Sometimes, when I am tweeting or emailing, I ask myself, is it really necessary to be writing so much?

I am prone to getting carried away. When I have the time to do all the extra work, it sure would be nice to know whether all the extra typing is hurting or helping my cause. I want to stand out on social media, but I want to do it in the right way.

Curious, I dug out some answers to the question about how long should tweets and titles and everything else in between look. A lot of these questions could have been answered with “it depends,” but we wouldn’t have any fun with that. There is solid research that shows why it is important to write, tweet, and post certain lengths of messages. We can learn a lot from scientific social media guidelines like these. Here’s a list of some of the best things that I discovered.

A tweet that is ideal should have a length of 100 characters.

Whom should you trust when it comes to advice on the ideal length of a tweet? What about Twitter itself?

Twitter’s best practices reference research by Buddy Media about tweet length: 100 characters is the engagement sweet spot for a tweet.

The research on buddy social aligns with another study that was performed by Track Social. They studied 100 well-known brands that are popular on Twitter. Track Social also found that the perfect Tweet length was right around 100 characters.

On average, they saw a spike in the number of people who retweeted tweets that were between 71 and 100 characters long, a range that they called ‘medium’ length tweets. These medium tweets have enough characters for both the person who made the tweet and the person who is retweeting to add some commentary.

Tweet length retweet - track social

A perfect Facebook post should be less than 40 characters long.

40 characters is not very much. The sentence that I just wrote is about 35 characters long.

But 40 is the magic number that Jeff Bullas found was most effective in his study of retail brands on Facebook. He measured engagement of posts, defined by “like” rate and comment rate, and the ultra-short 40-character posts received 86 percent higher engagement than others.

The 40-character group also represented the smallest statistical group (only 5 percent of all posts qualified at this length), so best practices on Facebook also included the next most popular set: posts that are 66 percent longer, and posts with 80 characters or fewer earned 66 percent higher engagement.

Jeff Bullas facebook posts length

Many different studies over the years have confirmed that shorter posts are better on Facebook. One such study by BlitzLocal looked at nearly 120 billion Facebook impressions and found that performance tailed off as posts grew longer. Their data demonstrated that people who posted 100 to 119 characters in question posts could benefit from this.

Pic1

A headline for Google+ should not be longer than 60 characters.

As a way to ensure that people can read and understand your posts on Google+, you may want to keep your text on one line. Demian Farnworth of Copyblogger studied the Google+ breaking point and found that headlines should not exceed 60 characters.

In this example, what we are talking about is given an example. The post below had a headline that was longer than 60 characters, so it got bumped.

Copyblogger headline Google+ 2 lines

This post kept the title short—60 characters. That’s why it was on one line.

Screen shot 2014-03-27 at 8.02.24 PM

Demian’s advice extends even deeper. If your Google+ headline is simply too big for one line, you can turn to plan b. Write a superb first sentence.

One of Demian’s killer examples is this:

G+ killer first sentence

In terms of overall post length, Google+ posts average 156 characters, according to Qunitly Research. Digging deeper, quintly found the largest spike in engagement that was 442 characters and the second-highest spike that was 442 characters. Takeaway: You can stay on Google+ for a long time and still get good results.

A headline that is as long as 6 words is ideal.

How much of the headline for this story have you read before clicking on it?

According to a post by KISSmetrics, you might not have read it all.

Benn has written for Kissmetrics. He cites the latest research on usability, which shows that we scan headlines and not just body copy. As such, we tend to absorb only the first three words and the last three words of a headline. In order to maximize the chance that your entire headline gets read, limit your headline to six words.

That is why six-word headlines are often difficult to write. If you are unable to cut down your title to six words, still be aware of the way your headline is read. And you can adjust accordingly. Like the Kissmetrics post says:

It is recommended that blog posts should be 7 minutes long, and 1,600 words.

When measuring the content that performs best on their site, Medium focuses not on clicks but on attention. How long do readers stay engaged with a piece of writing?

In this sense, a blog post that people read is a post that people enjoy reading. And Medium’s research on this front says that the ideal blog post is seven minutes long.

Best post length

Medium measured how many seconds each post he spent on, and he compared that number with the post length. On all medium posts there is a time stamp that indicates how long the read should take. After adjusting for the fact that there was a glut of shorter posts (3 minutes long, 94% of posts are under 6 minutes long), they came to this conclusion:

After a certain point, the average of total seconds increases for longer posts. It peaks at 7 minutes, and then decreases.

And in terms of word count, a 7-minute read comes in around 1,600 words.

It is possible that a photo-heavy post could cause the average to fall closer to 1,000. Medium’s seven minutes of post was filled with images and graphs, and it contained 980 words.

Serpiq asked the question, “What is the ideal post length to use from a SEO perspective?”. Then we looked at the top 10 results on the search results pages, and counted the words that were in each article. All the data on that group is in the sidebars of the posts, so you can knock a few words from the totals below.

Post length by SERPs

As with any of the lengths that are ideal, there is a possibility that the answer you find here will be “it depends on” since research varies from site to site. For instance, Moz found that longer posts on their blog get linked to more often, and Upworthy found little correlation between length and attention when they tested Medium’s hypothesis for themselves. Upworthy cited factors such as the type of posts that were shared and the audiences for some of the possible reasons for the discrepancy.

Perhaps the best takeaway here is this, borrowed from the conclusion of Medium’s study:

The ideal width of a paragraph is between 40 and 55 characters.

I know, I know, and I know. Width and length are two different things, but I just couldn’t resist this interesting take. Social media expert Derek Halpern found that there are a pair of very important, underlying factors that go into the width of your content:

  • A wide content area can give the impression of being simple or complex.
  • Content wide is the key to maximizing the readers’ understanding of what you are writing.

