Just an observation
I read an article the other day that suggested that the best length for a blog post was 1,447 words. No more, no less. The author came to this conclusion by analyzing 11.8 million Google search engine result pages (SERPs).
He went on to say that “this correlation could be due to the fact that longer content generates significantly more social shares,” a strong signal of social proof used by Google to rank web pages.
Okay, whatever. Then I got to wondering. Just about everybody agrees that we live in an age of content shock — bombarded by messages at every glance and click. We seemingly don’t have the time to read the second sentence of a two-sentence email message, let alone a blog post with 1,447 words.
In fact, any web copywriter or marketing expert will tell you that you’ve got to keep it short and simple:
- Write for a third-grade reading level. No big words.
- Short sentences with as little punctuation as possible.
- Short paragraphs (actually, the trend today is that sentences are paragraphs).
- Bulleted lists — the more the better.
- Lots of headlines and sub-headlines.
The main point, of course, is that folks no longer “read” content online, they just “scan” it. Presumably their eyes trip over all the lists and headlines but miss all the meaningless words in between. But wait a minute — if nobody really reads stuff any more, then why are long posts so popular?
I have a theory
Research can only measure what gets shared, not what gets read. I figure that when people land on a godawful long page, they read a sentence or two, then start scanning, then they get bored, give up, and share the article on social media.
Google confuses “sharing” with “reading” and ranks the shared posts higher. Or, put another way, Google confuses “popularity” with “quality.” Uh-oh.
The social media sharing process probably goes something likes this:
- Yikes, this blog post is long — It must be good.
- Since it’s good, it’s okay to share.
- Besides, if I share a good article, I’ll look smarter.
- I didn’t actually read it, but nobody will ever know. I’m good with that.
For many people, sharing has become a substitute for reading. It’s how they overcome the anxiety and guilt of not completing a task. Plus, they think it’ll make themselves look smarter in the process:
“Gee, I don’t wanna read this, but it must be swell because it sure is long. I know … I’ll share it with Ethan and Missy on Facebook!”— Noah
So, should you write short articles, or long ones?
I have no idea. But I do know that if you spend all your time counting words, you’ll never post anything. If you’re happy writing long stuff, do it. If not, keep it short. But write something, and do it consistently. That’s what counts.
Will this attitude help rocket your posts to the top of Google? Probably not. And I’m not going to analyze 10 million search results to find out. I’m going with my gut.
Delivered by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, the Gettysburg Address is regarded as one of the finest speeches ever given. It is a mere 272 words long: 10 sentences, 3 paragraphs, half a page. No video. No animated GIFs. No listicles. No ChatGPT. Of course, Mr. Lincoln wasn’t fretting over shares, social proof, or SERPs — He had other things on his mind.