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Whether you’re writing your own content or outsourcing writing, you may feel challenged by the need to meet your word count for a topic. A couple of commenters here on Yeys have asked me about that. How do you write long posts and reach your target word count without resorting to fluff and repetition? In this post, I want to share my tips and insights on how to do just that.
Why long content is important
There are at least four good reasons for generating long – or long-enough – content.
1. Better rankings for your main query
Google measures the time users spend on our pages. When the user sticks around for a while, reading a long post, that’s a positive signal for Google, letting them know that the page is a good match for the search query.
2. Ranking for additional queries
Generally speaking, when you write more, you’re also providing answers to more questions. There’s more content for Google to discover and hopefully, your article will rank for other long-tail queries.
3. A boost in revenue from display ads
If you monetize using display ads, longer content means more ads on the page. At least to some extent, the longer the page, the more ads you’ll be showing. That means more revenue from every page view.
4. The deterrence factor
When your competitors are doing their keyword research, they may come across your post and wonder if they can outrank you. If your post is short, they’d be tempted to beat you by creating a longer article on the same topic. When seeing a very long post, a competitor is more likely to back away and keep looking for another query.
Of course, the length isn’t the only measurement of post quality. In fact, it’s not even the most important one. Some would argue it’s entirely irrelevant to the post’s overall usefulness to the reader. All I can say is that, on average, post length does make a difference in the overall traffic generated by our posts.
How long should a post be
So, how long should you be shooting for?
The answer would be “it depends”. Annoying, I know. There are many approaches to determining the ideal length of a post. If you’re writing the post yourself, you can also just “wing it” and see where you end up. This is what I do when writing here on Yeys. I don’t know how long this post will end up being, and that’s ok.
However, when creating a “niche site” or “content site”, i.e. not a personal blog like this one, we need a more structured approach. We outsource all of the content, and therefore we need to provide writers with a word count.
You can read here more of my thoughts about how long a blog post should be. In a nutshell, we usually shoot for posts that are 1500-1800 words long. Sometimes, when the topic justifies it, we go for higher word counts. We then outsource the content writing to writers via Clickup. Each writing task opens up with a word count range.
We do leave some room for flexibility. In fact, we do that in three ways –
- Tasks never have a specific word count. It’s always a range, such as 1500-1800 words, or 1800-2000 words.
- Our writers know that they can go over – or below – that range by 10% without having to talk to us first.
- If a writer finds that they absolutely need more or fewer words – by more than 10% – they know to leave a comment in the task and explain why.
Our thinking is that while researching, writers can come across issues. Some new aspects may need to be covered. Alternatively, some aspects may be less relevant than we had assumed when setting the word count range. We train writers to always keep the user intent in mind and make sure the post is as helpful as it can be. We also instruct them to avoid fluff and repetition. With that in mind, they usually can tell us when a post needs to be shorter or longer than we had suggested.
However – sometimes we know that we want a post to be longer. That’s when we do want to deliver something more substantial than the competition, to fight over the higher rankings in Google.
And since we don’t allow fluff and repetition, how do we get writers to deliver a higher word count, while still being helpful?
“It’s a simple question – what is there to write about?”
When we tell friends about our work, we often give them examples of topics that we publish. With some types of topics, the response tends to be –
I can answer that in a sentence.
At which point, the person will usually do just that.
Here are a few examples –
- Why do astronauts wear spacesuits? (Answer: Because space is cold and void of oxygen)
- Do great white sharks lay eggs? (Answer: No, they give birth to live pups)
- How often to change violin strings? (Answer: About once a year)
Their next question is: How do you get someone to write 1500 words on that?
Let’s see how we expand on these, while avoiding fluff and repetition.
Keeping user intent in mind
The first thing that we tell our writers is to keep their readers in mind. Since our model relies on Google traffic, they need to assume that the person reading just Googled that question and reached the page.
Who is that person? Why are they Googling these questions? Do they need practical advice, or are they just curious about something?
A person asking how often to change violin strings is likely to be someone who owns a violin yet isn’t an expert on the topic. Or they could be someone who is looking to buy a used violin and wondering whether they would need to change the strings as soon as they get it. They are in need of practical advice, possibly about violin maintenance or maybe about buying a violin.
On the other hand, a person asking about shark breeding is not about to breed great white sharks at home. They are probably just curious.
Structuring an outline
Based on your understanding of user intent, the next step is to create a preliminary outline.
I do that for myself when I write posts here on Yeys. I expect a professional freelance writer to be able to do that as well.
