What is the optimal word count for content? You may be asking yourself this question as you strive for perfection in your content strategy.
But Kim Moutsos, editorial vice president of the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), says that’s the wrong question. Your strategy for creating strong content shouldn’t be about word count. The better question is, how effective are they?
“The point is not that you should say, this ‘has to be shorter’ or ‘this has to be long’,” she said. “It has to be convincing. And if you make it compelling, make it the length necessary to help someone do what you want them to do.
A Reader-Focused Mindset
Moutsos says writers and publishers need to look at audience needs and think about the depth of readers.
“Are they at the stage where, ‘OK, I understand this concept at its high level; now I want to understand the guts?” she says. “Give them what they want. Create the content and the path so people can land where they need to be.
While it can be common to find a recommended length for articles to succeed with search engines — one that varies by topic — Moutsos says the reason these articles rank high is because of their usefulness for the readers.
“It’s not the word count that gives them a high rank. They rank well because they covered the topic extensively for anyone who was looking for that page and landed on it,” she says. “They’ve neatly covered it in a helpful way for the reader.”
Although usefulness, not length, is a key success factor, the usefulness of your platform may not be the same as others. In 2019, CMI analyzed its content over the previous calendar year to test a claim, made by SEO training company Backlinko, that longer content performed better in search and social media.
While CMI’s longer content did slightly better in search, social media was inconclusive. The key is to test against data from your own site.
“The makeup and behavior of your audience is different from any segment of ours. No two audiences are the same,” Moutsos wrote in his analysis.
Write (and edit) more efficiently
Nevertheless, it is important to write with an emphasis on efficiency and clarity for the reader and for the editors to ensure that the content meets these standards. Often, the focus on clarity results in shorter content, even if word count isn’t the goal. (Many editors encourage their writers to self-edit and remove unnecessary words as part of the writing process, for example this reporter’s editors.)
Moutsos recommends using tools like the Hemingway app to understand how you can improve your writing. As an algorithm-based tool, it’s flawed, but Moutsos says it can help you identify areas for improvement.
“I found where it showed me that I had complex, very wordy sentences,” she says. “It pushed me to think of easier, clearer ways to write, and I almost always ended up with something I thought was better.”
What tips do you have for creating more effective content? Share them in the comments section below.
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