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Short vs Long Form Content: The Truth about Content Length

Long vs Short Form Content: The Truth about Content LengthEveryone’s talking about how awesome long form content is. In fact, several people have released studies showing how long form content performs better than short content.

Despite this, I’ve seen plenty of situations where people failed with long content. They spent a lot of time creating a massive resource that didn’t get much traction.

If long form content is so great, then why isn’t everyone doing it?

1. TL/DR (Too Long / Didn’t Read)

If you read a lot of blogs, then you probably know that the biggest danger of long form content is that people won’t read it simply because it is too long.

People on the Internet are busy and often have short attention spans. Long content may get bookmarked, but it can also be forgotten about.

According to a study by Demand Gen Report, 95% of B2B buyers prefer short content over long content. And an article on Psychology Today states that people only read 60% of online articles on average.

Receiving more social shares and traffic to your content is great. But it won’t do you a ton of good if no one reads it.

 

2. Length Does Not Equal Quality

Since long form content has become popular, a lot of people think that they can just write super long blog posts and it will automatically do well.

As you can imagine, this is not the case.

If you don’t have a good gut understanding of what people perceive as “quality”, then you might be better off writing short content first until you get the hang of it. Otherwise, you’ll just be wasting more time creating content that isn’t going to drive traffic to your site.

 

3. Time Requirement is High

Longer blog posts take a lot more time to write.

For example, let’s say you can write a 1,000 word blog post in an hour. Non-bloggers might estimate that a 2,000 word blog post would take 2 hours to write since it’s twice as long.

However, if you’ve written longer posts, then you know that a 2,000 word blog post will often take more than two hours to complete. And the content creation time seems to go up exponentially the longer the content is.

If you take a lot of time to write a blog post, then you also should spend more time promoting it too. So the time commitment for long form content is much higher. And if you are paying for people to create content for you, then you might be looking at thousands of dollars just for a single blog post.

 

4. More “Failure Points” Can Kill Your ROI

If you don’t know what you’re doing, then long form content could fall flat on its face and kill your ROI. In other words, you might end up spending a lot of time on it and not getting any results.

Pick the wrong topic? If you pick a topic that doesn’t resonate with your target audience, then your long form content won’t do very well no matter what else you do.

Not good at content promotion? Without a strong content promotion strategy to go along with content creation, you might end up spending tons of time creating content that no one’s going to see.

Don’t know how to SEO your content? One of the biggest benefits or long form content is ongoing SEO traffic, so if you’re not good at SEO, your article could quickly lose traction after it’s published.

 

5. Sometimes Short Content Wins / Some Places You Want to Guest Post Only Accept Short Content

A lot of popular blogs and publications will only accept short form content. Shorter content is more likely to get read, so some publications have decided to avoid really long blog posts.

Also, it’s important to note that long form content doesn’t necessarily apply to all niches. It can do particularly well in the online marketing niche, but in other niches, short form content dominates.

The front page of Alltop features articles from some of the most popular blogs on the Internet. Here are a few examples that I found in 2015:

-Lifehacker, for example, tends to feature short articles that visitors can read quickly. This article that I viewed is less than 200 words but has over 6,000 views:

Have kids write their thank you notes before playing with gifts

-Another blog article that I randomly decided to click on is this article from Read Write. It’s close to 1,100 words but isn’t excessively long and has over 600 social shares:

Buffer’s Gift to Other Startups: How to Grow Gracefully

Also, do a quick search on Pinterest and take a look at some of the recipes that come up. Blog posts in the recipe niche tend to be fairly short, but can do quite well.

Attention spans are short on the Internet, so sometimes short content can be a better way to get the attention of your prospects and create more content consistently.

 

6. You’re More Likely to Get Overwhelmed or Burn Out and Quit

One thing I’ve noticed is people that jumped on the “long content” bandwagon getting overwhelmed and quitting. Or being inconsistent with their content creation.

Creating long content can be overwhelming. We know that it’s going to be time consuming to create.

To make matters worse, creating long content is often coupled with a larger promotion campaign, which eats up even more of your time and resources.

Then when you finally get done, you have to think of another idea for another long article…

Long content can be good occasionally and for some tough minded content creators. But for a lot of bloggers, it can be somewhat overwhelming to create on an ongoing basis.

