Is there a disconnect between word count and engaged time?

By Amalie Nash


Denver, Colorado, United States


Multimodal storytelling and story formats are important considerations at the outset of the planning process. But what still doesn’t get enough attention: story lengths. 

When I was with Gannett/The USA TODAY Network, we analysed story lengths in an effort to better understand whether word counts influenced engaged time, subscription conversions, or other data points. Here’s what we found:

  • Overall, word count had increased by 8%-9% across all story types during both of the two years we looked at data. 

  • We saw relatively little difference in pageviews or subscriptions per story between a 500-1,000 word story compared to one fewer than 500 words. 

  • Our takeaway: Plenty of stories support longer lengths, but we needed more discipline and tighter writing. We should only write to the length a story demands.

  • Why? Audiences want more digestible content. And yes, formats count, but if a story can be short, it often doesn’t need to be overly formatted. 

Story lengths came up during a recent conversation with Chartbeat, which analysed millions of articles of 10,000 words or fewer that were published between January 2019 and April 2022 to find out how average engaged time changes as word count increases.

Among their findings:

  • The average percentage of loyal readers, or readers who have visited a site at least eight of the last 16 days, is highest on articles of 2,500 words or fewer. 

  • Loyal readers tend to read more pages per visit but spend less time on individual pages.

  • Articles of all lengths have their place in your content strategy and can be used together to increase recirculation and engagement. 

That study also underlines the takeaway above: Longer articles can be more engaging, but at some point, the return on additional length is less certain.

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About Amalie Nash

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