How to Pick Your Content's Format and Topic with Actual Purpose

"How long should our blog posts be?"

Few things make me feel like tossing my laptop more than hearing that question. That IMMEDIATELY tells me that someone is looking for shortcuts and isn't thinking about the right way to create content for their audience. As a writer, I've never once thought about finding some magical wordcount that would lead to the best blog post. A blog post is just a container for what you're trying to say, and there are trillions of things you could say and ways to say them, no?

How long should it be? I dunno -- what are you writing? What are you TEACHING? Who are you serving? Do they like long or short stuff? Playful or straightforward? What are your goals? Where will you distribute it?

How long should it be? As long as it takes to make that post GOOD. That's the answer -- sorry! There's no silver bullet. Stop looking for it. The answer really is just "it depends," and asking the above question signals that you're likely to struggle with this type of marketing in general.

Why do I bring this up? Because I've noticed content marketers constantly make two decisions with every single piece they create: the format and the topic. And rarely if ever are these things informed by the right initial impetuses.

Here's the deal:

The FORMAT of your content -- the type or medium, like an article or graphic or podcast -- should be informed by YOUR GOALS.

The TOPIC of your content -- the issue or question or story or "stuff" inside the piece -- should be informed by YOUR AUDIENCE.

Think of your content like the opposite of a glass of water. In the latter case, the water -- the stuff inside, the value being delivered -- molds to its container. But with content, the container -- the "glass," the vehicle built to deliver the value -- needs to mold to the stuff inside. 

That's why there's no right word count for a blog post. Again, what are you writing about? Perhaps you can best deliver value and address that topic for your audience in just 200 words. Perhaps you need 1,000. Perhaps you need more visuals. Perhaps it's actually a series of posts.

Say you're in the B2B space and need leads for your business. Your goals are to generate X leads this month. As a result, producing a podcast is probably a terrible choice for your format. Far better would be creating a PDF or template or package of great assets behind a subscription form. People tend to interact with different types of content differently, so you should match format to your goals.

But in all those cases -- podcast, PDF, template, package of assets, whatever -- you can still address the same topic. And that topic should be whatever your audience needs or wants to consume. If you're serving other marketers, and they keep saying that blogging is hard, then your content needs to address that topic and make blogging easier, no matter what format you choose. A podcast, a PDF, a template, a package of assets -- all of these things can still help your audience make blogging easier somehow. And they mold to that topic, like a glass somehow molding around water, not vice versa. For instance, if "blogging is hard" is your topic to address, then a lengthy essay with colorful prose might be less effective than quick-hitting tips in a list. Word count and many more details about each article will be different in either of those cases. The glass molds to the water.

Or perhaps a blog post isn't the right format at all. Perhaps you shouldn't just glom onto that tactic just because everyone else does.

So the next time you're holding your brainstorm meeting or planning your editorial calendar, remember these two levers you can pull when it comes to the assets themselves: format and topic.

Pick the topic your audience cares about most, and then discuss formats that are best-equipped to deliver that value and hit your goals.

By the way, my final word count excluding this sentence, and the single-most meaningless part about this article: 563.

Posted on July 2, 2015 .