 

7. Long Content Has Less Opportunities for Syndication

If you use syndication to increase the reach of your content, then you know that most media sites won’t publish really long articles, 50+ people expert roundups or “ultimate guides”.

Syndicating to media sites can give your content far more reach. This article by Buffer explains how Buffer was able to massively expand their reach through syndication:

https://blog.bufferapp.com/how-to-become-a-columnist-guest-posting-syndication

 

And here’s an article that James Clear wrote on his blog:

http://jamesclear.com/live-longer

 

And here is a syndicated version on Lifehacker that got over 40,000 additional views:

James Clear - Lifehacker article

 

James also syndicates to Entrepreneur, Business Insider, Huffington Post, etc. As you can imagine, the reach he’s achieved from syndication exceeds what most people get from investing in “long-form content”.

Studies on the effectiveness of long content probably don’t take the effects of syndication into account. It wouldn’t surprise me if shorter syndicated articles outperformed a long form blog posts by a landslide.

 

8. Sometimes multiple short articles can outperform one long article

I won’t say that long content doesn’t perform better than short content, but what many of these studies don’t take into account is how much longer it takes to create long form content.

Some of the longest articles I’ve worked on took 2-3 weeks to complete. In the same amount of time, I could have written lots of shorter articles.

This is one reason why many writers prefer creating short pieces. Rather than spending a lot of time on one long article, they can create multiple short articles in the same amount of time.

A study by Hubspot shows that blogs that publish more often experience more traffic growth overall. And it’s easier to publish more often if you are writing content that isn’t excessively long:

Monthly Blog Posts Indexed Traffic
0-2 100
5-10 140
16+ 350

Data Source: How Often Should Companies Blog?

 

Where Long Content Works…

While I’ve made a lot of arguments against long form content, there are times when long content is good.

 

  1. Long Tail SEO Traffic

Long content is great for long tail SEO traffic, if you promote it is properly and also can receive lots of inbound links. In fact, this is one of the main reasons to invest time into creating long content.

 

  1. Ultimate Resource

Why do Wikipedia and IMDB have so many home page links? Quite simply because they are ultimate resources. No one’s going to read all of Wikipedia or IMDB. But they are great resources to bookmark for later or to search for information.

If you can create long content that is genuinely useful to other people, then it could serve you very well. You have to ask yourself if it is something that people will genuinely find useful, share with others and come back to.

 

  1. Easier to Stand Out

People prefer creating short content to long content because it’s easier. Long form quality content is less abundant and sometimes, it’s impressive how much work people will put into a blog post.

Long content is sometimes easier to promote as well. For example, it will get upvoted more in communities and shared more on social media… It’s more rare and unique.

 

  1. Sometimes it just has to be long

Sometimes to cover the subject completely, your content just has to be long. I’ve written some articles that ended up being way longer than I thought it would be when I first started.

If you are writing about a topic and it ends up being longer than you expect, then you may have accidentally created a killer piece of long form content. Congratulations!

Case studies are one type of post that seems to fall into this category. Sometimes to explain everything in enough detail, you need to write more.

Smart marketers know that there are times to use long form content, but that short content also can work really well. That’s why I use both.

Ultimately, be sure you’re giving your readers what they want and serving your audience whether you use long or short content.

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About Brian Lang

I've been making a living online since 2002, mostly through e-commerce sites and content sites with advertising. Through the years, I have also learned a lot about other types of businesses and helped other people with their business problems.

Comments

  1. Insightful article

  2. Nice article. Most people believe that the long article would be more worthy. But still it also depends on the blogger as everyone has their own style.

  3. Thanks for the informative article Brian, it is interesting how long posts are being appreciated only in certain niches, whereas in others people wouldn’t bother reading them.

    • Brian Lang says:

      Welcome, Sandra! I’ve found that long posts seem to be popular in “how to” niches in particular, but not as much in niches like food and recipes.

  4. Personally if something says its more than a five minute read, I skip it. Unless it is something I have specifically searched for and need the answer to

    • Brian Lang says:

      Yeah, I think people will read long content if it is something that is really targeted towards what they are searching for in the moment. Short content is more likely to get read in casual circumstances.

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THANK YOU for SUBSCRIBING
Join the Small Business Ideas Blog Newsletter to stay updated and also get access to member only downloads and content, including special reports, studies and articles I write on other blogs. Some member bonuses include:
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  • Study: How LinkedIn Publishers Get Featured on the Pulse
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