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Blogosphere Trends + Handling High Word Counts

This column is written by Kimberly Turner from Regator (a great tool that gathers and organizes the world’s best blog posts). – Darren

I’m often asked about the “ideal length” for a blog post. I’ve heard answers ranging from 200 to 800 words, but my answer is always the same: Enough to tell the story and not one word more. Writing short is actually considerably more difficult than writing long because every word has to truly pull its weight. There is no room for filler.

Challenge yourself: Try writing a post, going for a little walk to let it breathe, then coming back and cutting your word count by at least 10 (preferably closer to 15) percent. Impossible? Not at all. Start by ditching unnecessary adjectives and adverbs (why say “really big” when “huge” conveys the same?). Find places where you can replace an adverb and a verb with a stronger verb (e.g., “devoured” or “gobbled” rather than “ate quickly”). These steps alone will strengthen your post by making your writing more concise and your word choice more precise. Once you’ve done that, replace passive constructions with active ones wherever possible (“a pirate rode the unicorn” rather than “the unicorn was ridden by a pirate”) and get rid of wordy phrases (e.g., “can” instead of “is able to,” “before” instead of “prior to,” “about” instead of “with regard to,” etc.). You’ve probably cut quite a few words by this point. Continue looking for places to tighten (e.g., change “the opinion of the blogger” to “the blogger’s opinion”). Wordy constructions are sneaky; there are more of them than you think. I think the best thing about Twitter is that it encourages people to be more concise in their communications…that’s not to say you should start using “b4” and “urself” on your blog.

Let’s say you’ve chopped as much as you can from your post and it’s still long. You have three options: (a) Publish it as is and risk having distractible readers (that’s almost all of them) get click happy and leave your blog (b) Break it up into a series (c) use some of the methods below to make the post more scannable and digestible. We’re going to focus on option (c). Here are the top ten most-blogged-about stories of the week, as provided by Regator, and some examples of well-formatted but lengthy posts about each:

  1. LeBron James ­– “Did LeBron James Really Hurt His Brand?” is 778 words long, but thanks to careful formatting, it reads quickly and is not intimidating to readers. In addition to subheadings and bolded text, which we’ll discuss, SportsBiz uses a large pull quote to break up the text and generate interest. Pull quotes are less common online than they are in the print world, but a good pull quote can pique reader curiosity and serve to break up large blocks of text.
  2. World Cup – Weighing in at 1,241 words, Bleacher Report’s “2010 FIFA World Cup Final: How Spain Won It” would likely send readers running if it weren’t for its effective use of subheads. The title clearly conveys the post’s purpose and the subheads deliver to that end by providing an easy-to-scan list. Subheadings are important for longer posts because they provide the reader with multiple entry points. Not interested in Spain’s passing play? Perhaps the section on Cesc Fabregas will interest you. Subheads give readers that option.
  3. George Steinbrenner ­– Both LAist’s “Dodgers Reaction to Steinbrenner’s Death” and Gothamist’s “Players, Politicians Remember George Steinbrenner” use quotations to break up longer posts but comparing the two shows the importance of formatting. While neither seems overwhelming, The LAist post’s consistent use of bold to introduce the quotes’ sources enhances its readability significantly.
  4. Mel GibsonWorld of Psychology’s 719-word “Mel Gibson, Bipolar Disorder and Alcohol” is broken up into five distinct, numbered points. We’ve talked in the past about the scan-ability of list posts, and this is no exception. The bolded subheads are complete sentences that give a clear indication of what that section will address.
  5. Gulf of MexicoThe First Post’s BP oil spill: the conspiracy theories” was broken into two separate pages to disguise its nearly 1,300-word length. Tricky but effective. This is an example of a post that could have been broken into multiple posts with teasers for future parts and links to previous parts in each post.
  6. Bristol Palin ­– While not excessively long to begin with, at only 500 words, TV Squad’s “Bristol Palin’s Reality Show: If It Happens, Here Are 5 Things We Want to See” seems like an even quicker, easier read thanks to its combination of bolded subheads, a medium-sized photo, and short paragraphs. Keeping each paragraph short helps you avoid large blocks of text that the attention-span-challenged may find off-putting.
  7. Harvey Pekar ­– Comics Alliance’s 937-word “Harvey Pekar: A Timeline of a Comic Book Icon” could have tried to recap Pekar’s life in plain text, but it’s unlikely anyone but the most die-hard fans would’ve made it past his first issue of American Splendor. Instead, the blogger broke the story up using an engaging timeline format. It, along with the images and short paragraphs, makes this long post more palatable.
  8. Roman PolanskiJezebel’s “Roman Polanski Runs Free Once Again” isn’t long enough to require subheads, but does make use (like many of this blog’s posts) of prominent red links that, when scanned, provide a useful glimpse of the story (“not to extradite Roman Polanski,” “where he’s been since December,” etc.) as well as multiple entry points.
  9. Consumer Reports – At 909 words, Mashable’s “What Apple Must Do to Stop the Bleeding” uses many of the aforementioned techniques, including colored links, photos, and short paragraphs but also adds video within the post and oversized subheads with light grey lines around them to further divide the text.
  10. Old Spice – In addition to using video, photos, bold subheads, quotes, and colored links, ReadWriteWeb’s “How the Old Spice Videos Are Being Made” is an excellent example of tight, concise writing that uses all of its 1,065 words to maximum effect.

