There are two kinds of people in the world: those who like to define everything and those who resist it.
A couple years ago I read an article in the newspaper that said many dinosaurs have been incorrectly classified including the brontosaurus. But in 2015 the Brontosaurus was back.
Again, not too long ago scientists declared that Pluto was no longer a planet so that suddenly there were only eight. Then we had two new, but then wait, now Pluto is back. How many planets are there? The battle still rages.
Nevertheless, it seems an innate human tendency to name things, define things, and to create definitive rules about every aspect of life. How many hours should we sleep? How far apart should our children be in age? How long should our babies breastfeed?
All this to say that I’ve been noticing a lot of pundits attempting to make rules about blogging and even tweeting. Back before the character-length expansion, one expert stated that even though a tweet is only 144 characters, the “ideal tweet” for effectiveness is 100 characters.*
For the past couple years it seemed there was a lot of discussion about blogging. The chief questions revolved around how often we should blog and how long our blog posts should be. This blog post is my attempt to answer the latter of these two questions.
How long should a blog post be?
There are plenty of folks who have declared that longer is better. Marieke van de Rakt at Yoast stated that it takes 300 words to get ranked in search engines. Over 1000 words will improve your ranking and 2500 is better. Seth Godin endorsed shorter posts.
I remember when USA Today came out and was criticized for revamping newspaper journalism to accommodate people with short attention spans. Articles were on average 400 words. Yet the newspaper survived. If you need more in-depth reporting, go buy a New York Times.
John Rampton answered this question in a longer post that lays out the case for both short and long blog posts. You’ll find his answer at Forbes. In the end he concludes that there’s no right or wrong answer. I agree.
According to this article at Snap, the ideal blog length used to be 500–700 words, but is longer now by a factor of three. Part of the reason blog posts are getting longer is because so-called experts are telling everyone that blog posts need to be longer. People without experience feel comforted when experts tell them what to do. “Pluto is not a planet.”
In another place we read that people only read 20–28% of the blog post. Could this be because the blog posts are too long now and people are in a hurry?
Yet we still find more advocacy for longgggg posts. This Copypress story begins with a headline that the ideal “average word count” for top-ranked searches is 2416. When I read something like this I can imagine a draconian boss somewhere declaring, “I want 2416 words on every blog post. No more, no less.”
At least Neil Patel, who for a while became a self-styled Marshall Dillon of the Blogging Universe, had the sense to ask what the purpose of your blog is. Why are you blogging in the first place? Business blogging is the only kind of blogging that matters to some people. But there are plenty of other reasons to blog. Some write to inform, others to persuade, others to entertain and still others just to have a soapbox. Some write simply to practice writing. Some write to test their beliefs in the wider marketplace of ideas. Some write for social engagement. Some write to work out their angst.
When I started my Ennyman’s Territory blog in 2007 I did it simply to see what blogging was all about. I wondered if it would have value for the company I worked for. (It did.) And as I went along it began having other meanings for me.
A couple years after my this initial blog I decided to also start a second blog devoted to sharing my art called The Many Faces of Ennyman. The word count on average has been roughly 30 words, and sometimes less. How does that fit with all these definitions and regulations?
Again, it’s all a matter of purpose. Having been a writer for more than three decades I believe the answer to word length ought not to be based on some arbitrary rules from on high. If you’re telling a story, the right length is dictated by the story, not some set of rules. Hemingway’s stories range from a few pages to book length. The right length depends on the story that is being told. I would apply these same criteria to blogging.
As people we’re all different. Some people need concrete definitions more than others. Others, like myself, dislike straightjackets. Houdini’s perpetual goal was not to wear shackles but to escape them. When it’s in my power I prefer freedom over form, hence this blog post about coloring outside the lines.
The best way to learn is by doing. Remember that what’s “in” today may be out tomorrow. Wide ties, miniskirts, bellbottoms… hula hoops.
18 years ago I wrote an article about thinking for yourself called Who Are Your Experts? Upon reviewing it again I see it as still relevant. Social media and blogging didn’t exist yet in their current form, but the principles of engagement are really nothing new. Feel free to let me know what you think.
Originally published at pioneerproductions.blogspot.com