When you write articles for your website or blog, you are really writing for two different audiences. On the one hand there's your human readers, the loyal guests who will come to your site looking for entertainment and information; and then on the other hand there's the robots and the spiders who index your site on behalf of search engines and other services to help the former group get to your content in the first place.
Of course though, the way you write for a robot and the way you write for a human being are two very different animals, and if you want to be successful you need to find a way to please both camps so that your site is easy to find - and useful once found.
So how do you go about creating articles that tick all those boxes? Well you do what any business does - and look critically at what works and what the figures tell you. By fine tuning and optimizing each aspect of your content and seeing how it affects ranking and retention, you can know with confidence what works and what doesn't. And one of the most important aspects to consider is length. Fortunately many others have already taken at a look at those stats for us...
Does Size Matter?
So the first question is: does size matter? Does it matter to the reader, and does it matter to Google? Well apparently the answer is that yes on both counts. According to tests carried out by many a blog, rankings improve when the length of the content is increased. Anecdotal evidence seems to support this too, and if you look at the length of most posts on the more successful blogs they tend to be slightly longer and average around 700-800 words. It makes sense that Google would reward that bit of extra length too - for one it suggests an article that provides more depth and detail rather than just breezing over the topic, and at the same time it punishes content farms that almost always have a word limit of around 300-500 words (with writers almost always providing the very minimum amount of text). Apart from anything else, more content means more potential to capture the long-tail keyphrases.
Of course the presumption is that there's an upper limit here (perhaps 2,000 words is a bit much) and of course this is only one of a hundred factors, but split tests seem to confirm that in principle at least, Google likes its articles longer.
What about readers? Well while this is more difficult to measure, research other blogs and you'll find that readers tend to request shorter articles. Most of us are in a hurry and we don't have time to read reams of text; we're used to getting what we want and quickly heading to another website. Somehow then you need to compromise, and the best solution I can come up with here is to make sure that you don't go too far above 800 words, and that you provide lots of clear headings and paragraphs to make your text appear less dense and make it easier to skim read for those in a hurry.
There are countless other factors to consider here though too. For one you need to think about the nature of your content and your visitors. Some topics lend themselves better to a particular length - breaking news sites for instance work well as shorter pieces while editorial and opinion-based will work better as longer posts.
There's also the matter of retention. Of course a longer article has more potential to keep visitors on your page for longer but perhaps risks a higher bounce rate (big text is more likely to drive people away, but will keep the ones that stay there on your site longer). This is a payoff that you need to weigh up yourself and again a compromise should help you to get the best of both worlds.
Then of course there's your own personal preference, and the kind of articles that you are most suited to writing. And to me this should really be the biggest influencing factor of all. When you sit down to write an article or blog post, how long does it naturally go on for? If you have nothing left to say then there's no reason to drag the article out as that will damage the reputation of your site. Likewise though if you have lots more to say then you shouldn't truncate your article prematurely either - and there's nothing to stop you coming back and adding more later either.
This article was words 776 long. How was that for you?