How do you handle long posts? Please share your techniques in the comments.

Kimberly Turner is a cofounder of Regator.com and Regator for iPhone as well as an award-winning print journalist. You can find her on Twitter @kimber_regator.

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Comments

  1. Kim Ong says:

    That’s the fine line between wanting to sound a little “conversational” hence ending up writing in length, or to cut words short and make them sound more news-like and professional. Great article!

  2. Hi

    But I have heard so much talk on SEO that word count of your article is important.

    I am equally confuse now.

  3. Thanks Kimberly these are really hot examples and each one is very different. It shows how someone can have their own style and still be very effective.

    When my posts get long I like to break them down into several posts.

    I also like to use bold headings that guide the reader to what the parts of the post are all about.

  4. Ernest Hemingway was asked about his writing style, and to paraphrase, he said 99% of what he wrote was shit so he only used 1%. Probably an extreme example and certainly not true of his writing, but I remember the quote often when I feel I have been too wordy in my writing.

  5. Howdy Kim

    We all know as internet marketers, that content is the gold mine to your success. If you think your not given the readers enough info in 300 words..then you might want to continue writing.

    The length of your blog posts can vary, but it really doesn’t matter how much you write if your not linking to the right sites.

    TrafficColeman “Signing Off”

  6. Ryan Smith says:

    Yeah, I usually write around the 300 – 500 mark on normal my posts, not my video posts. Thanks for the information man! I really enjoy your work and love your site!

    I’m also, when I get back to civilization, going to get you e-book! It looks like theres a lot of useful information!

    Thanks for all of the awesome blogging help.

    PS: I am now getting a DSLR camera and getting into photography because of you. THANKS! Your inspiring!

  7. When I feel like a post may be too long, I let it sit for a bit, then I go back to see if there is anywhere I can “trim the fat.”
    Virginia
    http://ladyvdzine.com

  8. Noel says:

    Wow, those are some amazing points for making articles more accessible to the readers! I’m already doing some of these, but some of the other points I never even thought of before! I personally write really long most of the time so what I personally like to do is break up some articles into series, as suggested.

  9. I always tend to self-edit a bit during the writing process, and then, if it’s an over 300 word post, take out the unnecessary words in front of each subject, especially if i’m targeting for specific seo keywords.

  10. Rick Barlow says:

    I’ve found that around the 500 word mark, I almost always begin to check how much more I have to read. I would try to stay under 500 words.

  11. Thank you, Kimberly. Post length has always been a struggle for me, but these examples are giving me a really nice visual as to what readers like, and how versatile a post can be.

  12. Julian says:

    i think the proportional is 300 words length
    but sometimes it may be less if you put lists on your post
    trust me

  13. Tom says:

    I have a lot of long, older articles that are word-dense and whitespace-poor. Although the articles are full of good information, the formatting makes for difficult reading on the ‘web. Thankfully, my newer stuff is written with web readers in mind.

