As content creators, the most frequently asked question is, “How long should the content be?”
For a long time, a 500-word blog post was the winning formula. Then, in August 2013, when the Hummingbird update rolled out, Google clarified that they wished to understand the true intent behind users’ searches, looking at whole queries for context instead of treating them like strings of keywords. Suddenly, there was an influx of brands publishing 2,000+ words per post.
With the rise of multiple social media platforms and the dwindling attention span of audiences, short-form content has become a competent choice.
One of the most potent dilemmas that content creators face today is choosing between short-form and long-form content. Let us dive deep and see the pros and cons of both:
Defined as “snackable” content, short-form content is generally fewer than 1,200 words and is used to convey crucial information. It includes tweets, emails, short blog posts and social media posts.
Pros of short-form content
It is apt for a reader looking for information alone. Short-form content directly addresses such readers, ensuring engagement, and it is an effective way to get across a single point.
Easy and inexpensive
For content that includes more profound multimedia or infographics, the written content is essentially just a brief explanatory shell. Since producing short-form content is less resource-intensive and time-consuming, it is ideal for businesses that focus on creating large volumes of shorter content with relatively less investment.
Short-form content is considered more mobile-friendly since readers can skim through it immediately instead of saving it for later.
Cons of short-form content
-Short-form content lacks depth, coming across as less valuable. Lack of detailing is particularly detrimental when the reader is at an advanced decision-making stage in the sales funnel.
- Since it requires little investment from readers, short-form content decreases the average time on site and leads to poor bounce rates. This may affect sales goals eventually.
- Short-form content is transient, as against evergreen content. Therefore, it does not offer much scope for being repurposed to other formats, limiting its virtual value.
- The most significant limitation of short-form content is it rarely contributes to search engine rankings. The low word count restricts the use of sufficient keywords, preventing a business from becoming an industry expert.
Though short-form content is easier to produce, businesses need to have the right strategy to see expected results. Here are some ways to ensure short-form content captures and engages the audience:
Aiming for uniqueness
Readers of short-form content are continuously bombarded with bite-sized content throughout their day. The content thus needs to be fresh, relevant and remarkable to make them stop scrolling and take notice.
Choosing the right platform
It is crucial to short-list platforms where the target demographic is most active and engaged. One may primarily focus on one platform yet craft the content in a way that may easily be re-shared on others.
Piquing interest with graphics
Since short-form content is already low on word count, one may ensure it is coupled with eye-catching graphics to make the right impact. For example, images and short videos work exceptionally well when showcasing products so that customers could make purchasing decisions directly.
Given the continual influx of short-form content on every platform, it is imperative to establish the brand's presence and consistency. Posting daily helps in maximising the number of times the content is seen and boosts opportunities for interaction.
Here are some examples showcasing the rewards of mastering the art of short-form content:
National Geographic is the second most followed brand channel on Instagram, with a whopping 22.1M followers. Patrick Witty, the deputy director of digital photography, attributes this level of popularity to the visual storytelling on the platform. What enhances the appeal of their jaw-dropping pictures is photographers' captions, allowing each post a different perspective. Social media and NatGeo’s website blogs are also image and video-centred as they use short-form content for better context.
Benjamin Hardy is a well-known name in the blogging world. Over 100 million people have read his blogs, and he boasts over 4,00,000 newsletter subscribers. He has been the most-read writer on Medium.com and featured on Harvard Business Review, the New York Times, and Forbes, among others. Many bloggers write and publish in a similar niche, but Hardy credits his success to his short and to-the-point writing style.
Long-form content explores a topic in-depth and aims to educate and inform interested readers on a subject. It includes blog posts, white papers, case studies, e-books, pillar posts, tutorials and how-to guides. Any content that is 2,000 words is considered long-form content.
Pros of long-form content
Builds brand authority
Longer posts offer more room to showcase a business’s perspectives, allowing readers to explore the unique voice, brand personality, style, tone and values. The high-quality writing coupled with in-depth research establishes the business’s credibility and positions them as thought leaders in their respective niches.
More SEO points
Search engines consider long-form content authoritative; therefore, it ranks higher and enjoys better visibility due to more targeted keywords. An additional SEO benefit from long-form content is more backlinks that help rank with the SERPs. These factors drastically increase the organic site traffic and dwell time.
If long-form content includes relevant internal links and calls to action, visitors will likely view more pages on the website or sign up to the email list. Due to the attention given by the reader and direct communication with these subscribers, the conversion rates are higher.
Long-form content is shared 56% more often than short-form content. This figure is not surprising, considering readers want to share something of value. Since these pieces are more efficient for repurposing, they may be converted into different formats like infographics, e-books and videos, further enhancing their shareability.
Cons of long-form content
Expensive and time extensive
Long-form content requires a larger financial investment as businesses hire subject-matter experts for producing it. The returns from this type of content must be significantly greater than short-form content. Though the ROI is definite with a good strategy and quality content, it is not as quick as some businesses may require.
