Think about the last piece of content you clicked on. Did it answer all your questions? Leave you hunting for details? Overstay its welcome?
Every marketer hopes their audience has the Goldilocks experience — the length and depth of the content should feel just right. However, marketers also have to contend with confusing, and at times, conflicting advice about when to use short-form content vs. long-form content.
The leading school of thought is that long posts are the way to go because they offer in-depth answers and perform better in Google search engine rankings. Others say that consumers crave small, digestible snippets that respect their busy schedules.
One thing is certain: Short-form and long-form content are both extremely effective when they’re used correctly. In this guide, we’ll unpack both types of content while giving you tips to create stronger articles, videos, social posts, and more.
Table of Contents
Short-form content is concise, snappy, and to the point. It’s designed to be “snackable,” which means it’s easy to absorb in a few minutes (or even seconds). Generally, if a piece is less than 1,200 words long, it’s considered short-form content. Some marketers draw the line at 2,000 words; others stop at 750 words. There’s no hard and fast short-form content definition — the cutoff is up to you and your team.
Because word count is the common denominator, “short-form content” is actually a pretty big category. It can include everything from top 20 listicles and case studies to ads and emails. Here’s a snapshot:
With this content format, less is usually more. For instance, Shopify used Twitter, the global hub for punchy posts, to announce their Shop Pay product expansion. They earned nearly 2,000 likes and 200,000+ impressions with a short, casual message and 16-second video tutorial:
A lot of the short-form vs. long-form debate centers on blog and social content, but there’s much more to it. This landing page from Lodge, a cast-iron cookware retailer, is another great short-form content example:
With roughly 768 words, their clean, simple web page ranks in position #1 on Google for search terms that offer serious value to their business, like “how to season cast iron” and “best oil to season cast iron.” It’s proof that you don’t need to craft an end-all, be-all resource to see results.
Creating bite-sized content has its perks. Let’s take a look at four reasons to opt for brevity when you engage your audience.
Reading, watching, or listening to content is still an ask, even if the reader is interested in the information. For many visitors, a two-minute read will always trump a five- or 10-minute read.
Shorter pieces lower the commitment level and encourage them to stick around till the end (or at least your next call-to-action). Limiting length could be a simple way to improve your readership and engagement metrics, like bounce rate.
One type of short-form content is really booming: short-form videos (typically under 2 minutes and 30 seconds). The popularity surge can be attributed to many factors — a faster media cycle, smartphone ubiquity, short attention spans, younger generations online, tools like Snapchat and Instagram Stories — which is also fueling the rise of shorter content.
In any case, it’s clear that people love video. According to Wyzowl, people share videos twice as much as any other form of content. They also engage deeply with it. Google found that watch time for shopping-related videos on YouTube has increased 5x since 2016. By publishing video content, you’re speaking to a wider audience and getting in on the future of digital marketing.
There’s value in immediacy. Succinct, short messages can be consumed in less time, and as you usher visitors through, they’ll reach your CTAs and internal links faster. Visitors who are there for a grab-and-go answer or an immediate solution can convert quickly.
Customer intent is key. If we go back to the Lodge landing page example from earlier, we can surmise that they’re ranking highly because people searching those terms want a straightforward answer.
Another benefit of short-form content is that it doesn’t take as much time to create as long-form content — in most cases. If you’re conducting extensive research, sifting through data, or interviewing thought leaders, it may be a different story.
But for most content creators, this type of format frees up time to focus on other marketing efforts, like promotion and distribution. You’re able to publish a greater volume of content, which keeps your brand top of mind and your editorial calendar full.
Now that we’ve explored the strengths of short-form content, you should understand some reasons why you wouldn’t leverage it in your content marketing strategy.
Longer works give content creators ample opportunity to flex their muscles and show off their expertise. Of course, shorter content can be thorough and well-researched, but it can’t really be as exhaustive as a piece that’s 2,000 words or 39 minutes longer. For example, compare Capterra’s infographic on efficiently working from home to BuiltIn’s extensive guide on the same topic. While they both touch on the same points, BuiltIn is able to weave in a lot more expert guidance.
Any time you talk about search engine optimization (SEO) — or the process of improving your content so that it appears on search engine results pages (SERPs) and boosts organic traffic — word count is bound to come up too.
In a nutshell, the best-performing SEO content tends to be long. Generally, the longer the content is, the more opportunity there is to link to your relevant content, earn backlinks from other websites, and build credibility as an information source.
However, this isn’t a black-and-white dynamic. For instance, this “What Does Business Casual Attire Mean?” article is only about 800 words but outranks “definitive guides” that are hundreds of words longer.
