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How long do my blog posts need to be?

Feb 23, 2017

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Having a blog on your accountancy firm website – and keeping it updated – is a key element of your firm’s marketing.

This is your opportunity to share your expert advice, which helps prove authority (and, by doing, so helps your prospects feel confident about buying from you).

But how long do your blog posts need to be?

It’s a great question. It might even seem very simple – after all, you want to make sure you’re creating blogs that have the best chance of being found and read by your target audience.

The reality is, there’s no one simple answer for the ideal blog length.

We know the “no simple answer” could feel discouraging for accountants. You want the answer. How many words? 500? 1000? Is 3000 words too many?

When it comes to marketing, unfortunately things don’t work in the same way as with accounts, tax returns or deadlines. Blogging best practice changes constantly, and depends on many different factors.

To help you improve the effectiveness of your blogging, here’s the lowdown on how to tailor the length and content of your blogs to meet the needs of your clients and prospects.

Why does the length of my blog posts matter?

There are two very distinct reasons blog length matters.

  1. Good SEO – Search engines (and Google in particular) like longer ‘authority articles’ that contain more content, more keywords and improve your overall search engine optimisation (SEO).
  2. Good readability – Your real human readers like short, snappy posts to read, and could navigate away when faced with a long, wordy article.

Clearly there’s tension between those two viewpoints.

Do you aim for very long posts with great SEO, but which could cause some readers to doze off?

Or do you write shorter posts people can read very quickly, but which might not get as good organic traffic?

The answer is to tailor your content to get the SEO and readability requirements as well-balanced as possible. That means understanding when a short blog will do the trick, and when a long-form post is the absolute best thing for improving your brand profile.

Let’s look at a few different content scenarios and see how we can balance word count and readability to best effect.

Short blog posts (300-500 words)

Sometimes, you just want to say something short and sweet. You’re not aiming to go viral here, you just have a single clear message to communicate. This is your ‘bite-size blog’ length for when speed and readability are your key aims.

300 words is the absolute minimum word count to aim for, or your content won’t be picked up by Google. 

With a short blog post, the aim is to get your message out there quickly, without fluff and waffle detracting from the clear communication of your message.

Seth Godin, the US writer, marketer and entrepreneur is a blogger who makes great use of short posts on his blog. The key advantage he has, of course, is that he’s already got a huge number of followers who will dip into these short blogs. Don’t expect a thousand shares from your first short blog.

Examples of short blog posts would be:

  • Plug an upcoming event – briefly outline the topic of the event, tell people what they’ll learn by attending and focus on the key call to action – getting people to visit your registration page and sign up for the session.
  • Tell people about changes to your team – if you’ve got a new joiner, or someone’s been promoted, a quick post is a great way to raise clients’ awareness of who’s in your team. Update your team page and link people back to read more about your new person.
  • Update clients on a success you’ve had – maybe you’re up for an award and would like people to vote, or you’ve got a piece in an industry magazine that you’d like people to read. Tell your audience what the news is, keep it brief and point them to the right link.

Medium-length blog posts (750-1,000)

When your topic’s a bit more meaty, and there are several key messages to include, you’ll need more space to get these points across effectively. By increasing the amount of content in your post, you’ll also bump up your SEO factor.

This is more of a ‘wholesome snack’ for your clients – a post that gives them something to chew over, but one they can easily consume on their phone.

The average adult reads about 300 words per minute, so that means a 900-word blog post will take most people around 3 minutes to read.

Your audience have to invest a little more time to read this content, but it’s not a huge chunk out of their day (your clients are busy people who need you to cut to the chase and give them something tangible for their time).

The perfect pop song is supposedly just over three minutes long, and the most effective length for YouTube videos will be around 3 minutes too. So it seems like a 3-4 minute window of concentration is what our human brains allow us when we’re casually engaging with content.

Unlike a short blog post, you’re not just focused on the one message or call-to-action. You’re telling a short story, taking your audience on a journey and giving them something useful at the end of it.

Content with this ‘added value’ will get more social media shares, because it’s easily digestible, it gives people some genuine advice to follow and there’s value in pointing like-minded people towards your top tips.

Examples of medium-length blog posts would be:

  • Write a ‘how-to article’ on cloud accounting – Explain the positive changes that the cloud has had on accounting software, outline the key benefits for small business owners and give some real-world examples of clients who’ve made the switch to cloud and have increased their efficiency levels and long-term profitability as a result.
  • Tell a motivating business story – Personal experience and real-world stories are vital for creating engaging blog content. Share a client story that profiles a particular business issue and how you resolved their problem. Or write about your own business journey and give tips and advice that have helped you along the way.
  • Turn something technical into something useful – What most business owners will hate is highly technical, jargon-filled articles that don’t speak their language. Take a technical topic – the outcome of the next Budget, maybe, or the requirements of the R&D Tax Credit – and translate it into plain English, with clear explanations of the impact on business owners (and how you can help them overcome those issues).