    Do you recommend going back to old, lengthy articles and reformatting/rewriting them so they incorporate the ‘tricks’ which make long articles easier to read? I worry that the search engines will take a dim view of pages that have been re-written.

    Thanks for any suggestions about older, established articles that could use some revamping.

  14. Michelle says:

    I try to say everything as concisely and directly as possible.

    I’ve made great progress in eliminating diluting words like “very” and”really.” In the back of my mind I always think, “Get to the point!”

  15. I once read an article that said…

    “To improve your writing in 24 hours, write a post as you normally would – but don’t publish it – Then come back to it 24 hours later and edit it.”

    I think this is some great advice. Because, I will often read some of my older posts and every time without fail, I start making changes to them. But I think this is probably because, our style of blogging changes throughout the years – as we grow and learn new things.

    Thanks for the post. It’s always nice to read something that makes you think,

    Brian M. Connole
    i-Blogger
    The HCG Diet 411 Blog

  16. I tend to make use of the headlines, bulletpoints, and overall “skeleton” of a post when reading or constructing one. It helps for skimming purposes and allows me to decide whether or not to read the whole article.

  17. I use both images and subheadings to break up longer posts into readable chunks.

    SUBHEADINGS
    When I am writing about a complicated medical issue, it’s important that my post be long enough to both inform and to dispel misinformation. The downside is reader fatigue. So I use subheadings. I try to make the subheadings either provocative (to keep the reader going into the next section) or a summary of the paragraph that follows (so they can skip reading it if they want a quick take). The last section is always entitled “Bottom Line” or “Now what?” so those who just want the quick answer can find it.

    Here are examples of this type of post that have been well received –

    http://theblogthatatemanhattan.blogspot.com/2009/12/new-mammogram-guidelines-what-you-need.html

    http://theblogthatatemanhattan.blogspot.com/2009/02/tragedy-of-jade-goody.html

    http://theblogthatatemanhattan.blogspot.com/2009/01/oprahs-talking-hormones.html

    IMAGES

    I also use images to break up longer posts, especially when writing about travel or food . My readers love pics!

    http://theblogthatatemanhattan.blogspot.com/2010/07/cuba-on-my-mind.html

    Thanks for a great post. I’m going to start shaving off words. I write way too many words. Even this comment is too long!

  18. It can be a tough compromise because of peoples’ short attention spans. I’ve found that if my post is trending toward the longer end of things, putting several headlines and pictures to break up the monotony of the text.

  19. Tech Maish says:

    Well length doesn’t matter, you should write until you deliver the message, idea or information to your readers.

    Its up to you, whether 100 words can cover it Or 1000 words can cover it. However if 100 can work then why you should go for 1000.

  20. Andy Merrett says:

    The Yahoo Style Guide concisely answers the ‘post length’ question.

    http://styleguide.yahoo.com/ask/usability/what-good-word-count-webpage

  21. I break them up into different post-parts and make a series (this usually increases my subscriber base too), or do some heavy formatting.

  22. Lisa says:

    This is so true! Excellent advice, I find I even know when I’m putting in filler but leave it alone, now you are forcing me to go back and get rid of that junk.

  23. Jodi Kaplan says:
  24. The Earl of Sandwich is supposed to have written to a friend, “Sorry for this 5-page letter. I didn’t have time to write a 1-page letter!” I tell other writers to cross out every third word from their first draft. I’m kidding–sort of!

  25. Kimberly – tight and crisp writing is essential to success as a blogger.

    The tips you offered at the outset are very useful – and a good exercise for anyone – not just those of us who go overboard with word count.

    One interesting deviation I have seen is to convert long posts in an alternative, sticky format. Johathan Fields did that for The Firefly Manifesto – and many other have done that as well. I am guessing, from personal experience, that it helps sustain audience interest over an extended period of time.

    Love the examples – they’re worthy of going directly into a guidebook on crisp writing for bloggers!

