These days, there’s little doubt that in marketing content is king. Both B2B and B2C brands have found over the years that people like to know about a product before they buy it. And in the information age, where people talk about everything extensively, the value of content has only risen. Increasingly it’s difficult to sell anything without a decent amount of content.
However, even as we acknowledge the importance of content there’s a real debate on length. In particular, is there an optimal length that your content should be? Especially if you’re just forming or are shifting your content marketing strategy, you need to understand the value of short form vs long form content. As you will see, both have their role on your website. Let’s take a look at each and when/how you should use it.
What is Short Form Content?
First of all, defining the role of short form vs long form content requires that you understand which one is which. A rule of thumb is that short-form content is any post with less than 1000 words. This includes Facebook posts, tweets, infographics and memes, landing pages, and other web content. In other words, this definition holds for more than just blog posts. Rather, it can encompass any kind of written/partially written content under the 1000-word mark.
Short-form content is popular. Most of us are used to the short product descriptions on ecommerce sites, and the pithy memes on social media. And in the early days of blogging, most corporate posts were short. Businesses and marketers didn’t want to give away too much information for free, even though they knew customer education was necessary. In many situations, this is still the case. One survey found that short-form articles predominate for 75% of B2B brands.
Short form content is also very mobile friendly. This isn’t surprising, since a lot of words on a page can get crowded with small phone screens. We marketers need to consider that when people are using a mobile phone in particular they’re likely to prefer short term content vs long form content. Since mobile phones generate over 56% of internet traffic worldwide, mobile-friendly pages should be a priority.
What is Long Form Content?
When describing the differences of short form vs long form content, it’s important to know the definition of long form content. This is any content that is more than 1,000 words, primarily blog post content, whitepapers, ebooks, and so forth. There is no upper limit, although you should always ensure that you aren’t putting out anything that rambles. If your content has a lot of low value words, then people might feel cheated for having spent so much time reading it.
On the other side of the coin, if a piece of content is very valuable, and includes lots of information, then it can be quite long and nobody will mind. This is similar to a high-quality novel that you can’t put down: if the contents pull you in, then time can seem to fly. Likewise, long-form content that’s well written encourages lingering. I’ll talk more about that later.
What are the Benefits of Short Form Content?
By now, you’ve probably realized that there’s a lot of content out there in both the long and short-form formats. But have you thought of the benefits of each? Deciding what you need between short form vs long form content means you must consider the benefits of both. In short, short-form content does have some advantages.
It’s quicker to produce
It almost goes without saying, but short form content can be produced relatively quickly. Whether you’re throwing together a witty meme to troll the competition, or carefully composing product descriptions, you won’t spend hours writing one piece. Instead, each word counts.
Short attention spans love it for quick consumption
Just as you spend less time producing short form vs long form content, customers don’t spend much time on it either. Instead, they’ll read something like this quickly, then move on to the next thing. If your customer doesn’t have a long attention span, this is especially useful because they’ll actually reach the end of it. Detailed information isn’t always needed or wanted.
People on mobile devices may prefer it more
I’ve already touched on this, but when you’re on a mobile device less is usually more. While there isn’t much difference with tablets, people that are browsing on their phones will not usually do much reading. After all, the large amount of text can quickly give them a headache. By including short form content on your website, you can include even the small screen crowd.
Some formats and forums support ONLY short form content.
Finally, there are situations where there’s little choice in short form vs long form content. For instance, you can only put a few words on your Instagram or Twitter content. These forums were designed to share thoughts without the long-winded writing. And I would contend that the very popularity of these forums demonstrates the value of short-form content.
What are the Benefits of Long Form Content?
Simply put, long form content has significant advantages. While many things can be said in small bites, much more requires in-depth discussion (or at least a detailed description). One way you can see this is first-page SERPs. For Google, the average length of a first-page listing is 1,447 words. This length allows for plenty of information without being long-winded.
There are other statistics that point out the importance of long form content. For instance, according to Medium the best performing blog posts took around 7 minutes to read, which translates to around 1600 words. And if you want an argument for even longer content, another study concluded the most organic traffic goes to those articles which are between 2,250 and 2,500 words.
Why is this the case? Let’s look at some potential reasons.
One reason that long form content seems to improve SEO is that it keeps people on your site longer. That’s a long-recognized factor in improving your SEO, since search engines view time on a page as an indicator that people consider a site valuable. Websites where people spend more time than average tend to rank higher in Google. Specifically, increasing time on site by 3 seconds helps you rank one position higher in the search results.
