Does a blog post’s word count influence performance?

Estimated read time: 3 minutes

How long blog posts should be is an ongoing debate out there in content marketing land. 

  • Under 300
  • 300-499
  • 500-999
  • Over 1,000

Should we pay writers by word count? The opinions vary widely. Some say yes. Others say that writers will just add unnecessary words to hit an artificial word count target. 

In my Twitter poll asking about it 60 percent said not to pay by word count, 24 percent voted yes and 16 percent were undecided.

Of course accounting for number of words can feel comforting because it’s measurable. 

“You owe me 12 words.”

“Okay. Adding.” But did those words really add any value? Instead of counting words, we should look at:

  • Uniqueness 

  • Performance (long-term and short-term)
  • Overall value and cost
  • Necessary depth of content 

Adding words without purpose might even set us up for less optimal content. Maybe even CRAP (Content Really Annoying to People.) 

But with that being said, having a word limit or general expectation is good so writers, editors and clients are on the same page. 

For example, I shoot for 500-1,000 words per post on here. (This one is about 600). I tell most clients that this is a good goal for them as well. When people hire me to ghostwrite, which can be done here, I even state that each post will be up to 1,250 words. That’s just to set some boundaries and if it ends up being 1,260 because it needs to be there’s no surcharge.

Do longer blog posts perform better?

Over time, my blog posts have gotten longer. Here’s a look at average word count over time:

Source: WordPress Wordcount

A year and a half ago I wasn’t hitting 500 words per post quite yet but then increased the number over time and in May 2017 the average post had over 750 words. 

That feels productive but did it matter? Let’s look at the increase in words per month and overlay it with traffic:

Source: WordPress Wordcount plugin and Google Analytics
As words went up, so did traffic, but then traffic decreased when a couple of home run articles lost interest. And even when the number of words decreased for a couple of months, traffic remained high. 

Let’s look at one other things. 

Source: WordPress Wordcount plugin

This shows the five-month average word count of posts and then maps the top five posts in organic search. As you can see two barely broke 250 words. One just broke 500 words. All three are a ways below the average word count and not even close to the longest posts I’ve written. Two others – rounding out the top 5 are closer to 800 words. None break 1,000 words. 

But here’s what they all have in common: They all are highly unique and solve a problem for my readers that they couldn’t get solved elsewhere. That’s why they performed well – despite the lowish or higher word count. 

Here’s my recommendation:

  • Shoot for a range in word count 
  • Don’t force it! No fluff!
  • Answer and solve highly specialized problems that people can’t get answered elsewhere.
  • Watch the numbers over time.

I know that watching word count has helped me be more disciplined filing articles and gets me to go deeper! I often ask myself: What else can I write to add more value. 

It helps me flush out topics but I try to not add words just to hit a number. I add them when necessary to add value and answer other potential audience questions.