In 1994, Justin Hall, a student at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, started publishing an online journal called Justin’s Links From the Underground. Justin was one of the first people to write an online diary and, in 2004, the New York Times Magazine called him “the founding father of personal blogging”.
Skip ahead to 1997 and Open Diary was launched, the first ever blogging community and the first platform that allowed bloggers to comment on each other’s posts. Other platforms followed, Blogger (bought by Google at the start of 2003) arrived in 1999 and, in 2003, Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little got together and wrote the code for the original version of WordPress, which now hosts around 80 million blogs and powers 25% of the internet.
The term ‘blog’ was invented by Peter Merholz when he split the word ‘weblog’ into ‘we blog’ for fun on his blog Peterme.com in 1999
Blogging evolved from just being a way to share personal experiences quite quickly. In 2002, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott was forced to step down after blogs – not the mainstream media – reported his controversial comments about Senator Thurmond (who was a Presidential candidate in 1948), which revealed that Lott was in favour of racial segregation.
Not cool. But it turned people on to the power of blogging. What started out as a way to communicate with your friends and the online community was recognised for its potential in politics, the media and business…
If we go back to 1998, a company called Google Inc. was founded and entered the online search market using backlinks and a site’s authority to determine which results to bring back for certain search terms. Blogging very nicely brought together a way of adding more and more keyword-rich content to a website and linking 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.
Companies that blog have 434% more indexed pages than those that don’t
HubSpot, State of Inbound Marketing Lead Generation Report 2010
How long should a blog post be?
Google’s Panda fights against “thin” content
Content marketing exploded, people duplicated content and chucked 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 their 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.
One of the first articles I read at the start of this year was What can B2B copywriters expect in 2016 and one of Fiona’s pronouncements was about blogs getting longer, so I started looking into it…
In 2009, the average blog was 250 words, now it’s 900 words and the average length of the results on page one of Google is over 2000 words. The first result has an average 2416 words, the tenth is a bit shorter at 2032.
That’s pretty long. I hadn’t given it much thought but I’ve realised 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 if I’m looking for information or advice than snack on short posts.
I’ve also noticed that I write longer posts for my clients these days. In 2012, all of my posts for a certain client were 300 to 400 words, last week I wrote a 950-word post for him.
Why are blogs getting longer?
As I’ve mentioned, to get onto page one of Google for popular search terms you need to write longer posts (75% of people searching never go beyond page one and 60% of web traffic goes to the top three results).
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 (for more in-depth info have a look at this post on Capsicum Mediaworks about content length and here’s a list of ranking factors – some known, some assumed – on Backlinkinfo blog).
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 and more content. 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 4.87 billion pages (Source: World Wide Web Size) on the internet as of this moment and that number increases every day.
That’s a whole lot of information.
Content marketing and blogging are massive, from huge businesses with entire teams at it to small businesses like mine, there is so much 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 that lots of businesses post. 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.
So you can achieve a lot more with a long post:
– you’ll get higher in organic search
– you’ll rise above the noise
– you’ll get more social shares and links
– you can establish yourself as an expert
But long posts are a lot more work. So how should you approach blogging for your business in 2016?
Think about what’s right for you
Before you set aside several hours to write a great long post (this one took me well over a day) work out what’s right for you:
- What are your aims?
- Who is your target audience?
- Is organic search important for your business?
- Do the topics you blog about warrant a long discussion?
- And 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 your readers.
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 about 200 words long.
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 either and it won’t rank highly. A blog should always be about educating, informing or entertaining, if you’re not doing those things you may not achieve much. Whatever length posts you write they should be good quality – well-written, well-researched, no padding or waffle, relevant, interesting and useful stuff.
If you haven’t got time to do a long post justice or the thought of sitting down and writing an essay-length post means you’ll never do it then stick with shorter ones. 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 (I’ve gone from one a week to one a month) 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 also test long posts, alternate long ones and short ones and monitor how much traffic and how many social shares they get. This is the longest post I’ve written so I’ll be looking at how it compares with my other posts.
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 web spam 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.
Always think about why you’re blogging and what you want to achieve and if you’re not sure how to keep Google happy, go back to their aim: to bring back good quality posts and pages with lots of useful information.
Of course there are exceptions to the rule, Seth Godin’s post today is 42 words and it’s got 152 LinkedIn shares and 502 Facebook Likes. But he’s Seth Godin, he could write a 5-word post and people would share it. And even he can’t tell you much in 42 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 but it could be worth testing and monitoring the results, please let me know how you get on.
So, over to you… have your reading and writing styles changed? Do you write long or short posts? What works for you?