Does Blog Post Length Matter to Readers? Think Duration Neglect

Opinions have always differed on the optimal size for a blog post. Having composed blog posts (as both a Say It For You ghost writer and under my own name) numbering well into the tens of thousands, I’m still finding it difficult to fix on any rule other than “It depends!”. I think maybe Albert Einstein said it best: “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

A chapter in Chip and Dan Heath’s book The Power of Moments gave me a different perspective on that old long-short question. Research has found, the authors note, that “when people assess an experience, they tend to forget or ignore its length.” This phenomenon is called ‘duration neglect”. People tend to rate an experience based on two key factors:

  • the best or worst moment (“the peak”)
  • the ending

In business blog writing, Dave Taylor explains (and as we content writers in Indianapolis know), there are no editors, layout people, or government regulators to dictate the length of any marketing blog post. As a corporate blogging trainer, I felt my own approach to the subject was vindicated when Taylor cited a common piece of editorial advice about how long a book or article should be: “Write just enough to cover the material at the appropriate level of detail, then stop.” That dovetails nicely with the advice I offer when offering business blogging assistance.

The Heaths’ concept of the “peak”-and-ending, I realized, suggests a whole new way to come at the long-short question. A business blog post should be designed to elicit an “Aha!” response, that “peak” moment when readers find the advice or the offer of a product or service which seems to be the exact right thing for them. (Of course, in blogging, that realization had better happen sooner rather than later, or searchers will click away from the page!)

A big part of successful blog content writing involves getting the ”pow opening line” right. To sustain the “pow!” effect, present a question, a problem, a startling statistic, or a gutsy challenging statement. “Pow” endings, then, tie back to the openers, bringing the post full-circle.

Readers who’ve made their way to the end of a business blog post are going to remember only two things: the best moment and the ending. If they’ve had a positive experience, how long or short the post has been will have lost importance – all due to the duration neglect effect.


Stretching a Business Blog Just So Far

Lasting just over an hour, Dumbo is Disney’s shortest feature-length movie, Stacy Conradt writes in Mental Floss magazine. When Walt Disney was advised to extend the storyline, here’s what he said: “You can stretch a story just so far and after that it won’t hold together.” Interesting – the newest Dumbo movie, just released this yet, is an hour and 52 minutes long, and the story “stretches” beyond the original tale…

In blogging for business, just how far can you “stretch the story” and still have the content “hold together”? The Nielsen Norman Group examines that precise question in “Long vs. Short Articles as Content Strategy”. Jakob Nielsen explores the question in terms of cost/benefit ratios. Cost relates to the amount of time it takes to read an article, while benefits represent the value users stand to get from the online information.

One conclusion is clear, the author says: people prefer to read short articles – people tend to be ruthless in abandoning long-winded sites; they mainly want to skim highlights. But, when the assumptions change, Nielson explains, that changes the metrics. Readers who want to know everything about a problem will find value in longer, more detailed articles. Still, most of the time, short articles contain more value per word. Want many readers? Focus on short, scannable content. Want readers who really need targeted solutions to complicated problems? Focus on comprehensive coverage. The very best content strategy, Nielson concludes, is one that mirrors users’ mixed diet.

Whether it’s a Dumbo film of business blog content writing, it’s all about the value you bring to your target audience. “This is why it’s so important,” Nielson stresses, “to optimize your content strategy for your users’ needs.