Is There An Optimal Post Length For Blogs?

Yesterday Graywolf raised an interesting question in regards to the length of blog posts. Is there an optimal post length? Will shorter posts help to retain readers and even lead to more links?

From Blogging in a Sound Bite World:

We know form social media that most people don’t read the story, they vote on the title and snippet, the virtual equivalent of the sound bite. Is there an advantage in sound byte style blogging? By limiting your posts to less 300 characters on average can you attract and retain a larger audience, I think so.

Michael’s point is well taken. In the age of the short attention span do you risk losing readers, by writing posts that are too long. You’ve probably noticed I tend to post on the longer side so naturally the issue caught my attention.

Another post that caught my attention today was Darren Rowse asking What makes you unsubscribe from a blog’s RSS feed?. It was less the post that caught my attention as it was comments. If you blog at all read the comments, every last one of them. They’ll give you some indication of what people do and don’t like about blogs.

Reading the comments at ProBlogger one thing becomes clear to me. If we try to please everyone with our writing we’ll ultimately please nobody. I didn’t do a count, but my general sense was there are just as many people saying they’ll unsubscribe from a feed if the posts are too long as there are if the posts are too short.

If you were to try to please every person who commented you’d need to write posts that aren’t too long, and aren’t too short. You’ll need to post often, but not too often. You’ll need to stay on topic, but also be different enough from the other blogs on the same topic. You won’t offend anyone and no one will unsubscribe, but there’s a good chance they’ll never subscribe in the first place.

The one thing most people do seem to agree on is in the preferences for publishing full feeds over partial feeds.

Update: Darren was nice enough to sort through the comments and posted what he found in 34 Reasons Why Readers Unsubscribe from Your Blog. You may still want to read through the comments in the original post as they offer more details about why each of the 34 things listed might cause someone to unsubscribe.

Are Shorter Posts Better?

Back to the issue of post length. My own thoughts are that a post is done when it’s done. I know when I sit down to write I have a topic in mind and I write about it. I don’t consciously think about how long the post should be, I simply say what I want to say and when I get to the end I’m done. Given the length you might be surprised to know that I do edit the posts before publishing and often chop out sentences and paragraphs.

I think that if the writing is good enough and the topics interesting enough and if the posts are engaging enough it can overcome any shortcoming in the eyes of the reader. Is the idea to read blogs because they’re interesting and entertaining or is the idea to try to read as many as you can and not worry about what’s inside?

Halfdeck makes a good point in his comment on the Graywolf post:

It doesn’t matter how long a post is as long as its scan friendly. If the opening sentence of every paragraph summarizes the said paragraph, if main points are bolded, or if Key ideas are written as headers, then I can skim a post in under a minute.

on the other hand, if a post not scan friendly, it doesn’t matter if its only 50 words. I’m not going to bother reading it.

I think Halfdeck nails the point with the idea that a post needs to be scanable in this attention deficit world. I will try to make posts more scanable by using headings and providing more whitespace than paragraphs alone give. It is important that people be able to decide if they want to read your post in a short amount of time, but once they’ve made up their mind that they do want to read it I wonder if the length of the post matters as long as it’s good.

Is Graywolf right? Will limiting post length attract a larger audience? Probably. Will it attract more links? I’m not so sure. There does have to be something there to link to after all. You don’t have to use a lot of words to get your point across, but you do need to have some words on the page.

My guess is the best blogs have a mix of long, medium, and short posts. I’d be fine mixing in shorter posts and often wish I could say what I want with fewer words. In the end I prefer to focus on quality and let the length of the post be what it is. I’d rather find my blogging voice than consciously attempt to stifle it. I’m not arrogant enough to think everything I write is so good you have to read it, but ultimately that is my goal.

What do you think? Are shorter posts better? Would you rather see some shorter posts here or should I keep going the way I have been and not worry about post length?

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2 comments

  1. I like the conclusion that a post is done when it’s done, when it’s managed to convey what it needs to. I hate short little blurbs that describe something without actually going into the important details more than I hate long posts, and I have to admit I have a short attention span.

    Probably a mix of long and short posts is best, and it’s also what your conclusion is likely to get you. Have a look at Fake Steve Jobs blog – some of the posts are nothing but a link ( rare ), some are a paragraph, and some would be a printed page. Most seem to be about three paragraphs, but there’s a good mix, something for everybody. Occasionally I’ll skip a longer post, and mean to go back and read it, even if I don’t wind up doing so.

    Even still, I can’t stress enough how much I hate “fluff.” If I read a paragraph that doesn’t actually say anything, it’s slightly upsetting. I just wasted 60 seconds of my valuable time reading somebody’s baseless opinions. Long posts might not catch my attention, or I might drift off halfway through and not finish, but these don’t *offend* me.

  2. Thanks John. I have a short attention span too, but it bothers me to read the fluff posts that just point to something else. It’d fine sometimes and I know I’ve done it myself here and there, but some blogs seem to never have anything to say. I feel the same way as you that those blogs are just a waste of time and my subscription generally doesn’t last long.

    I think the healthy mix is probably best. I know I tend to write longer posts and I sometimes wonder if I have too many long posts, but like I said I just write and when I get to the end I know I’m finished.

    I also think regardless of long or short if the quality is good enough people will read. I do know some blogs where the posts are often very short, but the blogger packs a lot of information into a few words. I’ve also see blogs heavy on post length that say little or nothing. I hope I’m not one of the latter.

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