The world is full of content, and more is being added every single minute of every single day. It’s a torrent of information that the search engines have to deal with, but luckily for us, most of it is terrible and is now being ignored due to some recent search engine updates.
The day of the 600-word article is over. There was a time when people would sit down to “write 600-words on…” and name any subject. It could be engineering, safety, technical defence specifications. It didn’t matter, the mantra just stated that the article, when complete, should be about 600 words.
The origin of this method of writing is probably from magazine and newspaper days when a writer was often asked to write a certain number of words on a subject. Then, at some point in the hazy days of the beginnings of Google, someone suggested around 500-600 words was the ideal blog and article length. The thing is, there’s no science to back this up. No search engine has ever said “this is an ideal article length” and why would they? It’s nonsense.
And yet the web is full of articles that are around this length. And the problem with them is, they don’t answer the questions asked of them. Google is currently tackling this problem with a range of algorithm changes, and we need to be ready.
So what’s the ideal length?
The ideal length of an article is easy to quantify. It’s simply whatever it takes to answer the question being asked. For example, if someone wants to know how to re-wire the HUD on an F-4 Phantom, that’s going to take some explaining. If, however, someone wants to know how to light a barbeque, a few lines will suffice.
Trying to cram everything you need to know about a complex subject into a few hundred words will leave the content lacking. Likewise, attempting to expand something simple so it goes beyond what can reasonably be expected, will likely make for a very poor read indeed.
But, of course, there’s more to a good article than length. What about the content? Google is rapidly indexing terabytes of content and over time it is absorbing a lot of information. This information can be semantically linked together, so it understands synonyms and antonyms and other grammatical forms.
Ask Google a question and you’re likely to get an answer. It’s probably a stretch to say “it’s learning”, but with all that data at the disposal of some brilliant people and advanced algorithms, it’s not far off. So where does that put our 600-word articles now, then?
How to craft content from now on
It’s fair to say that words just aren’t going to cut it on their own. We live in a multimedia age where we expect images, animations and video alongside our text. People want in-depth information, articles that explain things fully without leaving anything out. Diagrams and videos to help drive points home and maybe audio versions to listen to on the train.
We can’t just be writers anymore, we need to be content creators and the content we create should be engaging, entertaining and informative. Importantly, it needs to be targeted squarely at people.
We can now write freely with the knowledge that, even if they’re not perfect at it, Google and the other search engines can understand the subject of our content enough, without being spoon fed. It doesn’t need to have the keywords repeated throughout to rank you for it. Put simply, if your article is the best at describing a particular subject, they will know this and they will rank you accordingly.
So here is a list of things to do to ensure your content stands out.
Research the competition
If you’re going to be discussing a particular subject, find out who has already done it. Find the blogs that answer the same questions and note the best of them. These are your targets, and you need to make sure your final article is better than these.
If they use images, make yours better. If they use video, make yours clearer. Find what’s wrong with theirs, and fix it for yours.
The use of video, animations and slideshows is growing, and it’s now almost expected. They have two primary benefits. The first is that it can make your article much easier to understand. Even highly technical subjects should be clearly explained. People are usually very time-poor, so if you can make a concept easier to absorb through diagrams, then do it.
Need a video? Create one, make it a good one and make it clear. If you can’t create one, hire someone to make it for you. A good video can make a subject leap out at the viewer.
The second benefit of multimedia is that it can be hosted on various platforms that are geared towards sharing. For example, an article can include a slideshow hosted on Slideshare, a video hosted on YouTube and an infographic hosted on Pinterest. Each of these platforms is a social network in its own right. If you then share them across those platforms, you’re increasing the likelihood that people will be attracted towards your principal article and there’s a greater chance they’ll re-share the content.
Don’t be afraid to be technical
If you have a technical audience, then play to them. Explain everything, but don’t “dumb down”. A lot of people will tell you that your content should read well for twelve to fifteen-year-olds, that being the age range some red-top newspapers target. If your customers aren’t that type, don’t oversimplify.
Take as long as you need
As alluded to at the beginning of this article, the length of your content should depend on the subject matter. If you can explain a fundamental concept fully within 200 words, then just do that. Don’t feel you have to expand it out to fill a quota.
Likewise, if you believe it will take 3000 words to explain it, then so be it. If it’s interesting enough and it answers the problem at hand, then people will read it.