We're trained to believe that longer MUST be better. However, one of the best writing tips I ever received was to keep it short.
While earning my Journalism degree at Syracuse, I took a class in which we had to hit a word count of between 250 and 300 on every assignment.
The hardest part? Telling an entire story in under 300 words. This limitation forced me to choose my words and improve my writing.
We get sloppy over time. Things we know slip away and it's easy to revert to old habits. I attended a great session from Afford Anything's Paula Pant at NMX 2014 and received a refresher in the fundamentals. The session, especially the part where Paula spoke on length, also reminded me of a difficulty I have with professional blogging: The word count requirement.
Professional Blogging, Increasing Word Counts, and Fluff
I'm not an SEO expert. However, people who know these things tell me that Google likes longer blog posts. So my word count has been gradually increasing over time. When I first started blogging, a post of 350 words was acceptable. Then all my clients wanted 500 words. Now, in order to kowtow to Google (or what they think Google wants), I'm being asked for blog posts of at least 700 words.
On the one hand, I can ask for more money for longer posts. On the other hand, there are times when hitting that word count is difficult. There are times that hitting the 500 word count is hard enough. But 700 words? 1,000 words? When that happens, I bring in the fluff.
I change my sentence structure. I use passive voice. I include adverbs. The English language is varied enough that it is possible to use nine words when four or five will do. I take advantage of that reality when there's a word count to fill.
When you're paid by the post, and you have to hit a certain word count, sometimes you stretch to make it happen. Yes, some subjects require a greater word count. I enjoy long-form journalism, even though society's attention span is shorter (that's one of the inconsistencies of this situation: longer posts, but attention spans are shorter). There are times that it's easy for me to reach 800 words or 1,000 words without resorting to tricks. But when you've said all that you need to, it's painful to find ways to keep it going just for the word count.