed, if I look for something with much less competition, like “blog training in Nottingham”, the first result is much shorter.
Quality beats quantity every time
If you haven’t got time to do a long post justice or the thought of sitting down and writing something longer brings you out in a sweat and means you’ll never do it, stick with shorter ones. Only blogs that are published can achieve anything.
The more often you post the better for your readers and the search engines but don’t focus on posting frequently at the expense of putting out poor quality posts. The shift is towards fewer – but still regular – longer posts.
It’s particularly hard for small businesses to blog regularly and two ways of squeezing more out of your blog without spending lots more time on it are to repurpose content or invite people to write guest posts. You could test long posts, alternate long ones and short ones and monitor how much traffic and how many social shares they get.
You can also try to attract more readers by posting blogs on other platforms as well, like LinkedIn or Medium, and don’t worry about duplicating your content too much. As Matt Cutts, former head of the webspam team at Google, said in 2013, 25-30% of Google is duplicate content…
… So it’s not the case that every single time there’s duplicate content it’s spam, and if we made that assumption the changes that happened as a result would end up probably hurting our search quality rather than helping our search quality – Matt Cutts
Always think about why you’re blogging and what you want to achieve. If you’re not sure how to keep Google happy, go back to their stated aim: to bring back good quality posts and pages with lots of useful information. Duplicate content is not grounds for Google to punish you unless you’re trying to game the system. Then they’ll beat you. They make the rules after all.
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. Seth Godin’s post today is a mere 86 words and his most popular post ever is 416 (which is long for him!). That post, called Quality and Effort, has been read over 240,000 times.
But he’s world-famous, he’s written 18 books, he’s the ex-vice president of direct marketing at Yahoo and he’s built an incredible following. If he wrote a 4-word post I’m sure tens of thousands of people would read it. But even he can’t tell you much in 86 words!
Whether you decide to write long posts or short ones or a combination of the two is up to you and what’s right for your audience. It might be worth trying different lengths and monitoring the results in terms of views, shares and interaction.
Over to you… have your reading and writing styles changed over the years? And what works for your business – long or short posts?