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How Long Should This Article Be?

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If there's any one question that beginning, intermediate and advanced online content writers, as well as virtually any type of content writer, grapple with on a daily basis, it has to be this: "Exactly how long should this article be?"

The simple answer, of course, is "only as long as it needs to be - no longer, no shorter." To this, you may say: "Alright then, exactly how long does this article NEED to be?" And so, the cycle continues. In reality, there are several items to consider when determining the appropriate length of your on-line article or blog post.

Contrary to most individuals popular belief, search engine optimization (SEO) considerations only account for one of these factors. Below are several additional items to consider when determining the length of an article:

How long will my readers stay?

"But, but... I write excellent content, so of course they'll stay until they finish reading the post!" Wrong. Your readers are only human, and all humans have attention spans. According to some admittedly loose research conducted by Darren Rowse over at ProBlogger.com, this attention span is limited to just 96 seconds for people reading the average blog online. Is that enough time to read the 1,500-word feature you just slapped on your homepage? Unlikely, unless superheroes are your target audience.

Of course, you might have a strong feeling that your average reader stays a little longer or shorter (and you can confirm this in Google Analytics) based on your subject matter. If you primarily deal with pop culture news, it's a safe bet that your readers will be seeking short, punchy, timely articles. If your blog centers on more in-depth topics such as auto repair, feel free to write a little longer.

What am I writing about right now?

Just because you specialize in a detailed, technical subject doesn't mean you have to force every post past 800 or 1,000 words. If the topic of the moment can be clearly explained in 250 words, then do it. If a 1,500-word article could be just as effective (perhaps more effective) as three 500-word articles, then separate them.

If a series of 200-word articles could be better understood as a single 800-word post, combine them, but be sure to make the content scannable with text highlighting, lists, pictures, etc.

How often am I posting?

This one's rather basic, but it stands to reason that the more often you post, the shorter your posts will likely be. In many cases, this simply boils down to how much time you have in a day to craft posts. At the same time, you might wonder which is the better use of a given block of time: writing a large number of short articles, or writing a few lengthy ones.

This question can be answered in part through SEO. Typically, short posts work better with search engines and RSS feeds, making them ideal if your primary concern is boosting your traffic numbers. At the same time, your readers will be dismayed if you only devote 250 words to an article that deserves at least 600.

Do I want to play it safe in terms of SEO?

For most bloggers, the answer is "yes" if only because they want to capture the attention of a real audience, and proper use of Search Engine Optimization is necessary for achieving a higher search engine ranking.

However, the rules aren't as hard and fast (you need to come in at exactly 350 words for this type of post - yeah, right) as some SEO gurus would have you believe. In general, you can expect to avoid penalization at the hands of Google if you keep your posts roughly between 250 and 1,000 words - but, again, only if the topic at hand calls for it.

Mike Quayle

Posted on 17th January, 2012 by Mike Quayle

About Mike Quayle

Mike Quayle is a SEO, content writer, and marketer from Seattle, Washington.

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