In the online marketing sector, the buzzword just a few years back was content: how to provide the punchy, dynamic, engaging kind that would keep your audience glued to the computer and, maybe even garner your publications viral status. These days, it’s not just quality that matters; it seems that quantity, too, has a direct bearing on the likelihood of your content being read, liked and shared.
While there is no doubt that when your post (for whatever reason) is highly entertaining or informative, you can probably afford to skip a few of these standard rules, it is always helpful to have a goalpost to aim for in terms of word count. In this article, we have compiled the results of existing research on copy length for many of the most popular online platforms and apps. Although most of the research was conducted a couple of years ago, it is safe to say that much of the logic behind the statistics continues to hold true today.
Twitter: Practically all current social media researchers recommend 100 characters as the optimal Tweet length for companies seeking to increase engagement; Hootsuite shyly recommends that you “try testing Tweets that are 100 characters in length, in order to increase re-tweets.” Researchers have noted that while with Facebook, the smaller the post, the more popular, on Twitter, engagement (based on the number of re-tweets) is higher as length of copy increases. Interestingly, researchers are quick to point out that length is not the be-all, end-all when it comes to engagement; they reminded their readers that the response to Tweets depends on a wide array of factors. A new change to Twitter direct messaging means that the 140-character limit no longer applies. Therefore, research needs to be carried out regarding optimal length for B2B and B2C messaging, since the change took effect in August, 2015.
Pinterest and Instagram: Pinterest and Instagram appeal to those seeking visual content and logic would indicate that descriptions are best kept short and snappy. Re-pin rate statistics compiled in 2013 indicate that the optimum description length for Pinterest amounts to between 100 and 200 characters (a little longer than the optimum Tweet length). On Instagram it is equally important to use hashtags, which result in a higher like-to-follower ratio than posts without hashtags. Tips for effective hashtagging include avoiding spaces, and employing reciprocal-behaviours (e.g. #FollowForFollow and #LikeforLike, two of the most popular Instagram hashtags to date).
Very little (or no) research has thus far been published on optimum Vine description lengths. However, based on the little difference between Vine and Instagram videos (Instagram vids are basically longer, running between three and 15 seconds, vs Vine’s six second teasers), your best bet is probably sticking to between 100 and 200 words. Make sure to include your hashtags in your calculations. Use hashtags, despite the restrictions they may impose on your description. People viewing your videos are ultimately in it for the visual experience; they want to know a little bit about what they are about to watch, but their mindset is very different to when they log onto their favourite blog site to invest time in a tranquil read.
In addition to focusing on length per se, you should also clue up on the most re-pinnable (and pinned) words. Also, try to use vertical (rather than horizontal) images. Taller images are the most re-pinnable, since it is easier to scroll from up to down than from side-to-side.
Facebook: When it comes to retail brand wall posts for Facebook, some experts state that they should be kept between one and 40 characters. If you are using Facebook for your business then you can start aiming for a cool 40 characters asap; currently, only five per cent of all retail brand Facebook wall posts are less than 40 characters, yet the latter receive 86 per cent more engagement! Additional tricks to receiving more likes and share include asking questions on your wall posts, and ask your readers to ‘fill in the blanks’ – e.g. “To me, summer means…” Hootsuite, meanwhile, recommends trying 80-character posts, focussing strongly on increasing engagement. Use dedicated tools like SocialBro in HootSuite to assess optimal sharing times and launch your plan of attack appropriately.
Google+ Headlines: Keep your Google+ headlines to less than 60 characters or your post will be bumped to the second line. Copyblogger’s Demian Farnworth studied the issue intensively, finding that headlines must stay short and sweet to stay up top. Farnworth goes further and suggests that you follow the four ‘Us’ when writing your headline: make it Unique, Useful, Ultra-Specific and Urgent. If you are dying to include more information in your headline, don’t give into the temptation. It’s far more useful to write a killer first sentence, since readers will only be able to see the first three lines of the original post before the ‘Read more’ link pops up. Make sure your readers hit that button by engaging their interest from the word go. For inspiration, he says, go to online lists of great first lines. Make a long list of possible headlines and first sentences; don’t just post the first one that pops into your head.