In the social media age, not all readers are interested in an elaborate post. Long-form content does not cater well to this demographic. Though this form of content has high shareability, it is less likely to go viral or create a buzz.
The value that long-form content brings hinges on its consistency. Failing to be committed to regularly publishing defeats the purpose of investing in previous content and strategy.
While the right long-form content may accelerate a company towards industry success, the results will only be as good as the execution. Here are a few ways to do long-form content the right way:
Telling a great story
Long-form content is typically 2,000 words or more, resting significantly on good storytelling. Choosing topics that intersect with the company’s products or services while piquing readers’ interest helps reach the sweet spot. It is best to aim for an introduction that builds anticipation, a body that showcases challenges and offers solutions, and a satisfying conclusion that knits the message together.
Deciding content distribution
Long-form content is the playground for showcasing the company’s expertise. With a “non-gated approach”, brands may give away free knowledge to their customers and earn their loyalty. Another approach, however, is to share part of the content with everyone and reserve the rest for subscribers. This is a fantastic way to grow the email list, find new leads and engage loyal customers with exclusive content.
Knowing when not to push
When transitioning towards long-form content, writing about every subject at length is tempting. However, not all ideas merit long-form; it is probably best to leave such ideas at a reasonable length. Rather than padding the article with irrelevant information, it is wiser to pick a meatier topic that may be broken down into several sub-topics.
Long-form content is a well of information, but users often need visual clues to navigate when the scrolling gets too long. One may involve a designer for illustrations and images for creating a consistent experience from the first glimpse to the final act.
Using structural precision
To optimise the piece for readability, one may take note of the flow and structure. For example, it is best to keep the paragraphs short and use creative headers with keywords and backlinks so that the readers adequately absorb each portion.
Here are examples of some valuable long-form pieces:
In 2017, the Atlantic published a powerful and emotional tribute to President Barack Obama’s presidency with the piece “My President Was Black”. The well-written piece served as a testament to what the Atlantic stands for as a brand.
Despite being six chapters long, the tribute does not overwhelm or exhaust the readers. Instead, through imagery used with clever formatting techniques, the piece easily keeps the readers engaged. Additionally, for those interested in the information without the pain of reading, the Atlantic placed an “audio” version narrated by the article’s author. Even today, the article remains one of the most appreciated and traffic-generating pieces on the Atlantic.
Lesson: When done right, long-form content generates ingenious value.
Another good example is Moz’s piece “The Machine Learning Revolution”, written by Eric Enge, focusing on companies interested in the impact of machine learning on SEO and digital marketing. Enge added plenty of short paragraphs, graphs and pictures into the mix to make the piece more consumable. As one of Moz’s highest traffic-generating pieces, it gave them a serious credibility boost as an authoritative publication.
Lesson: Some topics need a more elaborate explanation than others, and the right information presented in the right way always pays off.
How to know which content format suits one’s business?
Basing the content format decision on data-backed evidence is far more effective than basing it on pure instinct. Businesses must think of “smart-form” content, which requires using the right data and insights about the demographic to help form the right editorial strategies.
By asking these questions, businesses may go beyond what is trending and gain data-driven insights to create contextually relevant content that is audience-driven.
1. Do the readers know the business?
Long-form copy significantly outperforms shorter forms when the readers need more information about products or services. It helps them know the brand and make purchasing decisions. When readers are familiar with the brand’s offerings and are looking for entertainment or the latest updates, the short-form copy is sufficient to increase the conversion rate.
Despite the length of the copy, it should be optimised to get readers into a buying mood by diffusing their objections, answering their questions and establishing confidence.
2. Who is the customer?
If a business does not know its customers very well, it cannot choose a topic, length, or style to compel its target readers to read what they write. One should make an effort to know one’s readers beyond their marketing persona and think about their perspective. One should analyse the kind of content target readers are already consuming and consider the content length based on the enthusiasm the readers bring to the table.
3. What are the resources?
From ideating topics, researching, writing, editing, proofreading to designing and publishing consistently, marketers have their plates full while producing elaborate content. Companies must assess their budget and the team’s skill set before deciding to transition to long-form content.
For businesses stepping into the content marketing game with minimal resources and less experience, short-form content may be a good first step. This will give them time to understand their readers, develop a content strategy and find people with the right skill sets before delving into long-form content.
Arguing over which content format is better than the other distracts us from the real purpose. There are two larger goals: one, to develop a smart form of interactive editorial content backed by fully optimised data for social and mobile; two, engagement resulting in the content people want to read.
The choice of short-form vs long-form content may largely vary based on where the target customers are located in the sales funnel and what the end goal of the marketing campaign is. The best quality content will always perform better any day. When that is the priority, the number of words will matter less than the delivered value.