As we mentioned earlier, the shorter the content is, the faster it can be created. This has led to an overflow of low-quality, short-form content. The low barrier to entry allows some companies to churn out a lot of short-form work to try to dominate a topic or product category. As a result, many web visitors may be accustomed to jumping into short-form pieces to skim, scroll, and leave without much regard for which company created it.
Any business that wants to grow their audience engagement will need to master short-form content. With less time to make an impact, every word counts. Take your work to the next level — and sidestep some common mistakes — with these best practices.
Not sure where to start? We can tell you exactly how to get more traffic to your existing content, whether it’s short-form or long-form. Learn more about our services.
Long-form content is comprehensive, covering all the bases of a topic while remaining clear and engaging. A piece that’s 1,200 words or more is generally considered long-form content, but much like short-form content, the word limit is still being debated. It’s not uncommon to see a 1,800-word article, one-hour webinar, and 8,000-word e-book all lumped under “long-form content.” Here are some formats you’ve likely encountered:
This type of content is defined by its thoroughness. Because it tends to be research-intensive and one-of-a-kind, marketers often gate it behind a lead-generation form or paywall.
This Slack guide examining the post-COVID-19 workplace transformation is an excellent example of the data-heavy nature of these pieces:
Clocking in at over 3,500 words, this guide also contains some common structural elements of long-form pieces, like a table of contents and read time estimator.
Another stand-out example of long-form content is the We The Power video by Patagonia:
At nearly 40 minutes long, it’s just one of their environmental documentaries racking up hundreds of thousands of views on Youtube. Beyond giving them the time to weave their story, the lengthy runtime shows that Patagonia is enacting their core brand values — to “use business to protect nature” — and not just selling products.
Longer-form content is widely recommended for SEO content purposes, but it’s a powerful tool for a few more reasons.
From an SEO standpoint, long-form content is a powerhouse. When users ask Google a question, its goal is to return what it believes to be the most high-quality post. And as you may have guessed, factors like length, the number of relevant search terms in the content, and time on page carry a lot of weight. So, if you’re trying to overtake a 2,800-word masterpiece with your brand new 600-word post, you probably won’t have much luck.
Another important factor is backlinks, or the number of websites linking to your website. Generally speaking, the more comprehensive your piece, the higher the likelihood of another website pointing back to you.
Long-form content is the perfect vehicle to go in-depth on a topic, fully address questions and related topics, and even introduce new ideas and thoughts around that topic. In other words, you can create a pillar page that draws tons of search traffic.
For instance, let’s say you’re part of a grill and outdoor kitchen brand and you’re writing about “how to make BBQ sauce.” There are likely lots of related search terms and keywords, like “best BBQ sauce recipes” or “BBQ sauce ingredients.” With a little keyword research, you can build a single pillar piece source that clusters all of those topics, and then create shorter, related pieces to support it.
Looking for content with the shareability factor built in? Surveys show that long-form content usually outperforms short-form content in this arena. In fact, according to BuzzSumo found that 3,000- to 10,000-word content got the most average shares. While it may seem like the bite-sized, casual, quick reads are the ones that get passed along, the data shows otherwise.
The authority and credibility benefits of long-form content are sometimes overshadowed by SEO power, but not today. When your brand develops long-form content, it positions your brand as a thought leader and signals to your audience that you’re actively invested in the problem and solution.
For instance, this nearly 5,000-word post about different mustache styles might seem absurd to the casual passerby, but for the Beardbrand’s target audience, it’s veritable content gold.
Another quick content win? Long-form content lends itself beautifully to being refreshed and repurposed for other marketing purposes (as long as you’re careful not to duplicate content.) For example, screenshots from an expert webinar can become a photo slideshow or the images in a quick short-form article.
You know the benefits of creating long-form content for your target audience, but there are some factors to weigh.
Diligent research and fact-checking takes time, and it’s tough to know in advance if the effort will pay off. The content writing process may not meet the goals you originally set in place. And if your marketing team gets caught up in creating too many long-form pieces at once, your content calendar could grind to a halt. It’s important not to neglect quick-hit content or day-to-day community engagement when longer content comes down the pipeline.
In the past, companies didn’t have websites or blog publishing platforms with mobile-optimized or mobile-responsive designs. This resulted in long-form content posts with extremely small, unintelligible text, paragraphs that ran off the screen, or broken hyperlinks. This is less of an issue nowadays, but it’s worth double-checking the capabilities of your content publishing platform(s).
Longer form content can yield fantastic results, but not until you invest the time and research. Before you hit “publish,” make sure your work is prepped for success with these strategies and reminders.
Here’s one final tip: Get a quick start on your next exciting idea with these free blog post templates.
We hope this guide has given you the confidence to choose the right length of content and execute it to perfection.
If you’re interested in optimizing your content — new or existing — and boosting organic traffic, schedule a consultation with us.