Long-form content ranks better
One way we have found this out is using Clearscope. This is a content marketing tool which helps us learn how well your content covers a specific topic, and assigns a content grade. Therefore, this is one place where the short form vs long form content debate is won by the long form. In any event, pieces that have a higher “content grade” do much better in search engine rankings. This means that Google and other search engines prefer longer content that thoroughly answers a searcher’s questions.
Note that while Clearscope was used for the study, I’m a huge fan of a similar too called Frase.
Long-form content ranks for more keywords than short-form content
This one’s ultimately a matter of space. The more space you have for keywords without stuffing, the more you can try and rank your content for different keywords. While many of us will build the whole article around a single keyword, this isn’t always the best approach. Especially with ebooks and whitepapers, there might be several appropriate keywords that beg to be included. That’s one reason why keyword research is so important.
Long-form content generates more backlinks
Another thing that helps with SEO is backlinks. These are an indicator that other content creators view your content as valuable. While this isn’t an issue for short-form goodies like product descriptions, it’s critical for blog posts or whitepapers. That’s because you’re trying to distinguish yourself, or your company, as a thought leader.
As a rule, longer articles are the ones which get more backlinks. In fact, a Hubspot survey found that the most backlinks go to articles with more than 2,500 words. These are relatively long posts, though I have many of them on my website. Percentage-wise, Backlinko found that long-form content has 77.2% more backlinks than shorter pieces. This is one of the more important points in the short form vs long form content debate.
Long-form content delivers better conversion rates than short-form content. This might seem surprising, since short-form content includes product descriptions and memes. However, there is one study, done by Conversion Rate Experts and Crazy Egg, that gives us a clear picture of short form vs long form content conversion benefits. Specifically, a page’s conversion rate is boosted by 30% or more when landing pages are longer.
Social media benefits
Social media is one place where short-form content appears to win. After all, some networks don’t even allow long-form content. While one can argue that the difference in short form vs long form content is different with those networks, it still is the case that long-form content performs better.
Long-form content earns more social shares than short-form content
The biggest benefit of long-form content on social media is that it gets shared. A lot. Considering that people love to share news stories and articles on some networks such as Facebook, this probably isn’t surprising. In particular, Hubspot found that the most-shared articles typically are over 2,500 words. On the other hand, another source suggests diminishing returns when an article goes over 2,000 words. Either way, long-form wins. The only question is where to find the sweet spot.
Other benefits of long-form content
In the short form vs long form debate, there are other reasons to favor long-form content than the ones I’ve already discussed. In particular, long-form content makes you more of an authority than short-form content. One reason for this is that long-form content contains more information and takes more effort to produce. Superficial treatments of a topic are discouraged if you need to write over a thousand words.
How Long Should Long Form Content Be?
Strictly speaking, that depends on your needs. However, we’ve seen above that when it comes to blog posts or articles there seems to be a sweet spot between 1,500 and 2,500 words. Your topic will always help guide this decision as you don’t want to belabor the point on one side, and skim over it on the other.
Here’s what I’ve found for my personal blog. Marketing in general requires a decent amount of explanation to present a topic adequately. Back when I started the blog, I felt that 1,500 words was enough. The material I was covering allowed me to do this, and back then the competition wasn’t as fierce. However, over time my needs have changed. Competition is stiffer, and I’m well-known as a speaker and consultant. Now, I write posts that are upwards of 2,000 words, and often, over 2,500.
With that said, your mileage may vary. My recommended approach for clients is to look for an ideal article/post length by looking at your top-performing articles. As you go through analytics, pick out the most successful posts and note their lengths. An average of the top ten or so is a great place to start. If you don’t have substantial material yet, then look at the average of the top articles on competing sites. Monitor your analytics over time and make adjustments based on performance.
The Final Word on the Short-Form vs. Long-Form Content Debate
At the end of the day, there are different advantages for short form vs long form content. Short form items have an important part in any marketing plan, both because they are often visual and due to the needs of mobile users. Product descriptions and certain social media posts will also usually be short form. However, for overall website SEO your long-form content is critical. Couple this with the high conversion rate of long-form content, and it’s easy to see that it has a permanent place in sales.
The winner is…both, depending on your needs within the marketing plan.
Hero photo by Peggy Anke on Unsplash