(3 minutes to read)
Let me start out by saying I was wrong—I’ve been wrong about things before.
The new research coming out from Buffer.com on this post shows that we may be writing blog posts that aren’t quite long enough:
The Ideal Length of Everything Online, Backed by Research
Some of the research here won’t be as useful to some of you (like the ideal length for a Google+ post and the ideal length for a Facebook post) but there are some real gems. Here were my three favorites:
1. “The ideal length for the blog post is 7 minutes, 1,600 words.”
There has been general consensus online for some time that short posts, around 500 words, were a good target length. This new research suggests that people want more than just 500 words. Data shows that you have up to 7 minutes before you lose readers, but there is a caveat: If you use pictures on your post—another suggested best practice—then you can have shorter posts, around 1,000 words.
In summary, my recommendation to lawyers wanting to become bloggers used to be that generally 500 words and an image or two were ideal; The new recommendation is 1,600 words. If you have images, then you can shorten this to 1,000 words. Shorter posts are still OK, but the research shows that if we take the time to write posts that are longer than 500 words, people will keep reading.
2. Ideal Headlines: Only Six Words Long (See what I did there?)
I have been saying for years that lawyers are generally terrible at writing headlines, but this data gives me some very simple advice to them, “Say it in six words, or don’t say it at all.” Short headlines are powerful. This is not a hard-fast rule, but because statistically, six-word headlines are more read, unless you have a compelling reason to write a longer headline, use a shorter one.
3. The ideal length of an email subject line is 28-39 characters.
This was the one data point that isn’t very helpful: Turns out the length of a subject line is not really that important.
The substance, however, is extremely important.
A few days ago I was hired to help a big-time attorney to re-work his LinkedIn bio. After reading through his entire resume, online bio, and LinkedIn bio I was blown away—This was a very impressive litigator. I then asked him, “How can you give me that same positive impression in the first three sentences?”
He argued that anybody looking to hire a lawyer would spend ten minutes to read his entire bio. I disagree. Online, you only get those 10 minutes of attention if you convince someone it’s worth their time to keep reading or to open the e-mail in the first place. The subject lines on emails should be thought of the same way. Ask the question: Would I open an email that came to me with this subject line?
The length here isn’t nearly as important as a timely call to action or a subject line convincing the recipient that this is information they need to know.
Conclusion: The whole point is to create quality content, but what good is quality content if nobody reads it? Your headlines, subject lines, and the length of your posts are all factors that help decide whether or not anybody will ever read any further. Think of it as the cover of a book or the wrapping paper on a present. Whether we like it or not, the outward appearance significantly affects our opinion of the substance of the article.