One of the topics bloggers endlessly debate these days is word count. How long should a blog post actually be? But why’s that so important?
Every so often, the topic of word count comes up in the blogosphere. How many words is too many? How many is not enough? What’s the ideal post length?
The questions seem to all point toward a notion that there’s a magic number that works every time. I’m pretty sure there is no such number.
The only number I pay attention to when I’m writing a post is 300: that’s the number of words Yoast seems to suggest is the bare minimum for better search engine rankings. Beyond that, I write what I feel needs to be said and then move on to the next post.
That’s how I do it with when I’m writing a post for you, my readers.
But when I put myself in the place of reader on someone else’s blogs, I realize there are four things much more important to me than how short or how long your post is.
1. The Subject Matter
This may seem a little too obvious, but the topic you’re writing about is far more important to me than the number of words you use in writing about it. If you’re writing about your favorite sport and I’m not interested in sports, I probably won’t care whether you’ve written 500 words or 5,000 words.
If your topic isn’t interesting to me, you’ve quite a task on your hands to make it interesting.
2. Your Voice
Those of us who’ve been writing for a while have a unique voice in our writing. It’s best described as the “personality” we display in our writing. Every writer’s is unique.
It’s difficult to explain how one develops voice, other than to say it develops over time as a writer becomes more comfortable with the writing process. A writer’s voice includes his or her attitude, tone and personal style:
- Attitude is about emotion, values, and beliefs.
- Tone of voice in your writing is not what you say but how you say it.
- Personal style is revealed with vocabulary, sentence structure, grammar, and the more technical aspects of writing.
If your voice is engaging and entertaining enough, I might actually read a little about a subject I might not otherwise be interested in.
Think of someone among your friends or family that you’d consider a true raconteur, a talented, engaging storyteller. You might well be entertained enough by the way in which the story is told that you’d pay attention even if the subject of the story isn’t the first thing you’d want to know about.
3. The Grammar
I’m sure there are those out there who would love to hear people say grammar doesn’t matter. If you’re asking me, as a reader, whether it matters, I’d say it’s paramount. While I’m pretty good at deciphering what people mean to say, I’m only willing to expend so much energy.
If you can’t bother to run a simple spellcheck or a simple read-through before you publish to make sure basic punctuation and grammar is in place, your post is going to make me angry for the wrong reason. I’m going to disconnect from the point you’re making because of the laziness with which you attempt to make it.
As a reader, someone who refuses to follow basic grammar and spelling rules is showing me disrespect.
And once I reach the end of my patience with such disrespect, I’m gone. (And I’m not likely to come back.)
4. The Benefit
And I’ve saved the best for last.
As a blogger, when you get to the end of one of my posts, whether it’s 300 words or 3,000 words, I hope you’ve always found some benefit for having read it. I hope I’ve taught you something, or entertained you, or even showed you aren’t alone in that the gnawing feeling you’ve had about something that you assume no one else had. (A good exmaple of that is some recent posts I’ve written about church music being too loud: I’ve received several comments thanking me for writing about the problem and for letting people know that there are others who feel the same way.)
In my days working in broadcast marketing, we called it “viewer benefit.” When I was in high school, one of my classmates would listen intently to someone explaining something, and then, with a look on her face that indicated butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, she went in for the kill asking, so sweetly, “And what does this mean to me personally?”
Ask yourself that question when you write a post. Picture a friend of yours sitting across from you at the coffee shop and reading your post, then looking up at you and asking that question.
If they have to ask, frankly, you’ve lost the battle. But if you can imagine them asking that question while you write the post, you’re more likely to make sure you explain within the post why people should care.
Word count isn’t everything.
Word count is one of many things that determine the quality of your blog. If you read, for example, that 1,200-word posts do better than 500-word posts (this one is approaching 900 words at this point), writing a post that just happens to reach the 1,200 mark obviously isn’t enough.
You might well find that people will enjoy your work even if it’s shorter as long as you pay more attention to the four factors I’ve listed.