Writing extra – is it hurting or helping your goals?

When writing blogs, especially for business purposes, we want more. More readers, more comments, more traffic. We also want the best quality for our writing. It can be hard to understand what your readers want and how much time and attention they’re willing to invest to read your blog post.

‘Less is more’ is a token advice to help people understand that overwhelming quantity doesn’t lead to quality. This principle applies to creative practices such as architecture, interior design and other visual arts. It is often applied to writing, too. We are led to believe that all readers have short attention spans, and less than 600 words is the golden amount for an article. Just short enough for them to read and understand your point before they drift off to another webpage.

Surprisingly, however, research has shown that when it comes to writing, less is not more. In fact, more is more. It’s better to have more written content in your article for the reader. A study by Curata found that articles which were longer and more in depth about their topic generated 9 times more leads than shorter, snappier articles that got straight to the point. So how do we explain this effect?

How is More, More?

The reason that long articles perform better than shorter ones is because readers love to skim read. Using eye-tracking technology, The Nielson Norman Group found that readers tend to skim read in an F shape pattern and more content keeps their attention. This might be unexpected, but it also makes a lot of sense. You might even catch yourself skim reading right now.

Readers actually don’t read as much of our articles as we may think. A study conducted by SUMO found that the average website visitor will only read 20% of an article. Readers primarily look at the first paragraph before deciding if it’s worth their time. If the first paragraph is long and weakly linked to your topic, it could lose 32% of readers. So, it’s crucial to make that powerful first impression to send them skimming.

Once readers skim, they look for a section of an article that is worth their undivided attention. The best way to keep a reader, is to consistently catch their eye. Readers tend to pay more attention if there are:

  • Subheadings
  • Statistics
  • Spaced formatting
  • Bullet points

See what I did there? One thing that makes your writing engaging is through the use of visual breaks. It gives the reader a second to rest and take in easy information instead of heavy block text. However, when there isn’t enough content to take in, there isn’t a lot of potential to catch their eye, meaning your article quickly becomes a short-term interest.

More is More – But Not Too Much

Although more writing is better for reader engagement, it’s also important to remember to not write too much content. According to a study from Medium, articles that begin to lose reader’s attention have a ‘reading time’ of 8 minutes. ‘Reading time’ is the measure of how long it would take to read the full article from start to finish.

With posts that are an 8-minute read and longer, focused readers become sparse. Most don’t take time to even consider reading the longer articles. So, in order to have the best level of reader engagement, a happy medium is most effective. It’s a busy world, so giving the reader large quantities of content can quickly become overwhelming and off-putting.

What’s the Best Amount?

There is no set ‘best amount’, but the most effective way to achieve high reader engagement is to find the goldilocks zone. Not too little, but not too much. The study by Medium also found that articles with a ‘reading time’ of 7 minutes have the most engagement from readers. For general readers, this is the most effective option for getting your point across.

However, from an SEO point of view, the average word count of top ranked content in Google is between 1,140-1,285 words. Less writing for blog posts means that search engines tend to avoid marking your content as a high-ranking page. Short articles don’t work well with organic SEOs. As computers can’t understand the meaning of quality perceived by humans, they rely on medium length posts, followed by longer posts. In shorter articles, the lower word count also leads to less keyword ranking opportunities.

Know Your Audience

The length of your article matters, and it depends on who is reading it. Unfortunately, different target audiences prefer different article lengths. ‘Audiences’ discussed above were focused on the general free-time browsing individual, however, target audiences are more complex than that.

If you are writing for B2B audiences, less is actually more. They have a lot less time than other casual readers and are likely to be in a hurry. When writing for a business audience, if you are writing to inform and expand on knowledge that they already have, concise writing and keywords will do the job.

A graph from HubSpot Research showed that articles between 500-1000 words were the most successful. For a target audience that knows the jargon, you can get straight to the point. In fact, a study from NewsCred Insights found that the median average time B2B audiences spend reading an article is only 37 seconds. B2B articles are best when they’re short and snappy.

The quality – and quantity – of your writing could affect your client base. In a Demand Gen Report study, it was found that 47% of B2B buyers read 3-5 blog posts or content pieces prior to talking with a salesperson. Your articles could be the make or break of a business deal. That’s why it’s important to write content that appeals to your target audience, and to do so consistently.

Make the Right Decisions

There is no silver bullet. It’s not possible to please everyone, but there are steps you can take to achieve more from your writing. The best thing to do, as a writer, is to learn about what readers want from your articles. Ensure that there is valuable content for your reader to take away, and format it according to your readers’ needs. To get the best from your work, make decisions based on your knowledge of your target audience.