The Future of Blogs: The Longer, The Better?

By Mark Evans - Monday, April 15th, 2013 at 7:30 am  

long blog postsIs the future of blogging fast and furious or long and insightful?

As blogging matures and content marketing is embraced by more brands, there seems to be a growing amount of conversation around the key elements for a successful blog. Among them is the idea that longer blogs may, in fact, be a great way to attract traffic.

On the Kissmetrics blog recently, Mauro D’Andrea suggested that “small articles, and light content in general, have no future (unless you’re Seth Godin). Look around the web, and you’ll notice that all the major websites in each industry are producing big content.

HowtoMakemyBlog.com‘s Marko Saric wrote that “the last few few months had “seen the revival of long form writing online. Long form content journalism and in-depth storytelling online are making a comeback. While most articles are still short and quick to read, more and more blogs are publishing long-form features of 2,000+ words, which include photos and videos and need a lot of time invested from the reader to go through it.”

This is an interesting discussion for a number of reasons:

1. A rule of thumb has emerged that blog posts are usually 300 to 500 words, which allows the writer to offer some insight and value without asking the reader to invest too much time. It’s based on the idea that online users are multi-tasking and impatient so asking them to read more than 500 words can be a challenge.

2. Quantity has won over quality, particularly for Websites looking to generate advertising revenue. Giving people a lot of content makes them come back more often, which is great for Website traffic and Google rankings. While this approach works for the high-profile Websites, it has also been embraced by bloggers looking for the spotlight.

3. People don’t read long articles online because it is not seen as the ideal medium, particularly in swipe and scan world.

So why are D’Andrea and Saric suggesting there is interest in long blog posts when short and sweet rule the roost?

One theory is so much content being produced that long-form journalism is a way to stand out from the crowd.

By writing long, insightful and informative posts, you can give people “a proper dinner” as opposed to serving them “fast food”.

While long blog posts take more time and require more of an investment, they can also be more rewarding for both the author and reader. When written well about an interesting topic. long blog posts can be wonderful food for thought.

A good example is Peep Laja, who writes the ConversionXL blog. His posts are long but they’re also chock-a-block with insight, advice and examples. When you read one of Laja’s posts, it offers such good content the length becomes a good thing rather than a hurdle.

The bottom line is there is a place for longer, meatier blog posts in a hurly burly, fast-moving world. There are people who are willing to take the time to read content that offers lots of information and insight – just as there are many people who love to read features in the New Yorker or New York Times magazine.

What do you think? How often are you willing to read a blog post that is more than 50o words? Would you ever read something that tops 1,000 words?

Tags: , ,

11 Responses to “The Future of Blogs: The Longer, The Better?”

  1. Shane Schick says:

    I’ve always thought the “standard” lengths for blog posts was somewhat arbitrary. I write and edit blogs not only as a journalist but as someone who leads technology content marketing projects for B2B firms and I almost always tell contributors the same thing, which is to give the piece the length it deserves. That doesn’t mean writing a novel, but it means thinking about what your audience really needs and writing accordingly. One of the benefits of working online is that we no longer have the size limitations of print. We should be more flexible about blog post length than we generally are.

  2. Mark Evans says:

    Shane: Good insight. You have short and sweet blog posts that deliver great insight and content. Seth Godin is obviously the master. Our approach on this blog has been to write 300 to 500 words, which we think offers meets the needs of readers without demanding too much of their time.

  3. Marko Saric says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Mark! I find it hard to read word-by-word online, so in my case I think adding multimedia (images, videos, infographics) is key in getting people to engage. Standard rules of writing for the web apply to long form as well – add paragraphs, subheadings, lists, bulletpoints and bolded phrases to make it easier to read. I’m also thinking about maybe adding an executive summary somewhere as that could attract people to dig deeper into the article.

  4. Bryan Haines says:

    I agree with Marko and Mauro. While we alternate between long and short form content, we favor posts from 1500 – 3000 words. We aim to answer / solve a specific question or problem for readers. I don’t know how well that can be done in 400 words. In some cases, yes. If they are all short, it could start to look like just search engine bait and press releases.

  5. Mark Evans says:

    Bryan: Question for you. What are the techniques that you use to make it easier for people to read 1,500 to 3,000 word blog posts? How do you make them user-friendly?

  6. Mark Evans says:

    Marko: After reading your comment about an executive summary, I came across a post on GigaOm that used that approach. In thinking about it, it seems like something that would set expectations.

  7. Bryan Haines says:

    Mark – good question and one that we are still working on. In general, we break it into sections – telling readers what we will cover in the post. That way they can skip to the section that interests them most.

    In this post (1800 words) on blog hosting (http://bloggerabroad.com/how-to-choose-blog-hosting/) we break it into four sections that are easily found.

    Also, this post, at over 4000 words, (http://bloggerabroad.com/how-to-start-an-income-blog/)is really two in one. By identifying the sections at the beginning it isn’t so overwhelming.

    But I’m not sure. What do you think?

  8. Mark Evans says:

    As Marko pointed out, I think readability is driven by many different tools such as summaries, sub-heads, graphics, text in bold, etc. And as Shane pointed out, length really depends on what kind of value is being delivered. If a post needs 4,000 words and it provides in-depth insight, then that’s fine. At the same time, I think 300 to 400 word posts can also be effective – sort of like serving dessert rather than dinner!

  9. Bryan Haines says:

    I agree Mark. The value being provided is an important component. A long post just-for-the-sake-of-it is useless to everyone.

  10. Hi Mark,

    Interesting post. As a recovering dead-tree journalist who now writes exclusively for the web, I’m still most comfortable producing longer pieces with a bit more ‘writing’ to them, if that makes any sense. Traffic stats suggest readers are fine with longer pieces, as long as they’re getting something they’re not getting elsewhere; ie. an in-depth interview with a startup founder they admire, or an insight into an important but under-discussed topic. I think the key is to not follow the pack, but to offer something original, and readers will reward you.

    Cheers,
    Tony

  11. [...] The Future of Blogs: The Longer, The Better? [...]

Leave a Reply