Welcome back everyone, and happy new year! I took a break from writing posts during the holidays, as things just got too busy for me. This month’s post was inspired by a conversation with a friend. My friend was looking for guidelines on writing blog posts. She knew I had created guidelines for the blogs we have at the Boston Public Library, but she had trouble finding articles online with this information. The trouble is that most of the information I used, I gathered from sources about writing for the web. So, when she searched for blog guidelines, she didn’t find what I used.
The purpose of this post is to aggregate information on how to write blog posts, as an informal literature review. I will also include my own suggestions in here as well. I’ve broken things down by category, and included these three broad categories: Word Count, Readability, and Accessibility.
- Abidemi Sanusi, writing for The Guardian’s Small Business Network, said that a business blog post should be 400 words long. “If your post is longer than this, think about serialising it. People tend to scan web content, so make every word count.”
- Buffer, a social media company, found that the ideal length of blog posts for them was 2,500 words. This was measured by the number of times that post was shared.
- Usability Geeks says that for informational posts, you should write 400 – 600 words, and avoid writing lengthy posts (which Google recommends for search engine optimization). If your post needs to be longer, they advise making each paragraph no more than 4 sentences long.
- The Write Practice, a company that helps writers become better writers, found different blog lengths lended themselves to different results:
- 75-300 words are short, and best for generating discussion. They don’t get shared very much, and don’t help with SEO, but they generate more comments.
- 300-600 words is the standard length for many experts. It provides a middle-ground between social shares and comments. This length too short to establish authority or to drive traffic.
- 750 words is the standard length for newspapers and articles. This is pretty good for getting links from other bloggers and getting shares.
- 1000-1500 words won’t get many comments, but it will get more social media shares. However, this is with a caveat that your post’s topic needs to really engage with your audience.
- 2,450 word articles tend to do well with driving traffic and ranking higher with search engines. In order to achieve this, this post needs to be on a topic people actually are looking for.
I want to add that different topics work better in different blog post lengths. A research article about medieval manuscripts is not going to be a short post. However, a blog post on a new children’s book is likely going to be much shorter.
- CrazyEgg, a company that helps other companies improve their own websites, says that jargon should be avoided. This article is speaking more about other websites, but the lessons apply to posts too. Jargon doesn’t make you sound professional, it makes your user feel stupid.
- Nielsen Norman Group, the leading user experience consultants in the world, wrote an article called “Plain Language for Everyone, Even Experts.” They wrote “In our usability study with domain experts, we discovered that even highly educated readers crave succinct information that is easy to scan, just like everyone else.”
- Nielsen Norman Group also recommends writing in an inverted pyramid (also known as the way journalists write articles). This means that you include the most important information at the top. As the post goes on, the information included is less important. The reason for this is so your user still gets the main point, even if they don’t read the whole post.
- Usability Geek recommends using lots of images to break up the text, making it easier to read. They also suggest writing conversationally to make reading easier for the user.
- The Usabilia blog says you should keep your paragraphs short to allow readers to quickly skim through content. This includes breaking content up into sections. When it makes sense, use numbered or bulleted lists to help make the content more scannable.
- Lantern, a content strategy company, says that you should aim for your posts to be at an eighth grade reading level. This does vary by audience, of course. If you’re hoping to get the attention of an engineer, they recommend writing closer to college level. If you’re writing to a bunch of executives, 12th grade is fine. But, for anyone else, they say that 8th grade is the sweet spot. The reason for this is that at an eighth grade reading level, sentences aren’t too complex and the words aren’t too big. This is perfect for grabbing someone’s attention.
In my own experience, at the Boston Public Library, we aim for 8th to 10th grade reading level, generally. Some of our posts are more research oriented, and for those we aim for 12th grade reading level or below. The HemingwayApp is my go to. It helps me figure out the reading level of the post, which sentences need to be shortened, and which adverbs are unnecessary. For the record, that last sentence was marked hard to read.
- Nomensa, a user experience agency, offers advice on how to use headings in the right order for users with a screen reader. Heading 1s are reserved for the titles of the articles. Heading 2s should be used for new sections within the page, and Heading 3s are for sub-headings within a section. In addition to helping those with screen readers navigate a post, this also helps the average viewer understand the organization of the post.
- The American Foundation for the Blind recommends adding alternative text to any images in your post. They say that you should write brief, but informative descriptions. They also remind everyone to check spelling and avoid abbreviations. This is because screen readers will mispronounce words that are spelled incorrectly.
- Alt text is especially important for images that are informative. Informative images are those that add additional information to the text. An example of this would be a graph. A descriptive image might be a picture of a generic apple in a post about produce. This apple doesn’t add any extra information the user can’t get from the story, so alt text isn’t necessary. Use WebAIM’s Alternative Text article to learn more about the proper contexts for alt text. It is also a great resource to learn the proper descriptions for a photo in different contexts.
One thought on “Blog Post Best Practices: A Literature Review”
Thank you! Very interesting information.