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The #1 Secret to a Successful Blog Post

By Martin Kihn | December 19, 2016 | 4 Comments

We here at Gartner for Marketing Leaders Data-Driven HQ recently ran a test. We started with an hypothesis, which we’ll share in a moment. The purpose of the test was to determine whether we’d stumbled on the secret to a more successful blog post.

And we had.

First, like any good analyst, we’ll define our terms. What is “success”? It’s an existential question, of course, but in the context of blog posts we’ll define it as engaged readership: something like, the number of people who read most of the thing. (For our test, we couldn’t capture engagement time, so we had to settle for unique reader counts.)

Second, what’s our hypothesis?

Using good narrative technique, learned in screenwriting boot camp years ago, I won’t tell you yet. Put a pin in it. Conventional wisdom for blog post success goes something like this:

  • Be “authentic” (whatever that means)
  • Have a “point of view” (whatever that is)
  • Don’t use fancy language
  • Don’t use words when a picture will do
  • Always include a picture anyway
  • Above all, keep it short

Those points fell off the top of my head, and a little digging showed they’re not as uncontroversial as they used to be. In fact, there is a movement to advise exactly what I’m going to advise in a minute. (There’s a sensible summary here.) Which gets us to the golden mean of the internet:

No one is original, but everyone can be interesting.

As you may suspect, Gartner ranks its bloggers every month and issues what’s called a “Blog Stack Rank.” This is quite the hot reading material for us insiders, and it’s ruined more than few dry afternoons. But not too many months ago, the present blogger was pleased to notice that I – ahem – hit the Top 5 for the first time.

How did I do it?

This gets us to my test. (Note the subtle narrative delay again.) I am not a notably brief blogger. I have averaged about 800-900 words per post, on the high side for my group but not particularly spiked. But in November I tried an experiment and wrote a few tomes — one of which topped out around 4,000 words and included references to matrix algebra and correlation coefficients — and the results are before you: record readership, engagement, response.

So the outcome of my little test is this:

Write longer posts

Why does this work? There are a number of trivial reasons and a more substantial one, I think.

  • Search engine politics: Google will likely rank substantial content higher for relevance. More words means more keywords and phrases and length may raise the ‘quality score.’
  • Necessary effort: Longer posts take longer to write; length can be (should be) a symptom that the writer has something significant to say.
  • Time fatigue: Finally, people are tired — so, so tired — of content-free content.

I think you know what I mean by point three. The internet is awash in content that is not content. Brands are content factories, content machines; our personal brands all spew out content; and more frequently — rifling into the future with a terrible intensity — machines are generating “content” that is a randomly reindexed shuffle of other “content,” itself rejiggered paraphrases of other … you feel the idea.

Search for almost anything of interest and you’ll get a ream of self-serving corporate babble and a sad dose of half-baked opinion. Real content, information, soul-enriching writing — well, that’s a bit harder to find.

So write longer. Write harder. Don’t repeat yourself and others. And do it for free. With a good attitude.

That’s the secret.

Comments are closed

4 Comments

  • Well done Marty! Allow me to test a hypothesis that longer writing is also the key to a successful blog comment. I suppose if I continue to ramble on in this space it will seem like I put a lot of thought into reading and analyzing your post. Furthermore, it will make it seem like I have a well elucidated point of view to share that is relevant to the topic at hand.

    Let’s try and insert a line break here. That will make the comment seem longer.

    And now for the spoiler alert! I don’t have any great insight to share. I am merely trying to see if a long post will generate any more traffic to your post. That’s the KPI, right? Suppose I should spell out Key Performance Indicator a) to add length and b) just in case anyone doesn’t know the acronym.

    So how will this comment drive more traffic? Methinks after I publish this comment I’ll post a link to this post on all my social media platforms and mention that I found the post enlightening and I wrote a comment worth reading. I may even comment on all your (Marty’s) social posts linking to this post. That is, assuming you’ve (note to self: no more contractions. Length, length, length.) been posting this on Twitter, LinkedIn, et. al. (What does that stand for BTW, er by the way? How would I even spell that out?)

    Are we having fun yet? 🙂

    There, my first emoji. I think a well-placed emoji could also be a core component of a successful blog comment. I wonder if the Gartner blog software will accommodate my emoji? Will it turn it into the smiley face it was intended to be? Or will it just be a simple colon and close parenthesis? Time will tell.

    Time will also tell when I stop typing. I don’t think I’m ready for that yet. This comment is only 325 words long. I can do better. I can go longer. I can make this comment more successful. Let’s see, how? Hmmm…

    Ah, the ellipses. Does that add to my word count?

