One of the first questions of those who start blogs is often “How long should my blog post be?”

There’s varying advice out there on this matter.

Often I read posts from marketers and gurus suggesting that the ideal length for a blog post should not exceed 300 or 400 words-;in other words, it should be fairly short.

Others such as Yaro Starak, have long advocated the “pillar post”-;an authoritative and lengthy piece of content. At the time he coined that term back in 2006, lengthy was considered “more than 500 words.”

Back in the day (pre-2008) when I taught blogging to small business owners, I also advised blog posts of 500 words up to 750 words, in order to demonstrate thought leadership.

Fast forward to today. In late 2015, a lot has changed. There’s more content and so the bar has been raised.

Today, to be considered a “pillar post” content would be need to be substantially longer than 500 words. A true “pillar post” would have to be 1,000 words or more today.

But not every post needs to be a pillar post. There are other reasons to write blog posts, that don’t involve creating authoritative lengthy pieces.

So what is the answer? Long content or short content?

The answer is: no one size fits all. The ideal length of a blog post depends on your goals for your content. Let’s break it down:

Advantages of Short Content

Shorter blog posts and articles have advantages in a number of situations:

• Short content keeps attention tightly focused. Short is great if you’re using content as a “call to action.” For example, if you want readers to know about a webinar coming up in two weeks, you don’t want the basic signup details about the webinar buried in a 2,000-word tome. A 350-word post is much better. You give the “who-what-when-where-why” and then direct the reader’s attention to a registration link -- it’s short, sweet and to the point. The short format is also good for quick news updates about your business.

• Short content is easier to read on mobile devices. Smartphones, especially, with their small screens lend themselves to shorter rather than longer posts. Check your Google Analytics or other traffic data. If most of your site traffic is coming from mobile devices, you might tend toward the shorter side for a lot of your content.

• Short content tends to generate more discussion. If your goal is to get your audience conversing, shorter posts can draw people out. When faced with a very long and comprehensive article, many people may feel they have nothing to add. Or they are afraid that they haven’t read closely enough and may miss a point. So they stay quiet. A shorter post that ends with a question to draw out others’ opinions can often get people to open up.

• Short content is practical for small businesses. Sometimes you have to bow to practicality. We have businesses to run. Most of us aren’t professional writers. We don’t always have time to write lengthy pieces. If the choice is between letting your blog go dormant or writing shorter pieces, by all means you should write the short pieces.

• Occasional shorter pieces add variety. Too much of one thing is often, well, too much. Even for those who write longer pieces, mixing short and medium pieces provides much needed variety. On my site, for instance, we deliberately aim for a mix of short, medium and long pieces.

Advantages of Long Content

When it comes to longer online content, there are also advantages:

• Long content is favored by search engines. If you’d like to attract more visitors from search engines like Google, you will need some longer pieces. According to the 2015 Searchmetrics Search Ranking Factors study, the average length for pages in the top 10 search results is 1285 words. For the top 30 results the average is 1140 words. Posts in the 500-word range may have a hard time ranking, especially for competitive terms.

• Another SEO study, by RavenTools, based on information by SERPIQ says the figure needed is over 2,000 words in order to get top rankings! So if improving your search engine traffic is a goal, focus on creating longer pieces of at least 1,200 words, and some over 2,000 words.

• Long content tends to be bookmarked. Think about it. If you write an authoritative piece such as a how-to tutorial with lots of juicy detail, chances are people will bookmark and save the article for later reference. Compare that with a short and easy-to-read piece with little detail. While informative and enjoyable, such pieces are less likely to be saved. We’ve found this to be true on my own site based on 15,000+ posts. We track which articles people email to themselves or to their teams. Pieces of at least 850 words get shared via email four times more than shorter pieces. So if you are looking for return visitors and brand recognition, longer content can help.

• Long content positions you as a thought leader. If building your professional reputation through content is important, you’re going to need some longer pieces. I’m not saying short pieces aren’t valuable. But in order to convey enough to position yourself as a thought leader, you simply have to write enough about the subject to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise. That’s hard (although not impossible) to do in a 300 word post. It’s easier to do in a 1,000 word or 2,000 word post.

• Long content in the form of transcripts is crucial. If you create podcasts, slideshows or videos as content, you are going to get the biggest bang for your buck by publishing a text version, (i.e., a transcription or summary), along with it. That’s because search engines really need text for their index rankings. And people may not want to take the time to listen to a 20-minute podcast or go all the way through 40 slides in a slideshow. Or they may not be in a place where they can watch a 6-minute video. But if they can scan the written transcript, they often get what they need more efficiently. So it’s best practice to include a transcript of such content in your post.

Here are some easy ways to get transcripts. If you load slides at Slideshare.net, it automatically extracts the text from PDFs, PowerPoints and most other documents. YouTube transcribes videos, although the transcriptions are often poor quality because they are machine generated. A better bet is to pay to have a human transcription of a video or audio podcast done. We use Rev.com and get transcripts starting at $1.00 per minute. So a transcript for that 6-minute video costs less than $10.00.

Social Sharing

Finally I’d like to offer a comment about social sharing and content length. Some people claim that shorter content gets shared via social media more frequently than longer content. Others claim that medium to longer content gets shared most. We haven’t noticed any definable difference on my sites.

My unscientific opinion is that most people share publicly based on whether the post title seems interesting and clickable. So if I had one final piece of advice based on writing online content for nearly 13 years, it would be to pay close attention to crafting your headlines. Whether your content is short, medium or long, you still want to get people to click on the headline to read it and share it. For that, a great headline is crucial.