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Blog Posts: The Long and The Short of It

In business you must always be careful to guard against "Sacred Cows".  I was reminded of this again quite recently in a lively discussion with a client.  I have a couple of Sacred Cows I try to avoid being enslaved by.  One is: "Facebook is not for B-to-B".  Another is: "Brands should not outsource Social Engagement".  In general, these are helpful guides but I am careful to not let them blind me. A third is: "Blog posts should not be longer than 350 words."

As part of this discussion I was introduced to this important blog post - which, importantly, is quite long.  In it, Marcus @thesaleslion Sheridan makes a very strong and refreshing case for long-form blog posts and more substantive content.  Our discussion was around my assertion that blog posts be capped at 350 words at most.  I'm excited by the idea that Social content develops more depth, particularly as Content Marketing becomes the new black.  However, I am doubtful about the sustainability of this in the corporate environment and keen to try and stay realistic.

Marcus makes very strong arguments about lengthy content, and these stuck out for me in particular:

  • Need to differentiate yourself with depth in a soon-to-be very crowded market of high-volume, low-quality marketing content
  • Advantages to SEO of a great word count
  • Greater ROI on the costs of content production
  • Longer content shelf life according to the dynamics of The Long Tail
  • Longer, more substantive content encourages more Social shares

With all that said, there is a strong case for pragmatism.  For instance, Marcus does make it clear that: "The truth is both styles of communication can work. Seth Godin averages about 200 words a post and Social Media Examiner is typically in the 1500 words range, but both sites are wildly successful models for content production."

I think I will try to stay open minded on this point.  Logically I totally agree with Marcus and all the points he, and my client, made.  However, I think there are a couple of caveats when consulting clients:

  1. First and foremost, it is sometimes hard to encourage businesspeople to take out more time in their busy day for business blogging.  Pitching a maximum of 350 words makes it far more likely and practical that they might achieve it.
  2. I do maintain that many people do much of their Social browsing on the move and so the even more condensed screen form factor means a long post is in effect *even* longer.  The "quick skim" remains the most likely reading style and therefore 35 words built around a list of some kind is still for me the most effective way to get a point across.
  3. If you have enough material for a long, 1,000+ word post, consider whether it is in fact something else?  A White Paper?  An eBook or a By-line article for a magazine you can wrap a shorter blog post around when you come to merchandise it.
  4. If you are going to invest several hours in a piece of writing, I feel you should make that time count.  Consider "gating" this piece of content and asking for contact details in exchange for it so you can pass them on to Sales as a lead.  This is of course, in B2B, the greatest form of Lead Generation ROI.
  5. Part of the business of a 350 word limit is to keep you conscious of not "going beyond the fold", i.e. making the reader scroll too far.  Consider - if you've more than a 1,000 word potential point to make, making that point in a series.  You might this way keep the reader coming back for more.
  6. Is your blog a "roll" or is does it render only the first paragraph of your post?  If the latter you are far more at liberty to have longer posts as each post in effect is a micro-site.  If the former, there could be disadvantages to having one long pece of content greeting the new visitor.
  7. Finally, a 350 word limit imposes its own discipline.  Business blogging is not about beautiful writing, it's about good thinking and sound advice for the most part.  A 35o word maximum, like Twitter, enforces its own brevity.  Getting to the point is a kindness to your reader!

Having said all of that, this post - like many of my posts - is well over 500 words!  So let the content be your guide - and do as I say not as I do!  I would just say this: always ask yourself - are you writing more than 350 words because you can or because you need to?

Picture Credit: Website Magazine