I love reading blogs. I hate most long-winded articles. That said, there are some brilliantly structured and well researched articles out there that make the reading worthwhile.
The problem is, those types of long-form, well-structured articles with heavy information/education value are unicorns.
Disclaimer: I am still a novice writer. I am observing. And I am writing this while I am refining my own voice and style.
The beaten path hasn’t worked for me because it doesn’t support my vision. I normally write about career topics and wantrepreneur topics.
Today, I am pondering ways to leave the beaten path of online blogging. I’ve had an itch here for some time now.
The (Writing) Rules
It’s a common practice today to create an article with a minimum length to get picked up by search engines through keywords sprinkled into your post. The longer your article, the higher the number of opportunities to add keywords.
Most of my articles run under 7 minutes and I consider that generally too long. That’s because I want to reach an audience that is chronically overwhelmed by information overload and short on time (attention).
I want to deliver a message and I need to get there fast(er).
My goal is to deliver valuable content quickly and without “fillers”. To reach my audience, I need to get in front of them. To get in front of them, I am advised to play the SEO game. There is my dilemma.
Medium is allowing me to resolve that dilemma a little. I don’t need to write for Google, or for a shampoo commercial that will prefer to interrupt my articles.
I’m also not writing in exchange for direct income, so to that extent, I have the luxury to afford leaving the beaten path. Medium publications can decide to pick up my content and thereby enlarge my audience. It happened a few times, lucky me.
What does your audience want?
All audiences want the answer to the question that our headline promises to deliver and these days it better be quick.
The traditional teaching of writing long articles will not serve my audience. It will primarily serve the rank-seeking author or the search engine.
A workaround here is breaking things into well-structures sub-headlines. It allows readers to skim an article first before deciding if it’s worth reading entirely. That workaround will only work if there’s enough to say to make sense of such structure.
Writing location, location, location (?)
What do we do if we want to convey an idea, a small piece of inspiration? We could move to Instagram and leave a note below the image. We could tweet. But then again, we may also reach a slightly different crowd.
Medium is focused on quality writing that is largely non-promotional and not ad-sponsored. It’s a highly attractive model because the people reading our posts have a real interest in our topics. We can add value here without the nonsense.
What’s your writing goal?
Is it ranking? Follow the rules and write long enough and structured enough to sprinkle keywords in. Use Textmetrics to help your article SEO. I admit freely that I want to be found, but I’m not willing to let that dictate the vision of shorter content.
Do you want to serve your audience with how-to’s? Same as above. This seems to work well if posts are structured extremely well and loaded with great information. Zapier and ToDoIst are role models on this.
Do you want to inspire, motivate, rock the boat or influence? Share the idea in elevator-pitch style. Easier said than done — writing short posts is incredibly hard (this article is landing at roughly 750 words).
I rewrite my articles in iterations, each time eliminating about 25%. I repeat this process until I have (ideally) roughly 400 words if I want to reach an audience with media-manufactured, chronic ADD — that’s most of my audience these days. (Say squirrel!)
Why 400 words?
320 words is the amount of words that, when spoken out loud, take about 2 minutes to say. That’s longer than most elevator rides but short enough to read while you stand in line. We read faster than we speak, so about 400 words should fill that same time span, roughly.
My dilemma isn’t entirely solved. I leave my ideas on different channels in various forms. Medium to long-form here on Medium. Very short-form on Twitter, a bit longer and more inspirational on Instagram and aiming for engagement on LinkedIn at some point.
In an age of information overkill, shouldn’t brevity be more rewarded than it currently is?