All to often I’m asked the simple question.
How many words should I write?
I guess I buried the lede with the title on that one, eh?
Well, actually I didn’t. Because 350 words isn’t always correct. If you want a quotable snippet,
Your post should be the minimal amount of words it takes to convey the message you are trying to convey, period.
While that’s an accurate response it’s very hard for people to digest. People want numbers. That’s where the 350 comes from – it’s the minimal amount of words Google is said to want in a post.
But… my response to your question isn’t going to be a number. Instead, I’m going to ask you a series of questions. You should formulate the answers to these before you write your first word.
Your website and every single one of your posts and pages should be in answer to these questions. They (your answers) are going to be your guiding light, illuminating your path.
What are these questions?
Glad you asked. I ask people similar questions before I build their website.
They are the 5 Ws (and of course the H)
- WHO: Describe who the target audience of this site is you want to attract. Is this post written for them?
- WHAT: What type of content is this? It could be text laden, a video, a podcast, a bunch of pictures, or even just a infographic. The question goes back to the Who – is the type of content you are providing the kind that your target audience wants/relates to?
- WHERE: Where are they receiving this info? Is it a mobile device? Is your site Mobile Responsive? Mobile is so very important these days. Is your video going to show all the details you want them to see if it’s on a mobile phone? What about your images? If it’s a market data report I can pretty much guarantee you can’t see the details on a mobile phone.
- WHEN: Posts are timely. Writing about upcoming open houses and “What to do this weekend in Sunny Acres” shouldn’t be posted on Monday just because you have the time, right? Closer to the weekend means that content is going to be more relevant. In writing posts we’re competing for attention. Time of the day matters. Go back to your target audience – are they more open to getting this information first thing in the morning? A busy Mom trying to get 4 kids dressed and ready for school sure isn’t going to be free, while the bored commuter who has a 45 minute commute certainly is looking for something worthwhile.
- WHY: It sounds simple but why should they read your post, why did you write it? Is there a call to action you want them to take? Not that all posts need a call to action. Some posts are written to inform and build trust. If the why isn’t clear to you, why would it be clear to them? (see what I did there 😉 )
- HOW: Delivery / Discovery of your message is not just a matter of hoping people find it. How do you plan to have people find your message?
- Is it via Google? Let’s call that SEO. So you are hoping people type a few keywords into Google and your post comes up. If that’s the case you should have a well defined keyword strategy and write regularly using those keywords properly. Of course you don’t want to copy and paste from some blogging service as Google knows that 1,728 other people have this same article on their site too. There’s ZERO SEO value in those types of blog posts.
- Is it via Social Media? That’s great. You’ll want to make sure you use compelling images that are likely to be shared. Puppies are always a good bet. Speaking of which…
Make sure you are also taking advantage of your post meta description. While Google ignores this as an SEO factor they and FB use it as the little text that shows below the title. If you don’t set a specific meta description they’ll use the first x amount of words in your post and I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that those words aren’t very compelling for a click through.
Instead, your Meta Description could have keywords but also could encourage people to click through. We’re not talking about clickbait here – but the idea is similar. My meta desc for this post looks like this:
Here’s what that meta description is going to look like in a Facebook Post:
- Is it via Newsletter? Known also as mailing lists or what Seth would call “Permission Based Marketing” – your newsletter could deliver your content to them right where they want it – their inbox! I’m a big fan of newsletters. Mine goes out on Wednesdays, I hope you are on it. The newsletter arrives in their inbox and gives them a taste of what they might be looking for. If you are interested in the topic, click through and read the whole post. If you are not, no big – skip to the next email.
In the interest of clarity or transparency I’ll turn it around and let you know my answers.
WHO: I wrote this post for my future client but I also wrote this post for that next client I don’t want to work with. What? Yeah, I figure if someone wants to hire me to build a site with great SEO but thinks it’s just a switch I can turn on and doesn’t want or plan to write anything original on their own, we’re both heading for failure and I really don’t want them as my client.
WHAT: This post is mostly text with a few images sprinkled in. I might augment it with a video or audiofile down the road. I broke it up with plenty of white space and color so your eyes don’t get bored. I bold the links so you’ll click on them. While text takes me the longest to create, I have found it also the easiest for you to skim, errrrr read.
WHERE: Most all of my analytics show mobile as being the overwhelming majority of my visitors. For that reason the site is mobile responsive, and of course HTTPS but I also have made sure the pictures are resized to reduce load times and placed full size in the center of the content. That’s important when it comes to mobile because you never know what a left justified picture is going to cut off.
The WHEN and HOW: are somewhat connected here. I’ll publish this Tuesday Morning, distribute to Social Media right afterwards, with the newsletter going out on Wednesday at noon. I have a properly built site map so as soon as it’s published I’ll also ping Google (automatically) to come index the site.
So yes, I’m working on all cylinders here. I’m going after traffic that knows me as well as traffic that hasn’t met me yet. That’s right for me but everyone is different.
Did you know the worst day for newsletters is Monday while the best is Tuesday or Wednesday? Once again, know your audience. YMMV
WHY: I write for a couple of reasons.
- One. I want to inform my current clients. The better informed they are the better performance they’ll achieve and the more apt they are to refer me to others.
- Two. I want my next client to think I’m knowledgeable and smart (hey look, I actually spelled that right)
- Three. This is my library. I get asked this particular question a lot. Instead of writing this same response 101 times I want to be able to say, “Here’s a great article I wrote a while back“.
So… now that you understand all of that and have those answers floating in your head –
How many words should you be writing?
Ready for a properly built website? <= That’s my Call To Action!
He's an avid hockey fan, rides a mountain bike, sometimes rides a road bike, has a few motorcycles (he had a really fast one, bought a cool orange one, rode a really slow one, and wants a really small one). If that isn't enough, he makes cheese and sourdough bread, loves strong beer and good red wine, and poorly plays the Mandolin.