The 500-Word Post Is Dead

But longer content won’t automatically be better

Marshall Bowden
Oct 8, 2019 · 7 min read
Photo by Raphael Schaller on Unsplash

I’m going to admit something upfront. 500-word blog posts aren’t completely dead. They have a place in content marketing, but that place is greatly diminished and overall you shouldn’t be looking to that length as a guideline.

Let’s say that they are on life support.

As recently as 2016, I would receive many requests from clients for blog posts between 500–800 words, and I felt that I became pretty good at finding the ideas that needed to be expressed in the post and offering some details on each. But the posts I’ve been writing for clients and for my own blogs have been trending longer, and it’s rare nowadays for me to post much of anything below 1,000 words.

So, should you be looking for blog posts that are much longer as we head into 2020? Is it truly a case of more is better or are you just spinning your wheels? How do you determine the best length for most of your posts?

Some Advantages of Long-Form Posts

It doesn’t matter that they are well researched or that they cover some of the main points of the topic, there is simply not enough information there except as perhaps an introduction to a multi-part piece where I would expand on the various points made in the post.

This means that there is danger of Google and other search engines seeing this as ‘thin’ content. Thin content is there to satisfy a checkbox in a content marketing strategy. Marketers can satisfy themselves that they covered a particular topic, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a successful post.

And even though the piece may be well written and researched, Google isn’t just looking at that. Increasingly they’re looking for the most comprehensive content on a topic.

The conventional wisdom right now is that long-form articles generally receive a higher ranking than short pieces and that longer articles are more likely to be shared via social media. I think that one of the reasons is that longer articles have the opportunity to be more detailed, use more keywords (especially long-tail keywords), and tend to receive more organic traffic and more organic backlinks.

All of these things are rewarded by Google’s algorithms. Therefore, it’s a question of whether you believe there is something inherently better about long-form content or if long-form content tends to produce results that make it more likely to be ranked highly by Google.

It’s Not Always About the Length of Your Article

The difficulty is that all of this depends on a number of things, like:

  • Your market What do your competitors do? What kind of information do they provide? Perhaps they have adopted a short-form blog strategy and they are having success with it. There are two possibilities: either your market prefers the short form articles or there is an opportunity for you to differentiate yourself by publishing longer, more comprehensive articles on topics of interest to your market. Trying out long-form articles can help you discover which scenario is true.
  • Your target keywords You can find lots of articles on Google that will tell you outright the right length for blog posts based on looking at top search results. But there’s no guarantee that the target keywords you care about offer similar results.
  • Your customers or clients Some markets will have customers who are younger, some will be of interest to people in certain income brackets, or people who exercise or people who enjoy traveling — the list is endless. Some of these characteristics will influence what information they’re seeking and some won’t.

Identifying the Purpose of Your Content

Or are you making an emotional appeal? Are you telling a story to illustrate something? Are you trying to win your reader over to a specific point of view?

Or maybe your purpose is to entertain the reader? To give them something enjoyable to read in an odd moment? Maybe you are trying to make them smile or inspire them?

As you can see, there are many reasons that you may be providing content to your readers. You can probably already guess that some of these are likely to require longer articles, while for others 600 words may be perfectly adequate.

As an example, let’s take a look at the purpose of content that might be written for a concrete cutting service vs. a yoga studio. I’ve written content for both of these types of clients and they provide a nice illustration of what I’m talking about.

The concrete cutting service was interested in distinguishing themselves among a number of local competitors. They needed content which explained their basic services, but they also wanted more in-depth articles about projects that involved concrete cutting and sawing and articles that they would publish in industry publications to establish themselves as thought leaders.

Their services were relatively straight forward, and there was no reason to belabor the point. Quite a bit of the content explaining their services emphasized their experience and the equipment they could bring to bear on a project. These pieces were around 700–800 words in length.

The other articles they wanted were more wide open and I spent time researching not only the concrete industry as it stands now but the research and experimentation that was being put into things like more environmentally friendly or self-mending concrete. These articles were in the range of 1500–2000 words, subject to editing if they wished.

The yoga studio’s content was intended both to interest potential clients in taking yoga classes and to provide some articles about self-care, yoga equipment, and various styles of yoga practice. These posts were never more than 800 words in length.

What Does This Mean for the Writer?

When you are pitching writing services to a client, you will win when you demonstrate that you understand and write with an eye to their content strategy. Suddenly, you’re not just some couch surfer with a laptop, you’re a professional who commands their interest.

So if your client doesn’t discuss this information with you, feel free to ask them about it and to offer suggestions regarding the length and depth of the content you’ll produce for them. Understanding their strategy will help you to pitch better articles.

In addition, you may be able to make suggestions if you feel that they may be ignoring an important area. Your interest demonstrates to the client that you’re interested in their business and will increase their confidence in your writing.

If your client has a good understanding of their market and their content marketing plan, they’re already invested in the idea of content marketing and they’ll understand the value of hiring a good writer.

This is one reason that you should not quote clients for your work by the word count; it implies that they’ll save money by requesting a shorter article and if you recommend long-form articles it appears that you may be padding the article to earn more.

If you’re writing for or pitching a magazine or other print media you will probably receive a per word rate, which is fine and mostly non-negotiable anyway, but writing for clients is different. If you’re able to offer a flat fee for the project, it won’t alarm the type of client who’s already invested in content marketing. It may also help weed out some clients who have ill-defined projects that you might rather not take on.

But it does mean that whatever article length you’re hired to write, you should research to make sure that the topic can be adequately covered in that length. If your client is proposing an article of fewer than 1,000 words, you should consider offering them a longer piece that also discusses other relevant topics and covers its core topic comprehensively.

Not to do so can put you at a disadvantage in trying to write a piece that will get the client a higher ranking, more traffic and social media shares, and ultimately, more bang for their buck.

And that’s bad for your business.

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Marshall Bowden

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Author of Quotable Jazz, Publisher of https://www.newdirectionsinmusic and http://www.eatatangerine. Writes at Medium about writing, marketing, and culture.

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