Long-form blog posts (1500 – 2500+ words)

There’s no escaping the fact that longer blog posts are better for your SEO and social shares.

Content that has 2500 words or more performs well when it comes to searchability, and recent research from long-form content proponents Kissmetrics showed that the most popular length for shared content on Facebook was 2000-2,500 words.

So if you want to increase SEO, raise your profile with new online audiences and position yourself as an authority on your accounting specialism or niche industry knowledge, you’re going to need to go long-form.

This is your ‘full banquet’ of content, where there’s a multitude of content courses and tasty side dishes to satisfy the increasingly hungry appetites of the modern business reader.

But – and it’s a very important and critical ‘but’ – don’t be tempted to churn out 3000 words of tedious information about the technical intricacies of EU VAT legislation simply to hit your word count.

This long post needs to be a helpful guide for business owners, not a dry technical article to prove everything you know about this topic.

Don’t feel EVERY blog post has to be as long as War & Peace either. There are times when something shorter does the job – but there’s real value in making your big blog posts count when you do ‘go long’.

To truly engage people once they’ve clicked through to your long-form post, get two key things right:

  1. Readability – make sure your content’s well laid out, broken up into clear, easily-digestible sections and is engaging to read.
  2. Value – Ensure you’re giving your audience the ‘value add’ elements of practical advice, helpful tips and workable solutions.

Clear layout is a vital part of meeting that first criteria of readability. A huge, unbroken ‘stream of consciousness’ braindump onto the page will not entice anyone to read further. Think about the structure of your long post.

  • Define your topic and your title – to justify an authority length piece, you need to address a business issue, a financial management challenge or something where there’s plenty of scope for demonstrating the value of good business advice.
  • Jot down your key points – what are the core things you want to talk about? By getting your main points down on the page, you create the structure and ‘bare bones’ of your article. This is then the superstructure off which the rest of your content hangs.
  • Break things up with subheadings – long chunks of plain body text do not attract the eye. We tend to look in an ‘F-pattern shape’ where the eye scans down the left of the page, looking for something to engage with. Breaking up your text with short, explanatory sub-headings helps to improve readability and makes your content more digestible to the reader.
  • Use bullet points to highlight important points – when you want to underline some key messages, and don’t want them getting lost in the middle of a load of body text, bullets come in very handy. Bullet points (like these ones you’re now reading) help to catch the eye of the reader and direct them to the right part of the page. If someone’s casually scanning through your long post, bullets will get their attention far more effectively than long paragraphs of convoluted prose.
  • Use graphics and images – your blog content needn’t be limited to just plain text. Using infographics, charts and images helps to maintain interest for your reader and also gives you another medium for getting your messaging across. A colourful flow diagram that shows the impact of automated chasing of late payments on cash flow may be a much more effective way to show the business benefit.
  • Stay focused on adding value – the longer your blog post, the more temptation there will be to go ‘off piste’ and lose sight of the point of this content. Ultimately, you’re here to provide the most helpful, practical guidance for your business owner audience – so stay focused on the issues and the tips for overcoming them.

If you follow these guidelines, you’ll end up with an authority post that’s got the substance, ideas and advice that your audience will expect from you (you’re their trusted adviser, after all).

You’ll also have created the kind of heavyweight, word-count-heavy content that Google will love – structured and laid out in a way that guarantees the best possible readability and engagement from your blog followers and casual readers.

Examples of posts that would benefit from a long-form approach include:

  • An in-depth guide to profit improvement – get your teeth into a really chunky breakdown of the common reasons for businesses being unprofitable. Look at overspending, poor cash flow, unrealistic profit margins and bad financial management and give your audience the advice to overcome these pitfalls and give their profits a boost
  • An industry-specific guide to business solutions – if you’ve got an industry niche you can plough, get your hands dirty and give your construction clients the advice they need for improving their project management, efficiency and revenue generation. Or write a guide for the retail sector on how to integrate the latest in-store payment technology and cardless payment gateways into their shops – and the benefits of connecting these with their accounting software.

Make good use of your content planning

There ARE challenges to aiming big when it comes to word count, of course. A 2500-word post will take you considerably longer to write, draft and proof-read than a short 300-word missive that could be run off in a couple of minutes.

So if you’re going to aim for long-form posts, it’s important to plan ahead, get your ideas down into a proper content plan and put the time aside each month to write these guides.

Think about the ‘big topics’ you can cover and work out how they fit into your content plan. The end of the busy tax season could be a great time to highlight the advantages of managing your books online, in time to make next year’s tax return easier to complete. And late autumn could be a great time for a ‘What the Budget really means for your small business’ guide. The key is to think seasonally and topically, but to also be ready to flex your content plan when new topics and business issues appear.

Choose your word count…and get writing

Start experimenting with content! See how long-form authority posts and short, pithy blog updates both have an important role to play in your content marketing.

If you’ve never written something longer than a short email, you could go for a longer, more in-depth post for your next blog update. With a little planning and research, you may just come up with a piece of content that sets the world on fire – even if it is about Making Tax Digital.