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Stretching article does “the splits”

Paul Ingraham ARCHIVEDMicroblog posts are archived and rarely updated. In contrast, most long-form articles on PainScience.com are updated regularly over the years (see updates page).

I recently split my stretching mega-article up into four “small” ones. The original page is now more of a hub: it summarizes the major sub-topics, plus some odds n ends that don’t fit anywhere else. The four new pages are:

There are also five other articles devoted to stretching sub-topics that have been around for a long time:

And there are a few more that are tangentially related: articles about unwanted muscle contractions, relationship between stiffness and range of motion, and fascia.

So that’s really a lot of content about stretching.

Size matters? Article size and human readers

The stretching article was a whopping 25,000 words before the break-up. Still not quite book-length, but getting there (nonfiction books typically run about 50K words).

How do people react to articles so big that it take minutes to scroll through, nevermind read?

Well, they certainly make an impression! I get both complaints and praise for publishing monster articles. “Deep dives” have become a brand-defining feature of PainScience.com, for better or worse. In marketing terms, it’s probably better to be known for something divisive than not to be known at all.

After all these years, I still don’t know what’s “better.” But I do know that all of my biggest articles have all achieved some notoriety — they are known, and they are known because they are so substantive. So why am I breaking up the stretching article? Maybe it’s a bad idea!

A little data: average reading time

“Average reading time” for webpages is generally pretty low — the internet is not known for its attention span — but I have always been proud of how long people actually spend reading my articles.

Average reading time of the 25,000-word version of the stretching article: 7:02. That’s a lot.

Average reading time after the break-up: 3:48! Not so great now. That’s probably bad news. I’d like to think more of them are going on to read one of the other articles, but… nope! The data does not show that at all.

Article size and robot readers (Google, that is)

For years, PainScience.com has mostly done quite well with ginormous articles, but some of them have gotten so absurdly detailed and comprehensive that maybe it has become a technical problem. I find it hard to believe that a page dedicated to sub-topic like stretching for flexibility doesn’t have the potential to attract more searchers than a page that treats it as just one of many sub-topics.

So this content splitting is also partly a search engine optimization (SEO) experiment to test that hypothesis.

What gets more exposure in Google’s search results: one comprehensive mega-article? Or a group of pages dedicated to related sub-topics? It’s something webmasters and SEO consultants have long debated, usually without much good data. A more objective approach, analyzing many millions of search results, showed that “word count was evenly distributed among the top 10 results.… HTML page size does not have any correlation with rankings. In other words, heavy pages have the same chance to rank as light pages.” Maybe that’s the last word?

Not hardly. Page size might not matter in the top 10 results, but it could still matter in other ways. For instance, a group of pages, regardless of size, might be able to provide more specific answers to a wider range of searches — and pulling more traffic collectively than any one page can alone, no matter how much search exposure it gets. That’s basically what I’m after here: I don’t want to try to make one single page the best search result for a very diverse group of searches, because I doubt that’s possible.

 End of post. 
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