For our regular freelance writers, we also provide some training about how to structure the outline, and what aspects of the questions to look at. To some extent, it’s a bit like the journalist’s 5 W’s, the 5 aspects they need to cover when reporting an event –
With our types of posts, it’s usually not the 5 W’s per se. Instead, it’s a more general instruction to consider all angles of the answer. Going deep and researching variants, alternatives, common practices, etc.
Keep in mind that we do not research the topic in depth. Sometimes I have a general idea of what I want a topic to cover, in which case I’ll add that in the task description. Other times, we just ask writers to research and bring us a thorough answer that covers all angles.
For example, writing about the frequency of changing the violin strings, we expect a writer to write about
- Violin strings, what they are and why they matter.
- How to tell if they need changing (does the sound change?)
- How to go about changing violin strings (is there an order to changing the strings?)
- Should you change the strings yourself?
- If so, what tools would be required?
- How much would it cost to get a professional to change the strings in your violin?
What else can this user find helpful
Once the topic has been covered from all angles, if the word count range hasn’t been met yet, we look for those additional questions that are on the reader’s mind.
Again, we go back to user intent.
Our non-expert violin owner who’s wondering about changing the strings – what else is on their mind? They may not be familiar with other issues pertaining to violin maintenance. Maybe they are also wondering about how often to change the violin’s bow hair?
A good place to find additional queries, and also to make sure you cover all angles of a topic is Google. Simply enter your query and look at the “People Also Ask” section. Click on the queries that are relevant, and that brings up even more additional questions –
Go deeper – not sideways
This one is important. Whether writing based on your own understanding of the topic or using Google for additional question ideas, make sure to stay on topic.
For example, if writing about violin strings, there’s no point in covering “how often to change cello strings”. Think about your reader. They own a violin. It’s very unlikely that they also own a cello. A section about cello strings will likely drive them away at that point. And you’re looking to keep them on the page, reading and engaged.
This is something we train writers about as well. We’ve found that many of them thought that it’s ok to add just about any information that they know about the topic. For example, if the question was about whether sharks lay eggs, a writer would also include a section about what sharks eat and how long they live. While you could argue that in this case, the user intent is to learn all they can about sharks, there are two problems with this –
- Writers found it easier to write about the additional questions, making the discussion of the original topic too short.
- With a large site, we would have full articles about the additional topics (e.g. shark nutrition or life expectancy as separate articles).
Which brings me to my next point.
Try not to cannibalize other posts
If we have a post about “How much does it cost to change the strings on your violin”, then discussing that particular question in-depth within another post would be a problem. Basically, we worry about confusing Google, and having the two posts compete against one another.
There’s a balance to strike here. We do think that the reader might be interested in the cost, so it’s good to cover that as part of the discussion. Ideally, the way to do that is to provide a paragraph about the cost with a price range, followed by “read more about the cost of the procedure here”.
If you’re writing for your own site, chances are you’re very familiar with existing articles, so linking like that shouldn’t be an issue. However, when outsourcing, it’s something we try to mention in the task description itself. We would add something along the lines of “look for related posts in the blog and make sure to link to them where appropriate rather than repeat them”.
What if you can write more?
Let’s say you’re a shark expert, and like Ocean Ramsey, you dive with Great Whites every day and personally know a pregnant Great White shark.
When asked whether these sharks lay eggs, you have so much to say, you could write a book about the topic. You could easily write 5,000 words on the specific topic.
But should you?
Again, consider your readers. Do they really want to know that much?
That also goes for your personal experiences. Sometimes these can be helpful, especially if you know how to work them into the post in a way that engages your reader. Other times, you’re just adding text that is neither helpful nor interesting. You’re likely to lose your reader fast if you do that.
Going beyond words
Last, but not least, the length of a post isn’t measured just by the number of words. Other elements also count towards the overall amount of time your user spends on the page. Here are some ideas for elements you can work into a post that can make it longer, without adding more words –
- Embedded videos
- A table of contents
- Informational charts and tables
- Quizzes and surveys
- Product suggestions
These are just some ideas. Depending on your niche, you may have additional options.
I hope you found this post helpful! I’m so glad I managed to find the time to write it. When I said I was going to stop the monthly reports, I also mentioned that I was hoping to write more here on Yeys. I’m so glad I managed to do that! It wasn’t easy, as we’re pushing on with our web publishing business, shooting for posting close to 400 posts this month!
As always, please leave me a comment to let me know what you think. Any questions or feedback are welcome. If you can share your own tips for controlling the length of a post and meeting the word count, I’d love to hear them too!