  26. Glenn A says:

    “Dodgers Reaction to Steinbrenner’s Death”: I hate headlines that tell you somebody reacted to something. In the same space you can summarize the reaction — Dodgers on Steinbrenner death: ‘Stunning’

    This also moves the other keyword to the beginning.

    Also, I see bloggers using double quotes around and within headlines. Single quotes reduce clutter and follow standard newspaper style. I think most print publications use single quotes on any text larger than 14 pt.

  27. Louise M. says:

    I love pictures, I always pick very carefully the pictures that I put in my post. I like to highlight some sentences as well so that it makes the reader want to read the next bold sentence and hopefully what’s in between! :)

    You give very good advices and examples! Jodi noticed Seth Godin’s post that is just one word! :) It’s clever from him. He’s a good example of pretty short blog posts, no pictures and always very interesting content.

    Good posts push me to write better posts myself!

    Thank you.

  28. hey Kimberly,
    you are right about keeping post short and concise but at times, long post can essentially be much more elaborated thus allowing the new comers and beginners to understand better one step at a time.

    Like me, i started out knowing nothing and am always confused with short terms. Like how PPC can replace pay per click and how PR can replace page rank and such. but i don’t fret on this thou, i suppose if i am genuinely here to learn, finding out exactly what it means is extensively my responsibility too. :)

    However, there are always 2 sides of the story to tell. and having longer or shorter post has its benefits.

    thank you for reminding me thou about the importance of having shorter post too.
    cheers

  29. ashok says:

    The advice given is very, very sound: I’m always prone to putting too much in the passive, and I use wordy phrases quite a bit.

    And I love your general principle: “enough to tell the story and not one word more.” That’s not just a rule for conciseness – taken properly, it’s a rule which says “tell a story.” While promoting a recent post on Plato, I ran into a number of articles that tried to sum up Plato in bullet points. There’s a time and a place for that, of course. But one “wordy” post that wrestled with a passage or tried to introduce interesting questions would have been worthwhile.

  30. Currently I’m doing a live story right now, called The Other Side of Love on my blog using posts.

    Now my chapters currently run between four to seven pages of a 6×9 average.

    Now this means the word count can be long and drawn out.

    Posting a story to a blog is a whole ‘nother baby.

    So i have to remind myself to stay no more than 800 to 1000 in the word count unless it’s a really juicy chapter. I’ve been known to fluctuate and put up 1500.

    I cut the story off to make sure readers come back at a cliffhanger or at an important part where the reader wants to know more of the mystery or plot.

    It’s worked pretty well for me. I’ve been posting a live story for over six years, dubbed Cliffhanger Queen by my readers and I’ve gathered a large suspense romance reading list from all over the world.

    Ya me!

    So that’s how I break up long posts.

  31. Hi ProBloggers! Thanks for all the fantastic discussion about this.

    @Kim Ong, Good point! There is a fine line between cutting words and destroying your conversational tone. The trick is finding the balance.

    @Make Money Online, If you write concise, tight copy without unneccessary words, and have a specific goal for your post, odds are your SEO will take care of itself.

    @Noel @Brittany Miller @Brian Thanks for the kind words. So glad you found it helpful.

    @Tom Some minor formatting changes to enhance the readability of posts shouldn’t be frowned upon too badly by our Google overlords. I wouldn’t change any links and I certainly would advise against altering your posts URLs though.

    @Michelle I battle with the “really” monster myself. Really. :)

  32. @Peggy Polaneczky Brilliant technique to use the “Bottom Line” or “Now what?” quick answers. Thanks for sharing!

    @Lisa Go for it!

    @Kapil @Louise M. @ashok Thanks!

  33. Long post doesn’t guarantee that your post will be popular, but the longest post will.

  34. Well, without legally acquired evidence you just won’t be able to establish a thing, will you? And yet if you did, what jury would hear to talk about extraterrestrial beings? This has to be a frustration to acknowledge the truth, and have no force to halt the vicious pipeline. But I have a rudimentary design, and you know it will establish a powerful deviation. I say we can infiltrate and be a devastating force from inside, and put a cease to the penetration of this awful business!

  35. rososusilo says:

    I used to just write under 500 words, and added a picture. the most important thing for me is the keyword in the article.