Every marketer knows that content is important, but there’s still an ongoing debate between the value of short- and long-form content. You’ll likely get quite different opinions from different marketers, but studies have consistently shown that longer pieces tend to do better in the search engines and are more interesting to readers. However, the reality is a bit more complicated. After all, most marketers also know that attention spans are notoriously short when it comes to Internet users.
To further complicate matters, there’s not really a clear definition of what constitutes long-form content, despite the fact that it might seem obvious. While the average 400- to 600-word blog post would usually be classed as short-form content or fodder for social media sharing, long-form content typically refers to more in-depth content formats, such as case studies, reports, whitepapers, eBooks and blog posts in excess of 1,000 words.
The rise in popularity of long-form content might sound counterintuitive, given that more and more people are browsing on tiny mobile screens and have attention spans lasting mere moments. However, according to best-selling author and inbound marketing guru, Neil Patel, longer pieces of content tend to perform better on every level. He backs up his claim with data from Google’s own search results as well as data gathered from various studies conducted by HubSpot.
So Why Does Long-Form Content Work?
To understand why your brand needs to invest in long-form content, it helps to use some real-world examples. Let’s say you want to write a guide on how to start a travel blog with a view to making a healthy income from it. There is simply no way you can write such a guide over the course of 500 or even 1,000 words if you want it to be even the slightest bit useful to actual human readers. By contrast, an impatient marketer (or, shall we say, a spammer) may be more interested in paying someone peanuts to write a 400-word article on the subject for no reason other than to attract search engine traffic using a specific key phrase. This kind of marketer, however, is not likely to achieve anything, since that’s not actually how the search engines work.
An actual in-depth guide that explains, from start to finish to a complete novice, how to start a travel blog, build up an audience and then monetise it, is not likely to be much shorter than 4 to 5 thousand words. In-depth content has a lot more ‘meat’ to it, to such an extent that it offers far more value to the reader. It’s also encouraged by Google’s own webmaster guidelines as well as most of the world’s best-known bloggers.
It’s Not Just about Length
There’s also a case against prioritising long-form content. However, it’s also one that misses a defining characteristic of quality content. What really matters is that you use as few words as possible to explain the subject and get your message across. After all, long-form content shouldn’t consist of unnecessary fluff just to meet a word count. In fact, it’s probably better not to pay any attention to word count at all. Ultimately, if you’re writing long-form content for the sole purpose of improving your visibility in the search results, you’ll likely end up achieving the opposite. Taking this approach is no different to taking the approach that quantity is everything and quality is of secondary importance.
Long-form content tends to make sense when tackling more complex subjects and trying to make them more accessible to a wider audience. However, you’ll also need to make sure that writing skills and knowledge in the subject are up to scratch. Some audiences are also more receptive to long-form content than others. For example, readers of gossip sites or other sites with very general audiences tend to prefer shorter content that they can quickly skim though. It’s also important to present long-form content in easily digestible chunks, and that means using plenty of paragraphs and subheadings and, where appropriate, bulleted lists. After all, regardless of its length, pretty much all Web content should be scannable.
Long-form content is undoubtedly here to stay, but it’s not the be all and end all. What’s most important is adding value through content quality, and quality doesn’t have a clearly defined length. Shorter content also has its place, particularly when you want to briefly introduce a subject matter or talk about something very specific to an audience that’s already familiar with the background to it. Ultimately, it’s not so much the content format that leads to success; it’s the quality of writing and research and its uniqueness. As it so happens, this inevitably leads to long-form content in most cases.