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Why Length Matters in Online Content

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The well-worn phrase “Size Doesn’t Matter” has no place in the digital marketer’s toolbox. Size, I’m slightly saddened to report, is everything. Get it wrong and your content simply won’t get consumed. Get it right and you could give your content a precious extra lift, boosting clicks, conversions and, ultimately, sales.

Kevan Lee at Buffer recently looked into the question of content length and reported some interesting findings that I wanted to share with you here. For instance, if you want retweets, the optimal length of your initial tweet should be 71-100 characters, well under the 120-140 that many people aim for. The evidence is compelling: tweets of under 100 characters typically attract a 17% higher engagement rate:

Tweet length

A similar phenomenon occurs on Facebook where the optimal post length is just 40 characters. This may seem slightly perverse seeing as Facebook allows posts as long as 63,206 characters, but less is most definitely more on the world’s biggest social  network. However, if 40 characters is a little too brief for your requirements, take comfort in the fact that posts with 80 characters or less typically still enjoy up to 66% higher engagement levels:

Facebook-Post-Length

Over on Google+, we learn that headlines should have fewer than 60 characters, not simply to maximise engagement levels, but also to ensure they display correctly and are given prominent billing across the network. Any longer and engagement levels tend to plummet.

The ideal length of a blog post headline is 6 words (hence today’s headline!), and the post itself should not take longer than 7 minutes to read. That allows about 1,600 words at average reading speeds. Any longer and the amount of time people will typically spend reading your content is likely to fall off sharply:

Blog post reading time

This ‘reading time’ metrics matters hugely. Not only is it a great proxy for the amount of your content people actually bother to consume, it’s also an important component for search engine ranking algorithms. The more time people spend with your content, engaging on your page, the higher your page rank will be and the greater the likelihood of your content being discovered through search. So, don’t just feel compelled to write more, focus instead on trying to maximise the quality time people will be prepared to invest in your content.

A good rule of thumb is to aim for posts that take around 3 minutes to read. Studies show these tend to attract the most views:

3 minute posts win

(source: Medium)

The ideal paragraph width is 40-55 characters. That’s on a par with many printed books and allows the reader to comfortably jump from one line to the next. But keep in mind that some responsive design templates don’t always respect the rules. Adding margins or other page constraints can help prevent line lengths expanding on large computer monitors or tablets being used in landscape format.

Email subject lines can make or break a campaign. The optimal length here is around 28 to 39 characters where open rates average at 12.2% with 4% clicking. Note though that there’s not a huge difference in engagement levels based solely on headline length, it’s far more important to write an interesting, relevant, attention-catching subject line that to rigorously comply with character length targets. Timely, useful information always wins over shouty, hard-sell, exclamation mark ridden alternatives.

If you’re making a presentation, the ideal length is around 18 minutes, if your host and the audience will allow. The organisers behind the excellent TED conferences observed this from studies of attention spans, and won’t allow any speakers to exceed this time duration.

Title tags (the clickable link part of search engine results, usually shown in blue on Google) should not exceed 55 characters, or they risk being truncated.

And finally, domain names should be around 8 characters long (we didn’t do so well there with www.wildorangemedia.com!)

The bottom line:

Most importantly of all though, don’t get hung up with trying to reach specific length targets. Great quality content is far more important. A perfectly-proportioned subject line won’t make a horrible email perform better. And shortening your Facebook post to under 40 characters won’t turn a dreary update into viral gold. However, if your content is already great, applying some of the length guidance above might just give it an extra little kick that could help it achieve the greatness it deserves.

(Read more at the original Buffer blog post)