Medium Length Blog Posts are the New Black

by on May 24, 2010 | posted in Marketing

The technology industry has recently made a concerted move away from depth. Long posts are shunned, brevity is lauded, and “short” has been applauded for its clarity of voice and easy digestibility. The most notable purveyor of this mindset is Seth Godin, the professor of pointedness.

Godin’s posts rarely take more than one minute to read. They inform and entertain, and contain great insights into the world of work, and more specifically, marketing.

Godin has a distaste for the “list” mentality of many blog posts today. Many of these lists are “car accidents”, as Godin describes, and are more a traffic draw than an actual creation of value:

I know that if I want a blog post that’s gonna outperform all my other blogposts what I need to do is follow a simple formula. The formula is ten ways you can blank. Probably including the word traffic. And then among the ten ways I should mention Apple, Ron Paul, and talk about the distinction between men and women or black people and white people or tall people and short people, something. And then I should start a firestorm in a fight and then stand back. And my blog was to go like this. I just gave you the map. And it’s worthless because once everyone does it won’t get you any traffic and, by the way, the traffic it gets you, worthless. Because those people are looking for car accidents. They’re not looking to exchange value.

I totally agree with him on this point – lists are generally fluffed to hit certain number draws (5, 10, 15, 25, 50), and are rarely birthed from an innovative idea – they are almost all created from a desire to draw eyeballs.

However, I think there’s an inherent irony in Godin’s statement – because his blog posts, styled as they are, do the exact same thing. They create “car crashes” more than they create any real value.

Don’t get me wrong – the posts themselves are packed full with actionable insights that can change lives and grow businesses. But in the way they are presented, Godin’s posts take on the exact identity of the lists he so distastes.

Short, Pointed, Forgettable

We are an ADHD society. If I wasn’t clinically prescribed with it, the internet created it. Twitter on TweetDeck. Digsby intertwining every chat client I can fathom. Three windows open on two screens. Because of this, we love the list mentality. Similarly, we love the Godin mentality – because it is his quick posts that exactly emulate the 1. 2. 3. structure of list posts, without the numbers.

Godin’s posts are car crashes, too, because of the temperament of our online education. We read. Read. Read. 700 posts on our RSS feed, and we’ve got to read them all. We read, and that’s all we do. We don’t take notes, we don’t repeat the concepts, and we don’t take action to implement.

Yes, higher education is broken — but online education never got built. We have created a standard of one style of learning – reading – and because of that, the positive tenants of the, better, more organized education system are lost.

If you took a notepad and a highlighter to every one of Seth Godin’s posts, he would transform you.  If instead of just reading it once, saying “Yeah that’s true! Cool point, I was entertained”, you printed his concepts, used a highlighter, took notes, and tested yourself on the information – your business life would be absolutely and completely transformed.

But you don’t.

SOMEONE out there must do this, but I don’t know of a singular one. Our online education is like a digestive system – we eat, enjoy, and before we know it, the concepts are gone out the other end.

If you’re lucky, you use the concept once during the day, it works, and that success pushes towards a second implementation that creates retention. However, if you don’t have a immediate, practical application of a Seth Godin post, and only use your read-and-on-to-the-next-one mentality, you will almost certainly forget the great information before the next sun rises.

The Responsibility of Content Creators

I’m not ignorant enough to believe that my one post on the subject will spurn a movement towards refined online education. It won’t. But I do believe that maybe one or two people can read this and see the inherent dilemmas within the short blog post, and how we can more positively towards something better – the middle.

Long posts are still that – most likely excessive, a probable exasperation on a concept that, practically, probably isn’t that complicated. It’s too much. But the short post is often too little, even if it properly encapsulates a point.

By offering more examples, supplying breadth, and offering some comprehensiveness to our short blog posts, we supply the potential for retention. Blog readers won’t become more refined, until some smoother, more efficient learning tools are created online to help move along that process. By offering the “push” towards retention as little as 200 extra words create, we supply real potential for preservation. Although this doesn’t apply for sales content, is does for blog posts. Ironically, having as little content as possible – for example, on this VA Streamline Refinance site – we actually improve conversion.

As a blog writer and a person who wants to create value and potentially have one or two or six ideas of mine used positively in another person’s life, I see the necessity of the medium length post. We can maintain reader retention with 200 extra words – we just have to think a little harder to make the post as good at the 1000th word as it was at 500.

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  • http://www.heroicdestiny.com/blog David Crandall

    Great post! I agree that the tidbit of information, while nice, is so small that I often forget much of them shortly thereafter. You will be happy to know that you DO know someone who is just nerdy enough to take notes while going through their Google Reader. ;)

    I think a post needs to be long enough to engage a reader. A story, a case study, something! Then drive the point home. People remember stories much better than instructions. That’s why the small posts aren’t my personal favs.

