One more reader question, then it’ll be back to the regularly-scheduled rambling in this Sunday slot: unless, of course, anyone has any other burning blogging issues they’d like me to talk about, in which case, ask away – I love getting questions, mostly because they save me the trouble of actually having to come up with my own topics. I’m lazy like that. Anyway, on with the show! Kat asked:
I’m quite interested in the editing process – what is yours for instance? Besides getting readers, what are some other viable options so what you post doesn’t sound awkward or is too long (do you have a word limit for posts?).
Ok, so first of all I’d just like to say how immensely flattered I am to think there’s someone in the world who thinks there’s even the slightest possibility that I might have a word limit for my posts, because, oh honey, no. I actually worry about this from time to time, because whenever I read other people’s blog advice, it always seems to include the line “KEEP IT SHORT”, plus something about how people don’t read long content on the internet, because they just want to see pictures of cats, or whatever.
I read these posts, then I read the comments on them, which invariably all say something like, “OMG, YES! Long posts are the WORST! I HATE long posts! People need to learn to edit!” and then I get all paranoid, and think they’re talking about me, because yes, I am THAT important, obviously. (OK, no I’m not: I’m just that paranoid. I can guarantee that if I follow you on Twitter, and if you’ve ever posted a passive-aggressive tweet about something, I’ll have assumed it was directed at me, and now I think you hate me. Once I’ve finished writing this post, I’m going to go and add “stop being so paranoid, woman,” to my ‘To Do’ list…)
The thing is, on the face of it, “people don’t read long content on the internet” makes a lot of sense, especially these days, when a lot of people are browsing on their phones or whatever, and just don’t have the time or patience to read a 5,000 word essay on Why Amber Likes Those Shoes. In theory, long content just shouldn’t work, and on some sites it doesn’t. I don’t ACTUALLY write 5,000 word posts about shoes, for instance, because not even I can find THAT much to say about them, and I very much doubt people would want to read them, either. On a site like ShoeperWoman, for instance, people really are mostly there for the pictures: they want to buy shoes, not read a college essay about them.
So, as I say, in theory, long content doesn’t work. In practice, however, it DOES. (Or rather, it CAN: I should really caveat this entire post by saying that I’m speaking purely from personal experience here, as always: I don’t think there are any hard and fast “rules” about this.) My longest posts, for instance, are also some of my most popular: in fact, I don’t think there are any really short posts which would make it into my Top Ten, either in terms of number of views, or number of comments. I’m sure there are some people who hate them, of course, and who either skim over them or avoid them entirely, but for the most part, I find that long posts do pretty well – not only do people read them, they also tend to leave long, thoughtful comments on them, which I think is the greatest compliment a blogger can get.
The success of those longer posts isn’t necessarily co-related to the word length, I hasten to add: I mean, it’s not like there’s a formula whereby X number of words = instant success. But if I’ve written a really lengthy post, it’s because I had a lot to say about the topic, and if I had a lot to say about the topic, it’s because I feel strongly about the topic, and I think that when you feel strongly about a topic, that comes across in the writing, and people respond to it. In the case of advice posts, meanwhile, it would often be hard to do them justice in just a few sentences: I know I hate it when I click on a post title that sounds promising, and instead of the in-depth advice I was hoping for, I get two short paragraphs which just gloss over the subject without telling me anything I couldn’t get in a few seconds from Google.
So, that’s the personal perspective: I’ve also read quite a few articles lately suggesting that search engines like Google also favour long content. I’m no expert on this, obviously (Only Google itself knows how Google works, and the first rule of Google is that you don’t talk about Google. Or something.), but again, it would make sense that the longer a post is, the more content there is for Google to index and the greater the chances of that content including key words that people might be searching for. When someone types a search query into Google, Google attempts to find the most helpful answer, and a longer post is often (although not always) more likely to fit the bill.
That doesn’t, of course, mean that you should force yourself to ramble on endlessly just to hit some target word-count, because you’re writing for people, not just for search engines, so here are a few editing tips I use to at least TRY to make my posts a bit more readable…
01. Wait before you edit
Just as it’s hard to proofread your own writing, it’s also hard to edit it: YOU know what you MEANT to say, so your post will make perfect sense to you, especially if you’ve just finished writing it, and the ideas you were trying to convey are still fresh in your mind. Most bloggers can’t afford to pay professional editors, and family and friends will get tired of playing editor pretty quickly, so the next best thing is to leave some time between writing your post and editing it, so you can come to it with reasonably fresh eyes.
02. Preview the post on the blog
I’m not familiar with other blog software, but with WordPress, you write your posts in a text editor, and there’s also a “preview” option which allows you to see what the post will look like when it’s published. Always, always preview your post before publishing it: it can look quite different in the preview than in the text editor, and any mistakes will be more apparent, too.
03. Use short paragraphs
People may be willing to read long posts, but they don’t normally like to read long paragraphs: long blocks of text are difficult to read online, so I tend to use shorter paragraphs on my blog than I would in other kinds of writing: they’re easier on the eye, and make people more likely to read to the end.
04. Consider font and formatting
Again, if your post is long, is particularly important to make it easy on the eye. I DO read long posts, but if it’s one giant block of text, in a tiny font, and a pale colour (pale grey seems to popular for some reason…), and centred (OMG, WHY?!), I’ll hit the ‘back’ button rather than risk eye strain. Use clear, legible fonts, and for the love of God, enough with the centred text, people!
05. Use images to break up text
Like it or not, the internet is a highly visual medium, and gone are the days when you could just empty your brain onto Livejournal, and trust people to read it. Even if your blog isn’t image-based, if your posts are long, it can be helpful to break them up with images, which will minimise the “wall o’ text” effect and make the post more visually appealing.
06. Use headings and sub-headings
As with the images, these help break up the text, and also make it easier for skim-readers to go directly to the part of the post they’re most interested in.
07. Tailor your post structure to your readers
Although I personally don’t think long posts are as generally hated as people think they are, it’s certainly true that some readers dislike them, and won’t want to read them. I know that the people who visit my blog primarily for the outfit posts, for instance, are mostly interested in the photos, so when I’m putting together an outfit post, I normally put the images first, then the text: that means that those who are just there for the outfit can see the images without having to scroll through a ton of text, and I’m then free to ramble as much as I like without annoying those people. (It also helps to be consistent here: for instance, I always put the product links in the same place in my posts, so readers can go straight to that information, rather than having to search for the links within the text.) In advice posts, on the other hand, people are much more likely to read the whole post, so I’ll usually scatter the images throughout the text instead of having them all at the top.
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So, how long should your blog post be? I don’t think there’s a simple answer to that. There will always be people who don’t like long posts, just as there will always be people who prefer them, which makes me think the best thing you can do as a blogger is to simply write in the style (and to the length) that feels most natural to you, and trust your readers to skip the posts they don’t want to read. My readers, for instance, probably know by now that I tend to write long posts, so I’d imagine that most of them don’t mind that, or they’d have stopped reading by now. The ones who really object to longer content, meanwhile, will presumably have realised this blog isn’t for them, and moved onto something that’s a better fit: that’s the way of the world, and of the internet. I think one of the most important things to understand as a blogger is that you can’t please everyone: as Dita Von Teese famously said, “You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be someone who hates peaches.”
If you read to the end of this post, you’re the living proof that yes, people DO read long content on the internet: you’re also one of my favourite people ever, so thank you for that. And as always, if you have any tips to share, I’d love to hear them!