A debate as old as the Internet raised its contentious head at Rocket Science HQ today: is long-form or short-form content more effective for content marketing?
For those of us super-annuated enough to remember, the debate divides loyalties as fiercely as the great Blur vs. Oasis Britpop-off of 1995. Wait… what… over 20 years?! Anyway…
A colleague asked my view on an article he’d read, claiming that long-form content was favoured by Google and carried a host of SEO advantages. And in a way, that’s true, as various tests have all but proven. But as with most things, the real truth isn’t always as clear-cut. Let’s face it, if readers always preferred long-form content then tl;dr wouldn’t exist.
Is Longer Always Better?
Long-form content is Google-friendly inasmuch as it gives the author an opportunity to create relevant, in-depth content on a particular subject, which is something the Big G is rather keen on these days. But conversely, if you regularly churn out 2000-plus words of fluffy lightweight content to pad out the word count, you won’t stay in favour with Google or your audience for very long. Long-form content needs to provide tangible value, not just word count.
You’re also going to spend a lot more of your precious time creating long-form content, which means it’s got to work far harder to create ROI. Then you’ve got to prove that ROI to the boss and the bean-counters. That involves measuring all sorts of metrics which are very hard to pull out of some of the traditional analytics products – it can be done, but unless you choose your tools carefully, it’s time-consuming.
Similarly, longer content should equate to more time spent on page by your visitors. And to get the most value out of dwindling marketing budgets, we all want to ensure our visitors are engaged for as long as possible. But if those visitors are spending four minutes getting halfway through an article then getting bogged down and dropping off, how valuable have those four minutes really been? Measuring scroll depth and read-through ratios gives a far better indication of a long-form article’s engagement factor than dwell time on its own.
Although long-form content marketing pieces can add detail, consumers have shorter attention spans than ever before. We won’t plough through tomes of content unless it’s super-valuable.
And reading shorter content on mobile devices is just easier. So maybe choose short form and make those few words count.
Not to mention no-one shares lengthy white papers the way they do 30-second kitten videos.
Short-form is – ironically – one area where more is generally better. If you get it right, you’ll see customers engaging with more content pieces and a more diverse mix of media. Plus you’ll achieve a measurable conversion sooner. Done and dusted.
And The Winner Is…
The long-form vs. short-form discussion rumbles on in content marketing circles and marketers will throw their weight behind one side or the other. Except for the smart marketers. They know it’s not a right-or-wrong kind of question. The real answer is to know your audience and their preferences, then give them exactly what they want. Create a content strategy which mixes the best of long form and short form, then observe and measure which pieces achieve your objectives for each segment of your audience. Then adapt your strategy accordingly and continue to measure.
Oh, in case you’re wondering… I was in the Blur camp. And they won (even if Liam will never admit it).