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 last month, 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.
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You said “people are tired — so, so tired — of content-free content.”
My space is the B2B technology sector, working with large multinational companies and key people in their product marketing organizations. I’m disappointed by all the blog post authors that make little, if any, attempt to imagine what customers need/want from their editorials. That being said, for those who do try to serve the reader with meaningful and substantive content, it’s relatively easy to stand-out from the majority of corporate publishers.
I agree… so many blog posts are simply vaguely veiled advertisements! You don’t have to give away the farm to give good content. Readers deserve that if they give you their time and attention.
We work in B2B technology marketing. In our experience, guest posts generate the most amount of traffic compared to any other means. I know it’s not the same thing as posting on one’s own blog / website but, with the difference in volumes being as high as 100X, I thought this tactic deserved a mention. We also try to guest post our customers’ articles on specialist online journals e.g. an article on fintech in a online banking journal. Whenever we succeed in this endeavor, we’ve found not just the quantity of traffic, but also the quality of traffic and engagement levels to be very high compared to posting on our own blogs.
Conventional wisdom has it that blog posts should be under 600 words with 450-500 being optimum. I always considered that a crock of poop. However, I would hesitate to write blog posts in the 4000 words range. Blog posts should be long enough to provide value for the read, and no longer. If that’s 600 words, fine. If takes 1200, that’s fine too.
4000 words is more a whitepaper than a blog post. If I needed 4000 to get a message across for a client, I would break it up into a series of four posts. That’s in general. A particular case to specific audience may require a different approach.
One size does not fit all.
I especially liked this post! Great job. I want to share one of the few blogs that I feel fit the criteria, for anyone who’s interested. A lot of quality content about great strategies for living a better life.