With Google’s ‘Mobilegeddon’ update still fresh in the memory, you’d be forgiven for thinking responsive design is the be-all and end-all of digital marketing in the small-screen age.
It’s not the only thing you should be thinking about, though – content is just as important.
The long and short of it
As smartphones and tablet computers continue to take over the world, the way in which people see and consume content changes. The rulebook is now ripe for revision, and there’s one big question on every site owner’s lips: ‘long form or short form?’
The definitions of long and short form differ depending on which ‘expert’ you talk to, but for the sake of this article we’ll use the former for anything above 750 words – this is the rough rule of thumb Vertical Leap’s own content specialists work to.
In the absence of a simple answer, it pays to look at the pros and cons of both options, and that’s exactly what we’re here to do, starting with long form.
– Show your authority: Content is a great way of showing your site’s visitors that you know what you’re talking about, and in theory, the more detailed you are in your piece, the more knowledge you can demonstrate.
– Satisfy Google: Google (other search engines are available) likes in-depth content, and it has a ranking mechanism (Panda) dedicated to promoting it in the rankings. This doesn’t necessarily mean bigger is better – quality still comes before quantity – but detail is a significant part of this.
– It’s more shareable (no, really): People often believe short-form content is more likely to be shared online, but a number of studies prove the opposite is true. Buzzsumo research, for example, shows that articles between 3,000 and 10,000 words long get shared almost twice as much as those with less than 1,000 words. It’s even more likely among mobile users who are able to share via social media, SMS, email and a number of other channels with the tap of a button.
– Writing takes time: It doesn’t just take more time to consume long-form articles; it takes more time to write them too. If a lengthy piece is going to be insightful enough to benefit the reader, you’ll have to take the time to research properly before writing. Padding it out just to make it bigger is never a good idea.
– It demands concentration: Consumers’ attention spans are getting shorter, and while most are online more often, their time tends to be spent switching between different sites and apps. The idea of spending five minutes reading a text-heavy piece on a small screen, then, can lack appeal. It must be clear from the beginning that the article has something of real value to offer.
– Less suited to mobile screens: If you’re sitting down to get through a 3,000-word whitepaper, you’ll probably want a decent-sized screen on which to read it. While smartphone screens are growing in both size and quality, not everyone’s up with the latest tech yet so you could potentially be isolating some web users.
What do the experts say?
Marcus Sheridan – Founder, The Sales Lion: [pullout]“There is one main thing that separates the average [pieces of content] from those that stand above—quality. And not only is the perception that longer content is of better quality, but generally speaking, length gives writers the opportunity to dive deeper and teach better on any given subject.”[/pullout]
Darren Rowse – Founder/Editor, ProBlogger Blog Tips: [pullout]“The effort you put into longer posts can be a great investment to make into your blogging. There’s no doubt you can cover much more ground when it comes to long-form content, and the likelihood that you will be providing the answer the reader is looking for, or solving a pain point for them, is higher.”[/pullout]
– It’s easily scanned: Many mobile web users these days tend to scan websites before they read full articles. Thanks to the touchscreen, it’s quicker than ever to get through pages in the search for attention-grabbing content. Short-form content stands out and requires less attention, meaning it’s more likely to be picked up on by these people.
– It’s easier to produce: As mentioned above, quality must always take precedence, but there’s no doubting that it takes less time and effort to produce a piece entitled ‘top five hot hatches’ than it does to write a whitepaper on the impact of internet connectivity on the motoring industry. This means you’re able to publish quickly, more regularly and topically – perfect for smartphone owners who are checking their devices for new content every five minutes.
– It’s quick to repurpose: If a quick ‘how-to’ guide performed particularly well a year ago, it’s easy to take the format and make a similar piece relevant to today’s audience. You could even start an ongoing series to capitalise on the success. This doesn’t work quite so well with longer articles.
– Less engagement: Reading takes time. If your article is 450 words long, it’ll take the average adult 90 seconds to get through it; they may well start looking elsewhere at this point. If it’s 1,200 words long, it’ll take three minutes; that’s double the time on your site.
– Lacking information: Sometimes 400 words won’t be enough to cover everything, so making an article short for the sake of it is a bad idea. Instead, you should include everything you think your readers need to know. Offering value should always take priority after all.
– Easily copied: Just as short-form content is easy to reproduce for you, it’s easy to copy for others as well. An easy-to-digest ‘top five’ piece, for example, might inspire a hundred clones if it’s successful. A lengthy e-book, on the other hand, will be unique to your business and your website.
What do the experts say?
Joshua Steimle – CEO, MWI: [pullout]“Short-form content is often ideal for striking, visual content or short, compelling posts that quickly convey your message. For certain blogs and sites, posting short content multiple times per day can generate large amounts of organic search traffic in a short period of time.”[/pullout]
Mark Schaefer – Author, The Content Code: [pullout]“There is a definite trend toward small. If we can’t get big chunks of content through a limited ‘pipeline’ of brain cells, maybe we can get grains of sand through. This would explain ideas like Vine (six-second videos), infographics, and even Pinterest, which is simply easy on the eyes without a lot of processing.”[/pullout]
So, which type of content comes out on top?
In all truth, there isn’t actually a winner in the battle between long and short content; both have their benefits and drawbacks. Your strategy should involve a variety of article types, with the word count dictated only by what’s necessary to effectively get your message across to the reader.
Try to mix it up every time you put your content plan together. As a minimum, aim to produce at least one or two long-form pieces and 6-7 shorter articles every month; this way, your readers have a constant stream of content keeping your brand in their heads, while also having something to get their teeth into every now and then.
It helps to think about why you’re producing content in the first place; its purpose should be to help people through the sales funnel. To this end, long form tends to work better at the latter stages, whereas shorter articles are great for grabbing attention earlier on and increasing brand awareness. Of course, there are no guarantees, but people who have already invested a bit of time in your business are more likely to sit down and take in a much longer piece. With the right balance, you should have the whole customer journey covered.
With all of this in mind, it’s important to note that the power of long-form content has in no way been diminished by the mobile revolution. Smartphone screens are getting bigger and clearer with every major release, and their users have more patience than many give them credit for – providing, of course, the content on offer has genuine value and insight. As a result, the demand for in-depth articles is still very much alive.
More content marketing articles
If you have any questions about creating content, call our digital marketing advisors on 0845 123 2753 who will be happy to help. In the meantime, below are some other content marketing-related articles that you might find useful: