Blogging Tips: writing to a word count

writing to a word count by Melinda J. Irvine

As a freelance writer I get a lot of project briefs with set word counts. Even looking across the internet there are tons of articles which reveal the ‘magic formula’. That ideal word count.

But realistically there is no ‘number of words‘ that will magically lure and captivate readers from all over the globe to your website. And sometimes writing to set word counts produces writing that is mechanical and inauthentic. Remember that the written stuff on your website is meant to be helpful.

PEOPLE DON’T READ a blog article because it’s exactly 1600 words and 7 minutes long, they read what is useful to them.

The word count should be however long it takes to tell your story, explain a concept, or detail a system. No more, no less.

Recently I saw a glaring example of a word count project that just didn’t work. It was for an accommodation website that listed hotels and resorts in SE Asia. The brief demanded a 300 word intro-description for each of the rooms (no, not the hotel but 300 words about the actual room). They gave a link with examples.

No I didn’t apply for the project.

Now I want you to imagine that you are looking for accommodation in SE Asia , are you really going to read through 3-4 paragraphs about the fragrance of frangipanis, crisp white tiles, and BBQ breezes that float effortlessly over the tressed balcony? I think the average punter wants to know how many beds, the WIFI access, or whether there’s air-conditioning and room service. Information better presented as bullet points.

I realise the SEO scientists will  be shaking their fists at me (because google needs text to find you). But readers are people, and long flowery prose does not deliver information to them effectively. Especially when reading it from a screen.

Now I’m not suggesting that all website text needs to be short and in bullet points. It’s about the reader, and the message, and the information you are presenting. And it varies from post to post.

In fact here is a great example of a longer blog post that works really well. It’s easy to read, there is plenty of useful information, and it doesn’t repeat itself unnecessarily. Note: I don’t have any affiliations with Authority Hacker, I just like their website and podcast.

So I encourage all of you out there (bloggers and website owners) write for your reader and not to a pre-packaged word count. Mould your content around what you are selling rather than a desire to pad out your website.

You have more chance of selling your stuff and getting the reader to hang around if they can quickly find what they need. Without have to wade through a mountain of repetitive stocking fillers.

© 2018 Melinda J. Irvine

4 responses to “Blogging Tips: writing to a word count”

  1. mattchesebroughphotography Avatar

    Hi Melinda,
    I’m just starting to dip my toes into the waters of blogging. I appreciated your article because, to me, it spoke to using common sense. Your example of 300 words to describe a single hotel room made me chuckle. Thank you for the advice and I wish you all the best.

    1. Melinda J. Irvine Avatar

      Hi Matt,
      Glad my article was helpful to you. Blogging is a great way to connect with your customers and your audience. If your intention is to always write and post stuff that genuinely helps people you’ll be fine. Have fun with your blog. Mel.

  2. grumpytyke Avatar

    Although much of what you say is true Melinda, many people blog not to be “useful” but to be ‘interesting’, perhaps to a restricted audience or even just to themselves, eg I know at least one blogger who uses their blog much as a diary to preserve memories and to some extent that applies to me too. Of course as a journalist I was used to writing to length, a necessary skill, and I still enjoy doing it, writing 50, 75 and 100 word (precisely) stories and, of course, ‘haiku’ and ‘tanka’, to a precise syllable count rather than word count. However, I never write my blog posts to a length, just whatever I feel like writing at the time.

    1. Melinda J. Irvine Avatar

      Hi and thanks so much for taking the time to write this message. I think I’m going to change the title to ‘Tips for Business Bloggers’ which is a different style of writing to creative blogging. Creative blogging is beyond any word count and (as you say) is done for the love of writing more than anything.

      My website has a mix of both but, as a working freelance writer, I like to include helpful content for other freelance writers too. And I do see a lot of ‘commercial blog posts’ that seem to stuff a lot of unnecessary words into a paragraph and the intended message becomes totally lost.

      My personal choice is for writing that is engaging for my readers while freeing the creative urge within. And I do agree that word/syllable count writing in certain contexts (poetry, short stories etc) do offer a creative challenge that stretches our imaginations.

      Thanks again for reaching out, I always love hearing from other bloggers. And I’ll certainly check out your blog.