stevemedcroft.com
24Sep/180

Who decided blog posts have to be 500 words?

I have been freelance copywriting professionally for a couple of years now. When I write for the web for clients, I am often asked to keep my word count to 500. It’s so common a requirement I always assumed it was a hard-and-fast rule, born of incredible wisdom, marketers law that should never, never be violated. Sticking to this word-count limit is one of the greatest struggles I have with copywriting though.

When I sit down for a writing session, focus on putting an idea down into a Google or Scrivener doc, a thousand words come out before I can take a breath to see how whatever I’m writing is turning out. A good writing session on one topic may yield 1,500, 2,200 words or more. I start out my copywriting assignments this way - throwing down any and all thoughts, ideas, client quotes, and gathered research on the assigned subject. Cutting that natural flow back to 500 words takes time, three or four passes at least. The trimming is what stretches copywriting assignments from two-hour missions to six-hour slogs.

500 words is soooo brief? It’s a shackle of a word count. To get there, I have to suck back what I want to say. I have to buzz-cut paragraphs to make my point under the limit. I have to sacrifice one or more of my precious children so my whole family will fit neatly inside someone else’s idea that a family car should have only three-seat and headroom for little people.

The 500-word blog post recommendation is a fabrication

So why? Why am I being held to this punitive word count in a world where so many amazing words exist?

Google this question and the 500-words recommendation pops up over all kinds of web pages designed to tell YOU how you *should* optimize your web content. So search engines prefer it over longer pages. Because your audience won’t stick around for longer articles than that. So your point gets across with brevity.

I found this on an affiliate marketing website - “Many bloggers prefer to stick to short articles, generally between 500 and 750 words… According to Forbes.com, 200 words is the ideal length for a blog post because it keeps the reader’s attention, doesn’t leave room for fluff, and creates a quick and effective call to action (CTA).” This is a common theme among websites heavily focused on product listings and sales. Content whose purpose is to move a product.

The writer then goes on to immediately contradict themselves, citing the benefits of posting longer pieces. “...longer posts allow you more space and freedom to work keywords into your content alongside your overall message and a CTA. Forbes has the data to support the case for longer content too. Citing results from a serpIQ study, the top 10 results on Google all have a minimum of at least 2,000 words.” The same article then cites research on the site Medium.com that suggests 1,300 words (about seven minutes of reading time). This was common best practices on websites focused on quality and depth of content. Content intended to inform, educate, and inspire.

My 500-word assignments are coming from product-focused websites. Brands with a product mission. So it makes sense that they’re taking the advice that the online marketing world has to offer. And it makes sense that when I want to write something where I take a bit of time and complete a full thought, it lengthens naturally into something that lines up with what readers prefer.

So...

I’m just going to do what I want (unless someone is paying me)

The 500-word recommendation having a purely commercial origin makes sense. Websites designed to sell product need focused, shorter articles because the research span of someone looking for a product online is short. Understanding that it’s not just an arbitrary number helps me when I’m taking on these copywriting assignments. It gives me focus, a specific word target to hit, It challenges me to get lean with the words, to get right at the point when I’m writing the setup (where I usually like to take time to build up the product story that’s about to follow).

When I’m writing specialty content, the audience expects me to take more time, go further in depth, and let the writing tell whatever the story is your trying to convey. Which is a license to write in my more natural rhythm.

Okay, frustration is gone, I’ve worked out my resentment to the arbitrary 500-word blog-article recommendation. I can embrace it now. Can you?

PS: This article is almost 800 words.

Comments (0) Trackbacks (0)

No comments yet.


Leave a comment

Trackbacks are disabled.