Building a Better Blog: Length Doesn’t Matter

So many blog development gurus give vastly different pieces of advice about how long blog posts should be. Some tell you to keep it nice and short because your audience doesn’t have much of an attention span. Others encourage you to write at length to maximize your keywords and really engage your audience.

They’re both right – and they’re both wrong.

The fact of the matter is that a writer can be successful writing either short posts (like boing boing) or long posts (like dooce). This is true in every genre – take politics, where some write at length and some are highly brief. Others succeed by alternating wildly. As for me, two of my favorite writers on the internet are Jason Kottke and Bill Simmons. One writes fifteen word posts all the time; the other one writes six thousand word essays all the time.

Anyone that tells you that all of your posts should be short or all of your posts should be long without knowing your writing style is full of crap.

The simple fact of the matter is that you should figure out for yourself how long your posts should be, and no one else. Write for as long as you feel comfortable and everything else will work out. That’s not to say there aren’t ways to optimize short posts or long posts or medium-sized posts – in fact, I’ll get to some of these before the end of this series – but that one isn’t particularly preferable to the other.

What’s far more important than post length itself is whether or not you’re comfortable posting. What I mean by this is that some people are simply wired to prefer expressing their thoughts in a sentence or two and others are wired to prefer expressing their thoughts in logorrheic essays.

If you’re forcing yourself to write longer or shorter posts than you naturally feel like writing, it is hurting your blog. You’re choosing, because of the advice of some crackpot “blog expert,” to stifle your natural voice in exchange for “optimal consumer ” or some other fifty dollar buzzword that has no real meaning.

The truth is that you should do everything you possibly can to speak in your natural voice, “optimal consumer ” be damned, and any obstacles you put in the way of your natural voice will water down the message you want to send and the true relationship you’ll build with your readers.

Here are a few exercises to help you find the appropriate length for your writing voice.

“Free write” a few posts. Just sit down and write a few posts without any worry at all about optimizing them. Type out what you actually want to say and let your heart guide you, not your mind. We’re talking first draft here, not a finished piece; just build up your post until your heart feels most comfortable with it. For some of you, this might be two sentences. For others (like me), it might spread across pages.

Look for posts on your blog that just didn’t quite hit home for you. We all have a few clunkers that we’ve written in our blogs. Take these clunkers out and look at them. Where are the obvious mistakes? Much of the time, these mistakes are either of obvious exclusion or unnecessary inclusion of material. Now, try adding in the extra material you think should be there, or removing the excess that seems wrong to you. Is the post better now? We’re not talking about “optimal consumer ” better; we’re talking better in terms of expressing the raw thoughts inside of you.

Take a week and experiment. You can even tell your readers if you like, asking them for feedback. Just take a week and write to whatever lengths feel right to your inner voice. Almost always, writers who listen to and trust their inner voice above all will write better things.

Remember, there are benefits to both short and long posts. If you decide that a major switch is in store for you, you’ll likely lose a few readers initially, but in the long run you will gain more readers. Why? Your natural voice will come right out through the screen, establishing a stronger relationship with your readers and encouraging them to link to you.

Talk about “optimal consumer .”

Building a Better Blog is a month-long series at Money360, outlining steps you can take to build a long-term healthy blog that will attract readers. Jump ahead to the next essay, Respond to Comments, or back to the previous one, Be Yourself.

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