    I’ve also found that Seth takes his time when speaking. I watched a video of him last night that was 18 minutes long. There was not a single 1 minute sound byte that included a comprehensive though from start to finish. Appears he might believe in using more words in actual practice too.

    • Ross

      Well, I’m extremely impressed that you’re already taking notes.

      Seth’s most memorable points (for me) are his books, and things that I somehow applied two or three times, whether that was telling my colleagues immediately or using it for a post like this. His speaking is always greater than one minute long, too, so I’m certain it’s far more effective in creating retention than his “blip” blog posts.

  • http://www.lionslinger.com Walter

    I think that the length of the post depends on the subject matter. Also we need to take into consideration the attitude of our readers–some like it simple, while other like it to be more elaborate. I agree that we have to find the middle, not too short to be shallow and not too long to be boring. :-)

    • http://www.rosshudgens.com Ross Hudgens

      Thanks for the comment Walter! I think that the subject matter CAN make a post worth a short post, but the problem is that we won’t retain it, even if the point is properly made. If the reader takes notes and takes additional steps towards retention, then the best of both worlds will occur – however, this happens not nearly as frequently as we’d like.

  • http://www.tammycamp.com Tammy

    Damn, you’re right! I suppose there is such a great choice of blogs out there that are relevant, and you get that ‘Ping’ feeling when you read them, and you nod along, becasue you recognise what they’re talking about and it feels like it’s been created specifically to speak to you . . . and it’s a little bit addictive. Instead of putting these revelations into action, we just search for more and more, fooling ourselves that we’re really learning anything.

    • Ross

      Definitely! There’s a reason Seth’s blog is so popular – because it is that “ping” feeling, 5-7 times a week. There’s the ability to make it more than a ping, and he does that with his books (all of the concepts I have ingrained to this day), but with his posts, it takes more to turn “ping” into “change”.

      Thanks for dropping by. :)

      • http://www.tammycamp.com Tammy

        Hi Ross,

        I’ll have to delve deeper in to Seth’s world. Which of his books would you recommend the most? Which have you found most useful?

        • Ross

          Tammy,

          Start with “The Dip“. It’s short (although not too short – ha), but the concepts he discusses within it are something I constantly think about in my everyday life, and recommend to all my friends and family, not just business contacts.

          Permission Marketing is something I constantly think about and apply, and something I don’t hear talked about as much around the internet. Linchpin is great too, but you might have figured out the concepts by simply having ears against the internet in the last few months.

          They’re all really good, though, so you really can’t go wrong anywhere – it’s more a question of how right you’re going to be!

        • http://www.heroicdestiny.com David Crandall

          Tammy, I agree with Ross that ‘The Dip’ is a fantastic book. Should be easy to read in one setting an hour or two.

          I also recommend Linchpin as it was a real eye opener for me. Totally made me re-evaluate education and corporate settings in a way I had not thought of before. Smart concepts about how to make yourself more unique in the workplace too.

  • http://www.drewrieder.com Drew Rieder

    Ross, good thoughts, man! I love Seth Godin’s stuff but I think your points about short attention spans, short posts and lacking online education standards were right on the money! Cheers to the folks out here trying to say something that matters in the best way possible. Long live the medium posters. Cheers….drew :-)

    • Ross

      Thanks for the comment Drew. Let’s make a difference one medium post at a time!

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  • http://blog.savagebrands.com Nicolette Beard

    I think it was a character in Alice in Wonderland who summarized the nature of storytelling: Start at the beginning and when you come to the end, stop! In other words, there’s no prescription for blog length. Research shows that while people reading online scan content, they do go back and read if the copy is interesting, relevant, solves a problem, etc. I don’t blog unless I want to read what I’ve wrote or provide a unique slant on a topic, especially if well-worn. (SEO anybody.) Then I edit for clarity. Just my 2 cents.

    • Ross

      Thanks for the comment Nicole! Can you find me a citation of this though: “Research shows that while people reading online scan content, they do go back and read if the copy is interesting, relevant, solves a problem, etc.” – cause I don’t really believe it! I know I haven’t done it in the past (till I realized it), my own style is more to reflect on the post and then move on.

      I definitely agree on the start the story and then stop when it’s finished – but in some ways, that might mean your story will be forgotten. If you tell me something that took place during 5 seconds of your life and the story is 5 seconds, that duration will undoubtedly strongly lean me towards forgetting it. This is the dilemma of brevity!

  • http://www.seoexpertforyou.com/ Caleb

    I think the length of the post shouldn’t be something that you think about. I think as long as you provide quality content that is useful to your readers, get your point across, and cover everything that you want to then your content is good the way it is. There is no point in worrying about the length of these three things are accomplished.

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