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Ideal article length: a cost versus benefit perspective

Alex Christie

22 April 2010

As ranking competition increases, many SEO content providers are opting to create increasingly longer landing and support pages. Yet as I often like to point out, who would choose to read a 2500-word article about something as obvious as finding a secretarial job in London?

Online readers are fickle readers, and with user behavior playing an increasing role in determining a site’s ranking potential, search engine marketers would do well to prioritise the user’s experience when generating content.

Get the message across, then move on

Whether your readers are businesses or consumers, a basic cost versus benefit consideration informs how far both groups are willing to read. This applies for most online content pieces, whether you are writing press releases, white papers or onsite content:

Business-to-business (B2B) content

The reader will only read as far as it takes to find out how to gain the benefit – generally a cost or time saving. If the value proposition and benefits are not apparent and logically structured they’ll move on.

Business-to-customer (B2C) content

For the consumer, the benefit may have a monetary value – a discount, bonus or a cash-back. The Net offers the most cost effective and measurable opportunities for hunting down new business, yet getting to the point is critical. Your competitors are only a SERP click away.

Where ‘short’ is not an option, adhere to best practice for web writing and keep your content as accessible as possible. Long slabs of un-bulleted text are intimidating and don’t aid scanners in extracting the gist of the article. Bear in mind that too many bullets can be detrimental to a page’s ranking potential, so complement bulleted lists with shorter paragraphs, appropriate bolding and indentation.

For example:

This is Benefit 1 – It cooks, cleans and waters the garden while you’re at work

This is Benefit 2 – It also does your laundry and looks after your pets.

Focus on selling

SEO copywriting is a function of selling. It is therefore critical to make the reader experience – the journey to the benefit – as swift and effortless as possible. Where there is confusion, there is no sale. Remain focused and cover individual subjects adequately; don’t introduce too many sales arguments into a single piece of copy as this only defers the purchase decision.

Create a content climate in which an informed buying decision can be made.

Where the reader can gain a maximum of 5 possible benefits from reading a website page, a 300 word piece will outperform a 500-word article under just about all circumstances.

Don’t hide the benefits under reams of fluff

As a rule of thumb, simpler products can be sold using shorter articles – the more complex a solution, the stronger the case for writing longer articles. Yet even where complex solutions are being promoted, the sales objective is served by content that:

  • Gets to the point
  • Communicates benefits – not features
  • Doesn’t get side-tracked
  • Makes a logically structured argument.

Expect more on this topic soon.

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