YouTube descriptions: The character limit for YouTube is large (around 5,000 words); since YouTube searches are keyword-sensitive, make sure to include important keywords, so you can rank highly both in YouTube and Google search. When keywords are involved, short and sweet engagement is not what it’s all about. Do remember, however, that around 180 characters of your text will be displayed before viewers are asked to click the Show more button; therefore, you need to hook them with messages which are catchy and to the point, from the outset.
Mynders Glover notes that informational titles and descriptions are the most popular by far on YouTube, so make sure to let your audience show you are providing useful information. “Write long, detailed, keyword-rich descriptions about what viewers will learn in your video,” its writers advise, and place your destination URL at the very front of your video description, in the following format: http:/www.URL.com, so that readers will be more likely to click onto your site.
Search Engine Watch’s Brian Dean agrees that when it comes to YouTube descriptions, the longer, the better; he recommends writing “super-long video descriptions”, because YouTube and Google search “can’t watch or listen to your video (yet).” In other words, these platforms rely heavily on your description text to understand what is contained in your video. Once YouTube gleans enough information about your video, it can rank your content for your target keyword as well as helping you rank for long tail keywords too. When working on your YouTube text, just envision that you are writing a blog post.
LinkedIn: To keep your LinkedIn profile relevant, aim to create posts that are around 25 words long. Try to post every day of the week, engaging your readers with industry insights and sharing listicles. Few studies have been carried out on LinkedIn copy length as a whole, though a 2015 article published in LinkedIn states that 16-25 words is the optimal length for B2B LinkedIn updates, while 21-25 words was the ideal length for B2C LinkedIn updates. These word lengths resulted in the highest numbers of click-throughs.
Blog Posts: The ideal text count for a blog posts is 1,600 words, according to the research compiled by Medium. This number may seem arbitrary, but it’s actually related to the average total time spent by visitors to blog posts (seven minutes). To measure ideal word count, Medium measured the average number of seconds people spent on a post, comparing this to post length. They came to the conclusion that “the average total seconds rises for longer posts, peaks at seven minutes, then declines.” The average person reading a post for seven minutes would take in around 1,600 words.
Buffer Social’s Kevan Lee reminds companies that they need to conduct their own research to find out what works best for their respective organisations; Moz, for instance, found that longer posts on their blog garnered more links, and Upworthy tested Medium’s theory, finding that there was little correlation between word length and attention; types of post and the nature of the audience were far more relevant factors, they argued, in determining word count. The Medium team themselves concluded that “it’s worth writing however much you really need. Don’t feel constrained by presumed short attention spans. If you put in the effort, so will your audience”. Factors such as width (stick to 40-55 characters or eight to 10 words) were also important in so far as improving reader comprehension and creating a specific appearance (simple or complex).
Interestingly, Brandwatch may just find 1,600 too verbose; they only admit blog posts between 500-900 words in length, because “our readers are likely to want to focus on one subject at a short period of time, but short doesn’t mean less.”
Email Subject Lines: In 2012, MailChimp asserted that the word length in an email subject line has absolutely no effect on the open rate. However, Mailer Mailer released the result of a study at approximately the same time as MailChimp, noting very different findings. Mailer Mailer notes the largest open and click rates in email subject lines between 28 and 39 characters long. According to these findings, it would be wise to keep subject lines to a maximum of 50 characters, unless you are addressing a highly specific target audience which is likely to be interested in the specific subject matter you are writing about. However, more recent research published in Brandwatch shows that “open rates for emails with subject line lengths ranging between two and nine words saw a consistent year on year improvement, meaning the subject length is simply not that important. Email marketing is now much more focused on who the audience and industry is and what it is being sent.”
Ultimately, the best way to glean the ideal word count for the type of communications you send out, is to conduct your own research. Always keep best practices in mind and make sure your content is worth sharing simply because it is useful or entertaining to your reader… just in case you were wondering, we’ve put our money where our mouth is; this post stays pretty close to the ideal, at around 1670 words!