Should your content be short, long, or somewhere in between? A top editorial leader at the Content Marketing Institute says that what matters is whether it’s helping your readers.
What’s the optimal word count for content? You might be asking that question as you strive for perfection in your content strategy.
But Kim Moutsos, vice president of editorial for the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), says that’s the wrong question. Your strategy for creating strong content shouldn’t be focused on the number of words. The better question is, how effective are they?.
“The point is not that you should say, this ‘needs to be shorter’ or ‘it needs to be long,’” she says. “It needs to be compelling. And if you make it compelling, then just make it the length that it needs to be to help someone to do whatever it is you want them to do.”
A READER-FOCUSED MINDSET
Moutsos says that writers and editors should look at the needs of the audience and consider how in-depth readers want to go.
“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 that people can land where they need to be.”
While it may be common to find a recommended length for articles to do well with search engines—a length that varies by topic—Moutsos says that the reason those articles rank high is because of their utility to readers.
“It’s not the word count that makes them rank high. They’re ranking high because they’ve thoroughly covered the topic for whomever was searching for this page and landed on it,” she says. “They thoroughly covered it in a way that’s useful for the reader.”
Although utility, not length, is a leading factor for success, your platform’s utility may not be the same as everyone else’s. In 2019, CMI analyzed its content over the prior calendar year to test an assertion, put forth by the SEO training firm Backlinko, that longer content did better in search and social.
While CMI’s longer content did do slightly better in search, social media was inconclusive. The key is to test against your own site’s data.
“The makeup and behavior of your audience is different from any segment of ours. No two audiences are alike,” Moutsos wrote in her analysis.
WRITE (AND EDIT) MORE EFFICIENTLY
Nonetheless, it is important to write with a focus on efficiency and clarity for the reader—and for editors to help ensure that content that meets those standards. Often, a focus on clarity results in shorter content, even though word count isn’t the goal. (Many editors encourage their writers to self-edit and trim unnecessary words as part of the writing process—for example, this reporter’s editors.)
Moutsos recommends using tools such as the app Hemingway to get an understanding of how you can improve your writing. As an algorithm-based tool, it’s imperfect, but Moutsos says it can help you identify areas for improvement.
“I found where it showed me that I had very wordy, complex sentences,” she says. “It pushed me to think of simpler, clearer ways to write, and I almost always ended up with something that I felt was better.”