Why your word count is limiting your content

Writing to a word count imposes a misguided limitation that can hinder creativity and scope.

Traditionally as writers and journalists we have been guided by word counts. But it feels like we’re holding on to a remnant of the print industry, used to ensure the most effective use of available space.

It bothers me – probably more than it should – that in the age of limitless space, where every voice with something to say matters, we are still so obsessed with length. The idea that there is a ‘perfect post length’ seems a farce. As if writing a specific number of words magically makes the writing better in some way.

Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe limitations can inspire creativity. We saw it with the birth of Twitter and micro-blogging back in 2006. Visual content followed suit with Vine and, perhaps more importantly, the recent explosion of Snapchat. And now the audio space has caught up with the unexpected arrival of Anchor, with its 2-minute recording limit.

These pieces of micro-content are part of a much bigger story or discussion. Each snap, tweet or wave serves as the starting point for discussion. A sentence or paragraph within the context of a much bigger, often ongoing story.

Blog posts are not micro-content. They are often intended to be the exposition of researched opinions, and the starting point for informed discussions. Yet we continue to look for, and impose limitations. With tradition nudging us toward word counts.

The most notable facts I came across in my research are contradictions from blogger to blogger. Many claim their data supports a 1,500-word blog post sweet spot. It’s enough to allow writers to go in-depth, to get to the heart of a topic and expose the great, actionable, data backed points. Shorter posts, it’s suggested, barely scratch the surface and are limited in their scope.

The SEO contingent backs up this train of thought, pushing Google’s algorithms, claiming the ‘thin’ nature of any content with less than 300 words serves only to incur penalties from the search giant. Conveniently forgetting the success of blogging giants such as Seth GodinIFLScience, or a whole host of short form bloggers.

Cue the defenders of short content, with their claims that posts with a word count over 600 words lose the reader’s attention. And shorter content encourages comments, sharing, and general engagement. What’s more, shorter content is easier to write, easy to read, while allowing room for, and encouraging discussion.

It might have taken some time, but after wading through page after page of contradictory data I came to one conclusion: There is no secret length to great content.

I’m sorry to disappoint you, but the truth is whether it takes 30 words, or 30,000 words is irrelevant. And imposing strict word counts, while obsessing over length, can only limit the creativity and scope of the writer.

If you find long posts work for you, fill your boots! Likewise, if short posts are your bag, go for it. The key is not to obsess. Don’t butcher your voice, or fluff your opinion. And stop shoehorning your informed opinions to fit your unfounded, self-imposed word count limitations.

It’s true that creativity thrives on limitation. But as a writer, your limitation should not be your word count, your limitation is your reader’s attention span. As long as what your saying is engaging, enjoyable, and has some semblance of substance, it doesn’t matter how many words you use.

About Matt Aunger

A growth and community-focused brand storyteller and marketer at MattMadeContent. Using actionable content to inspire communities.