That is, the ideal paragraph length, in this sense, should be clear to the reader and allow for easy reading. Halpern is convinced that he found the window where this occurs.

Forty and 55 characters per line of code is about 8 to 11 words. If you view the buffer blog in a desktop browser, you may see up to 20 words per line. Whoops!

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You may have noticed that there are many sites where they have different fonts for the lead paragraph and the rest of their text. Is it possible that there is some kind of psychology at work here? Consider that shorter lines appear as less work for the reader; they make it easier to focus and to jump quickly from one line to the next. Opening paragraphs that have large fonts and therefore fewer characters per line are beneficial. They allow people to start reading the contents of a piece of content. This style gets readers  hooked with an easy-to-read opening paragraph, then you can adjust the line width from there.

Here’s an example from Smashing Magazine:

Smashing Magazine

The length of the ideal email subject line is between 28 and 39 characters.

In September 2012, MailChimp published the following headline on its blog: Subject Line Length Means Absolutely Nothing. That was a very authoritative statement, but Mailchimp had the data to back it up.

Their research shows that there is no advantage to using short or long subject lines in emails. As for clicks and opens, they all largely resembled.

Mailchimp subject line length

By doing this, you will be fine writing emails at any length. However, the most important thing is that you are sure and helpful with the subject you write – and that is true regardless of how many words you write. That being said, other research hints at a sweet spot28-39 characters.

A study published by MailChimp around the same time as that one found that there was a slight increase in opens and clicks at a certain range of characters. Here is what they found out.

  • From 4–15 characters, 15.2% of readers were open, 3.1% of readers clicked.
  • 16–27 characters, 11.6% of which opened; 3.8% of which clicked.
  • 28 to 39 characters: 12.2% open, 4% click.
  • 40–50 characters: 11.9% open; 2.8% click on the picture.
  • 51 characters or more: 10.4% open, 1.8% click.

It is one of the few types of stats that shows a significant (but not overwhelming) difference in the subject line lengths. Litmus referenced this study in their popular subject line infographic. If there was ever a length of term that people should write on based on their research, this would be it.

Beyond what is the right length, you can also adhere to some best practices. In general, a 50-character maximum is recommended, although MailChimp does point out that there can be exceptions:

At buffer we tend to go above the upper limit of 50 characters, and often we go beyond that.

You should always learn from those who are the best and those who are the worst. In the studies that mailchimp did, they came across some high performers and some low performers.

Mailchimp best open rate
Mailchimp low open rates

I recommend that your presentation should last 18 minutes.

TED talks

Organizers of TED have found that 18 minutes is the ideal length of a presentation, and so all presenters—including Bill Gates and Bono—are required to come in under this mark.

The science behind this 18-minute mark comes from studies of attention spans. Scientists tend to agree that most people should pay attention for 10 to 18 minutes before checking out. The physiological reason behind this is that new information must be processed by the brain, resulting in a huge use of glucose, oxygen, and blood flow as brain neurons fire and burn energy. Loss of energy often leads to becoming tired.

Carmine Gallo, writing on LinkedIn, pointed to even more scientific research at the root of this attention-time phenomenon. Gallo wrote a letter to Dr. Paul, the king of Texas Christian University, says that the act of listening and absorbing information is like lifting weights. The more we are asked to take in, the heavier and heavier the load becomes. When we stop carrying the weight of everything, we drop it all or forget it altogether.

King did a test on graduate students. He found that the students who went to class three days a week for 50 minutes retained more information than those who went to class only once a week for three hours.

It is fine to limit your presentation to people in the sciences, but if you want to share it online or try to get viral, there could be other important factors that you should consider. Here is what TED curator Chris Anderson thinks:

The best length for a title tag is 55 characters.

Title tags are the bits of text that define the pages that appear in search results pages. Brick-and-mortar stores have business names, and every web page on your website has a title tag.

A recent change to the design of Google’s search results pages means that the maximum length of title text is now around 60 characters. If your title is longer than 60 characters, it will be truncated with an ellipse. There is a design change here that has caused a title which was previously ideal to be truncated.

SERPs changes

Finding a hard-and-fast rule to determine the maximum number of tags that should be used in a title tag is not as easy as you would think. Quick lesson on typography: Google uses Arial font for the titles on its search results pages. It is a font that is proportionally spaced, meaning that different letters take up different widths. I would also say that a lowercase “i” is going to be wider than a lowercase “w”. So the number of letters that you can write in your title will change how many characters you can fit on one line.

Moz dug deep to find out which characters were allowed to make up the maximum characters limit for truncated titles. They found that 55 characters seemed to be the breaking point as a general rule.

Moz headlines

It is ideal that a domain name is 8 characters long.

This one may not apply to all of you, but if you’re trying to name your startup it’s a useful find. According to Daily Blog Tips, these are the characteristics of a good domain name:

  1. It is very short.
  2. It is easy to remember what it means.
  3. That word is easy to spell.
  4. It is descriptive and brandable.
  5. There are no hyphens and numbers.
  6. It also has a.com extension.

Daily blog tips for finding the ideal length. They also ran a report by Alexa that looked at the domain names of the 250 most popular websites. Results: Nearly 70 percent of the sites had domain names that were at least eight characters long, and the average number of characters per domain was just over 7.

Alexa domain study

Recap

As an ideal length version of this article, here’s a graphic that shows all the guidelines I have just mentioned.

Ideal length of everything

What lengths do you think works best for you? I would like to hear what you think in the comments.