How many minutes for a blog post?

At least for my organization, four minutes.

Several weeks ago, I was reading an article about iPhone 6+ display scaling and the author prefaced the main body of the content by saying “And, I’ve reduced this article from 14-min reading into less than 6-min reading. My target was 3-min reading.

I thought to myself – I wonder how many minutes my company’s blog posts take to read? How many does our audience want to give to a particular post? Is my organization meeting their needs by producing articles that can be read in the time they’re willing to give us? I set out to find out – if I could.

How did I get four minutes? To start with, I had two known values for each post:

  • Word count
  • Average time on page

I made the assumption that the majority of time spent on one of our blog pages was spent reading the article – we have a dedicated audience who want to read our posts so I felt this was reasonable. I also assumed our audience reads content at the standard target of 200-250 words per minute. I went with 200 as a rough way of trying to compensate for fixed time costs when a viewer comes to a page. Much like the linked study, I was more or less calculating the maximum number of words they could read, and assuming that our dedicated audience chose to read close to that maximum.

The next step was to take a cross-section of our blog posts and, based on their word count, calculate how long a user “should” have been on the page to complete the article – that is, for an 800 word blog post, average time on page “should” be four minutes. Then I compared this “hypothetical completion” to actual average and got the percentage of the post the average user probably read.

I know – my kingdom for eyetracking. And yet: Our outreach and marketing person did some research and he suggested targeting 750 words with a maximum of 1000 — or the way I thought of it, four to five minutes. I scatter-plotted our posts with my calculated percentage read against word count:

Blog Data

Turns out our users seem to agree with him. There’s a lot of noise around the 750 mark, but the correlation is strong as soon as you break the 1000 word mark. Interestingly, If word count stays below 500, estimated completion is high across the board – potentially indicating not only did they read the post, they did so carefully, though I don’t have many data points to work with.

To cross-check as best I could, I looked at trends in everything our analytics collects and didn’t see anything out of pattern – maybe we’re not tracking the right stuff (probably) but if what we have is accurate, up to four minutes on almost any post, five only on one very specific issue. And for maximum impact, we’re best served by keeping it under 500 words.