    Speaking of unknown variables, it’s worth speculating on other factors that could lead to a successful blog comment – recency, for one. This blog post was published on the 19th and here I am commenting on the 23rd. Did I miss my viral comment window?

    And what about the fact that it’s a holiday weekend? Will that curtail my success? What is the probability that a successful blog comment can take place in a world where Christmas is 2 days away? If only I had a TL;DR on Baeyes Theorem to work this out. And if only the comments field would allow hyperlinking. I guess I’ll just have to leave the URL here: https://blogs.gartner.com/martin-kihn/a-marketers-tldr-on-bayes-theorem/

    Well, that should add to the length of this comment.

    OK, here I stand at 485 words. Not quite the 800-900 that Marty averages per post but well beyond the pale for a comment.

    So does size really matter? Before I can officially call this the #1 most successful blog post of all time, I must run one final test…

    Will Gartner’s CMS even allow a comment this long?

    *Holds breath and clicks “Post Comment”*

  • Well done Marty! Allow me to test a hypothesis that longer writing is also the key to a successful blog comment. I suppose if I continue to ramble on in this space it will seem like I put a lot of thought into reading and analyzing your post. Furthermore, it will make it seem like I have a well elucidated point of view to share that is relevant to the topic at hand.

    Let’s try and insert a line break here. That will make the comment seem longer.

    And now for the spoiler alert! I don’t have any great insight to share. I am merely trying to see if a long post will generate any more traffic to your post. That’s the KPI, right? Suppose I should spell out Key Performance Indicator a) to add length and b) just in case anyone doesn’t know the acronym.

    So how will this comment drive more traffic? Methinks after I publish this comment I’ll post a link to this post on all my social media platforms and mention that I found the post enlightening and I wrote a comment worth reading. I may even comment on all your (Marty’s) social posts linking to this post. That is, assuming you’ve (note to self: no more contractions. Length, length, length.) been posting this on Twitter, LinkedIn, et. al. (What does that stand for BTW, er by the way? How would I even spell that out?)

    Are we having fun yet? 🙂

    There, my first emoji. I think a well-placed emoji could also be a core component of a successful blog comment. I wonder if the Gartner blog software will accommodate my emoji? Will it turn it into the smiley face it was intended to be? Or will it just be a simple colon and close parenthesis? Time will tell.

    Time will also tell when I stop typing. I don’t think I’m ready for that yet. This comment is only 325 words long. I can do better. I can go longer. I can make this comment more successful. Let’s see, how? Hmmm…

    Ah, the ellipses. Does that add to my word count?

    Speaking of unknown variables, it’s worth speculating on other factors that could lead to a successful blog comment – recency, for one. This blog post was published on the 19th and here I am commenting on the 23rd. Did I miss my viral comment window?

    And what about the fact that it’s a holiday weekend? Will that curtail my success? What is the probability that a successful blog comment can take place in a world where Christmas is 2 days away? If only I had a TL;DR on Baeyes Theorem to work this out. And if only the comments field would allow hyperlinking. I guess I’ll just have to leave the URL here: https://blogs.gartner.com/martin-kihn/a-marketers-tldr-on-bayes-theorem/

    Well, that should add to the length of this comment.

    OK, here I stand at 485 words. Not quite the 800-900 that Marty averages per post but well beyond the pale for a comment.

    So does size really matter? Before I can officially call this the #1 most successful blog post of all time, I must run one final test.

    Will Gartner’s CMS even allow a comment this long?

    *Holds breath and clicks “Post Comment”*

  • Karen Zeigler says:

    Interesting read. As I was reading this post, Seth Godin came to mind. A great marketer and NYTimes Best Selling Author who keeps most of his blogs to 300 words or less. Perhaps he prefers not to be known as a marketer as one of his books is titled “All Marketers are Liars: The Underground Classic That Explains How Marketing Really Works–and Why Authenticity Is the Best Marketing of All”. Seth also doesn’t allow comments on his posts either. I guess you both agree on one thing – Authenticity. And perhaps that’s the real answer. If authenticity to you is long, verbose dialogue, then write long posts. If you are a person who is quick and to the point write short posts.

    Thanks for your insight and making a long post engaging till the end.

    Karen Zeigler
    Future Gartner Team Member

  • Josh Shaffer says:

    Martin, I had noticed that my longer posts perform better, but now I see the evidence and explanation from you!

    It’s true that so many content marketers just rearrange words from other blog posts and deliver the same message to their readers. But it’s not the way of creating a “wow” content. If you don’t want copy yourself or other bloggers, there is a tool called Unplag https://unplag.com/free-plagiarism-checker.

    It will let you know if you choose the words and sentences like other bloggers.

    Writing requires discipline and a right attitude. With the right attitude you can do everything!