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Paragraph length check: Why and how to write shorter paragraphs

The paragraph length check in Yoast SEO (for WordPress or Shopify) tells you to write shorter paragraphs when they are too long. But why is this important? What does a good paragraph even look like? And lastly, what should you do to keep your paragraphs concise? Let’s explore!

Table of contents

Having a red or orange bullet for the paragraph length check in Yoast SEO? Here’s what this check does and here’s how to keep your paragraphs short.

Why your paragraphs shouldn’t be too long

Properly sized paragraphs play an important role in making your text readable and scannable. So let’s start with the readability aspect. Big walls of text are not very readable and tend to scare off your readers. Imagine this entire article being just one big paragraph! You’d probably have left the page before even reading the introduction. Paragraphs help break down your text into bite-size and easy-to-understand chunks, which puts your readers at ease. Every time you end a paragraph, you give your readers the opportunity to relax and think about what they’ve just read. This really helps them make sense of the entire text.

Paragraphs also help readers to scan your text more easily. When people end up on a page, they rarely just start reading the article from start to finish. They first want to see what they can expect before spending a lot of time reading the entire text. People tend to scan headings and the first sentences of every paragraph. By breaking up your text into paragraphs that reflect the topics you’re addressing, people will be able to get a good grasp of what your article is about in no time.

What does a good paragraph look like?

A good paragraph provides information on one single, well-defined aspect of the topic you’re discussing in your article. Consider the two paragraphs under the previous heading in this article, for example. The first addresses why paragraphs make your text more readable; the second discusses why they make your text more scannable.

Your paragraphs should start with a core sentence that summarizes the content of the paragraph. Just check every first sentence in this article. They all give the reader an idea of the message of the entire paragraph. These sentences help the reader to decide whether the paragraph will be worthwhile to read.

But how long should your paragraph be? That depends on the context, but it should be more than two sentences long at the very least. If your paragraph is over 200 words, it’s almost certainly too long. At that point, it becomes difficult for most readers to understand and you’re probably better off breaking it up into different subparagraphs.

Long paragraphs are more difficult for highly skilled readers as well. This is often underestimated. Sure, if you’re writing for a more proficient audience, they’ll tend to be a bit more forgiving. That doesn’t mean, however, that your text wouldn’t benefit from shorter paragraphs. Presenting complex information in an accessible form is an art, not a shortcoming.

Writing a readable masterpiece generally takes more than 30 minutes. So you better spend your time carefully. The Yoast SEO for Shopify app or Yoast SEO Premium for WordPress can help you with that, as it takes a lot of work out of your hands. Upgrade now and start saving time for creating your masterpieces!

What does Yoast SEO’s paragraph length check do?

The paragraph length assessment checks – well, what do you know – the length of your paragraphs. We advise you to keep the length of your paragraphs below 150 words. If you do that, you’ll score a green feedback bullet. You’ll get an orange bullet if your paragraphs contain more than 150 but less than 200 words. With the bullet comes the advice to shorten your paragraph(s). If you exceed 200 words, your feedback bullet will be red.

In the case of an orange or red bullet, what should you do? Do you need to use fewer words to convey the same message? Do you need to cross out entire sentences? In most cases, the answer is no. Just deleting sentences will rather harm your text than improve it. It makes more sense to take a look at the structure of your text. Let’s explain!

Screenshot showing feedback bullet paragraph length check
The check shows a red bullet and corresponding feedback. If you click the eye button, the paragraph that needs improving is highlighted.

How to keep your paragraphs short and crisp

If you have trouble limiting the length of your paragraphs, take a look at the entire text. Try to write down the main topics and then all the individual aspects you’re discussing in your article. Let’s break down the heading and paragraph structure of this article as an example:

  1. Why your paragraphs shouldn’t be too long
    • Long paragraphs are bad for readability
    • Long paragraphs make it difficult to scan a text
  2. What does a good paragraph look like?
    • A paragraph addresses one specific aspect of the topic
    • Paragraphs start with a core sentence
    • How long should your paragraph be?
  3. What does the paragraph length check do?
    • Describes the check and its feedback criteria
  4. How to keep your paragraphs short and crips
    • Look at the entire text
    • Example
    • Example analysis
  5. Conclusion

As you can see, this allows you to break down the text neatly into different parts. You can address them in separate paragraphs. It’s probably a good idea to do this even before writing your article. If you notice one specific aspect is taking up more space than you expected, just consider whether you can break it down into two separate aspects. This will almost always be possible. If it isn’t, you can get away with a long paragraph here and there.

You can learn more about paragraph length and other elements in our SEO copywriting course. You can get access to this course and all of our other SEO courses with Yoast SEO Premium. Which also gives you access to extra features in the Yoast SEO plugin, like internal linking suggestions and the use of related keyphrases.

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The Yoast SEO paragraph length check warns you when you write paragraphs that are too long. These lengthy paragraphs make it harder for readers to read and scan your text. Good paragraphs discuss one single well-defined aspect of the topic at hand. They start with a core sentence and generally shouldn’t exceed 200 words. If you tend to struggle with limiting the length of your paragraphs, consider breaking your article down into a schematic view. Then, consider whether you can break up larger paragraphs into shorter ones.

Read more: The complete guide to SEO copywriting »

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