These days, it seems like everyone has got something to say online—your business likely included. Whether short form or long form content reigns supreme, though, has been ongoing conversation since content marketing became the “next big thing” (circa, say, 2011), in spite of the fact that content marketing has actually been around for decades.
It would seem that since our attention spans are dwindling—Time Magazine reported last year (in a fittingly brief article) that humans have a shorter attention spans than goldfish—we would favor succinct digital content over traditionally longer white papers or eBooks. Wrong! It turns out that many of us actually prefer digestible long form, value-rich content. And you know what? Search engines like long form, relevant, content, too (I’m looking at you, post-Panda Google). As a result, focusing on long form blog content is a smart content strategy. Here’s what you need to know.
All About Value
I am a fan of long form content that delivers real value. Sure, we are a bunch of skimmers—remember the goldfish research—but long form isn’t synonymous with non-digestible. If you write your long form content in the right way, readers will be able to navigate it efficiently, easily diving more deeply into the parts of the posts that are of interest to them. That’s what tables of contents and descriptive headings are for, after all. (If you’re stuck trying to create a value-packed long form piece, consider reenergizing your post in listicle style or pulling frequent high-level sidebars or call-outs.)
Short form, mail-it-in, little value content delivers exactly that—little value. Sure, your SEO vendor might have produced some crappy short form content for you, or told you to just whip something up and stick a bunch of keywords in there, but that was bad advice then, and even worse advice now. Sure, some short form content might work for your top of the funnel activities, but as with everything, it completely depends on what you’re trying to do with your content. For me, whether I’m writing or reading, I want to hone in on the issues that I care about and the issues that our clients care about. I can rarely learn what I need in content that’s 500 words or less, and I darn sure can’t write about. Nor do I want to.
And you know what makes that awesome? Search engines agree.
The SEO Case for Long Form Content
Long form content ranks higher on search engines for a variety of reasons, some obvious and some complex. Let’s hit the most obvious one first: If you write more words, you’ve got more room for keywords or phrases and thus more ranking opportunities. Let’s not forget about links, either. Google’s algorithm uses links as a ranking factor—the longer and more well thought out the post, the more opportunities there are to link to other, equally as value-driven articles.
When Google released the Panda algorithm in 2011 to stop sites with poor quality results from getting the SERP gold, SEO changed a lot. Now, long form content—especially long form content that’s accurate, trustworthy, and free of spelling errors—ranks higher on Google. [Want to learn more about how to rank high on Google? Read this: Google Just Told You How to Rank: Are You Listening?]
Crafting Meaningful Content Gets Your Business Ahead of the Game
Long form content can be a point of differentiation between you and your competitors. There’s a lot of content out there, and the vast majority of content creators are focused on quantity over quality. When you write relevant and sharable content—and have also been smart enough to build distribution channels to help you get that content in front of readers, a big thing to remember—you’ll find your business ahead of the game.
A recent Pew study proves that audiences today—i.e., of the mobile variety—visit long and short form articles about the same amount yet spend more time with the long form pieces (see Figure 1 below).
Figure 1. Source: Pew Research
I know what you’re thinking: Of course we spend more time with longer content! Longer content takes more time to read! You’re right, but let’s go back to that goldfish example from earlier. If our attention spans are so depleted, we must really engage with a piece of content to spend time with it. Otherwise, wouldn’t we simply lose focus? This research is proof that meaningful long form content works, and investing in it can help propel your company ahead of the competition.
Bottom line? Your content needs to deliver value. Rambling off 1,500 or 2,500 words for the sake of words isn’t in the best interest of your reader or your business. Yes, you need content for your lead gen efforts. More importantly, you need content that benefits your customers and prospects and adds value for them that’s equal to the time they spend reading it. Short, no-value content doesn’t deliver value. For you, or for them.
And of course there are instances where short form content is best. Say you’ve created an infographic to highlight stats from a recent survey your business conducted. Unless you’ve got some sort of profound insights into the data that must be explained, there’s no reason for a long-form post. Give your readers what they need when they need it, and don’t try to fake them by dragging it out.
So, sometimes short form content works, and sometimes long form content is better—and the best solution is to always produce the content that makes the most sense for the information you’re delivering or the topic you’re covering and for the audience you’re serving. Once you’ve got that, it really is that easy.
Has your business committed to producing some long form content, or are you primarily pumping out short pieces on the regular? If the latter is true, maybe it’s time to restructure your content strategy a bit. Remember, too, that writing the content is the easy part of the process—getting anyone to read it takes a strategy in and of itself. Once it’s developed, what are you doing to promote and amplify the content you and your team are producing? The best content in the world is useless if nobody knows about it, regardless of its word count. That’s why social media is so important, as is building networks
What’s working when it comes to your content strategy? What isn’t? What are your greatest challenges? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences and I’ll be happy to give you some ideas with regard to your challenges if you’ll share them—publicly or privately.
Other Resources on This Topic:
The SEO and Science Behind Long-Form Content [SearchEngineLand]
Long-Form Reading Shows Signs of Life in Our Mobile World [Journalism.org]