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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Mel Gibson – World 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.
- Gulf of Mexico – The 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Roman Polanski – Jezebel’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.
- 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.
- 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.