Word count: there’s no magic bullet.

 

You’ve no doubt noticed as a reader that web writing is a different kettle of fish from writing for print. Web content tends to be short & snappy in a manner that would seem out of place (and even unprofessional) if used in print contexts, and the word count you’d except from a capability statement would seem terribly out of place in a blog. So, what’s a business to do?

What's a business to do?

The medium is the message.

Coined way back in 1964 by media intellectual Marshall McLuhan, this phrase still rings true in today’s mediascape.

When a writer crafts industrial copy, the medium plays a major role in determining what the end result will look like:  an annual report will be by its nature very different from how they’d write shorter-form commentary such as a blog. These differences are critical to how companies are perceived by their stakeholders.

You really need to get the word count right.

Word count is an aspect of industrial copywriting that’s unfortunately sometimes overlooked, leading to confusing brand messaging. Whether a writer is laconic when readers expect details, or long-winded when they should be getting to the point, getting the word count right is vital. 

Unfortunately… there’s no one “right word count”.

“How long should a blog post be?” is perhaps the most-pondered question in the world of web writing, and often answered with another question, “how long is a piece of string?” Disagreement abounds, with the SEO experts at Yoast and Buffer suggesting 700-800 & 1600 words respectively.

Really, there is no one-size-fits-all answer.  The best length will vary depending on your industry, and what value your words add to your audience.

(Yes, the same also applies to print media, as we’ll see shortly.)

The good news is,  there’s no shortage of great industrial copy out there. Be original, but be inspired by companies who are doing a fantastic job of engaging clients like yours. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

Learn from the experts.

We explored two print catalogs by Caterpillar & GE Power:

 CaterpillarGE Power
Page count1278
Cover page1310
Back page4223
Word count158430,429 (excluding appendixes)

Both are excellently crafted, with astonishingly different approaches.

  • GE Power positions itself as a thought leader, offering an in-depth overview of important trends in the power industry, and power’s importance to humanity. This makes a fascinating read for power-sector CEOs (as well as to me – I’ve certainly learned a lot!) However, products are only introduced at page 18, and only take up a small part of the catalog.
  • Caterpillar keep things short but to-the-point, speaking directly to “you”, and addressing the pain points of clients who are often small business owners.

While their word counts differ greatly, every word is intended to add value. However, GE Power is much more in-depth, and while it’s full of useful information, the target audience seems limited to voracious readers in the C-suite. With a plethora of case studies and sometimes-arcane information, at times this catalog reads more like a white paper. While it would fascinate some audiences, it could put others to sleep.

Caterpillar, on the other hand, has taken a less-is-more approach which may not position them as a thought leader, but is clear, easy-to-follow, and to the point. Both catalogs fundamentally have the same goal: brand & product awarTeness, leading to sales. But the hypothetical readers they’re communicating to are clearly different.

What works for GE Power might not work for Caterpillar, and vice-versa. Both are successful companies who’ve clearly taken the time to learn about their audiences, and how to write in a way that’s appealing, not appalling.

Doing web right.

Next, let’s take a look at web content by GE Power & Chevron:

 GE PowerChevron
Word count8871196

Both articles build an emotional connection with the brand, and are relatable to clients and the public alike: from GE’s contribution to a “sustainable, reliable and affordable energy future”, to Chevron’s economic impact on Australia, they’re both written with the goal of demonstrating value to society.

At almost 1200 words, Chevron’s article is more than 30% longer than GE Power’s. However, both fit neatly into Yoast & Buffer’s recommended ranges, and are engaging enough to keep audiences reading.

There’s no magic bullet.

The “right word count” is only right if it achieves its purpose. Can the catalog fascinate readers at length, and convert to sales, or would short & snappy win the race?

Communication is all about the reader. When they pick up a catalog, your reader isn’t expecting the next great Australian non-fiction masterpiece, but writing too briefly can lead to a missed opportunity to build that emotional connection and stand out from the competition.

In short, to get the word count right, don’t rely on magic bullets. As the expression goes, read the room: know your client, and write accordingly.

Bio

Lara Silbert is a Perth-based freelance strategic communications consultant and copywriter.  She specialises in working collaboratively with business clients to find and share their brand story.

Lara also delivers strategic communications seminars at ECU and her alma mater, UWA.

In her spare time, she enjoys travel, reading and cheese.

www.lara-silbert.com