A Brief History of Blogging and the Evolution of Long Posts

[Post updated October 18 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 an online diary and in 2004 the New York Times Magazine called him “the founding father of personal blogging”.

Justin Hall Links from the Underground
Justin’s first post

Jump forward 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 orignal code for something called WordPress. Which now hosts about 75 million sites and powers 34% of the internet (stats 2019).

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 (a Presidential candidate in 1948), which revealed that Lott was an advocate of racial segregation.

Not cool. But it turned people on to the power of blogging.

What started life as a way of communicating with 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 when browsers entered certain search terms.

Blogging very nicely brought together a way of adding more and more keyword-rich content to a website and linking it to other web pages and sites (through permalinks, blogrolls and trackbacks). And boosting their SEO juice.

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.

And now…

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)

How long should a blog post be?

Google’s Panda fights against “thin” content

Content marketing started to go crazy. People were chucking 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.

An article I read nearly four years ago 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, 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.

length of blog posts on page 1 of Google
Credit: serpIQ

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. 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.

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 getting longer?

1. 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 and 60% of web traffic goes to the top three results. 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 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 6.08 billion pages (on September 24 2019 according to 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?

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 much shorter.

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 one of those things you may not achieve much. Whatever length posts you write they should be good quality – well-written, well-researched, relevant, interesting and useful.

Be consistent

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 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 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.

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. 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.

The exceptions

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 only 416 words (which is long for him!). That post, called Quality and Effort, has been read over 240,000 times.

But he’s been blogging since 2002 and he’s built an incredible following. If he wrote a 4-word post I’m tens of thousands of people would read it. And 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.

So, over to you… have your reading and writing styles changed over the last few years? What works for you – long or short posts?

Sally

7 thoughts on “A Brief History of Blogging and the Evolution of Long Posts

  1. Thanks Sally. This was a really helpful post, as I am always wondering whether the googlebots are having a good time reading my (occasional!) blogs ……I will do better now 🙂

  2. Wow! Sally, this is such an interesting article – so much research! I was shocked to read that in 2012, it was believed 62% of businesses had a blog … really?!

    I tend to veer more towards writing meaty articles – around the 1,000 word mark – so I’ll not worry too much about having to rein myself in for now.

    Brilliant article … off to share with my blogging buddies who will find it fascinating, too.

    PS this comment form isn’t allowing me to add my name, email or website address #FYI (so I can’t select the Subscribe to notifications for new posts, as it won’t know where to send it to!)

  3. Thank you! I’m glad you like it, I really enjoyed researching and writing it. It does seem high doesn’t it but according to HupSpot they did (and that’s good enough for me!).

    Sounds like you’re way ahead, what do you write about? Please feel free to share your website/blog on here so I can have a read.

    Thank you for sharing it, I really appreciate it 🙂

    And thanks for letting me know, it’s being a real pain, I’m working on it…

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