“When you are courting a nice girl an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder a second seems like an hour. That’s relativity.”
― Albert Einstein
Thinking about word count? It’s about time.
What’s the optimum word count for written content? It’s relative. Yes, studies have shown that there does seem to be a magic number for the most engaging articles. The sweet spot is somewhere between 600 – 800 words. This may be coincidental to the fact that most content doesn’t need more than about 800 words to be both concise and informative at the same time. That said, articles north of 1,000 words are known to gain higher rankings, as well as more customer interaction and more shares.
To that end, it’s remarkable how slavish many people are to word count. They pad the article with overly verbose language looking to please the search engines, much like a college student trying to fulfill a term paper requirement. Or they skim over critical material in order to cram the article into fewer words thinking that it will be easier to digest.
Word count is not a master to serve
Interest is. Producing content solely based on its length misses the point of whether or not the topic and its presentation are compelling. When we’re talking about article length or word count, we’re talking about time, or the perception of it. We’re talking about how long it takes someone to consume a piece, and how they will feel about the time it takes. Do not assume that shorter is better. Do not presume to know how your reader feels about the time they spend reading. Some will find any reading to be a burden, others will find it to be a joy. Therefore, focus on illuminating the subject in a relatable way as concisely as possible.
My background is in the theatre. I hold a bachelor’s degree from a conservatory program. One lesson that was drilled into me was that when a show is perceived as “running too long” it simply means it’s boring. Shortening the show is not the answer. Making it more compelling is. In fact, when a comedy is considered boring, it’s often because the actors are rushing through the jokes and not giving the audience time to react. When the cast takes its time to let the gags land, the audience laughs more and the time passes more quickly, but the show actually runs longer! By the same token, when written content contains compelling information and more of it, the reader is usually unaware of how long it takes to read it.
optimum can depend on your audience
Another factor that can effect engagement is writing for too specific an audience. When you create content for a narrow band of people, say medical or technology experts, you will necessarily alienate those who are less knowledgable on the topic. It’s a common mistake in thought leadership pieces to overuse high-context language in the interest of brevity assuming the reader is familiar with the subject.
The point of thought leadership is to demonstrate your knowledge and/or to bring people to your way of thinking. Thought leadership articles often go overboard in the attempt. Valuable information might be left out because “We don’t want to talk down to the experts,” or too much technical detail is given in order to prove the author’s expertise.
A balance has been struck when the neophyte is educated and the expert is intrigued. That’s the optimum word count.