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Long-Form vs. Short-Form Content: Which is best?

By Iida Sirviö 6 August, 2020

laptop on a table and a person typing on it

Crafting a successful content marketing strategy is an art form. It’s an art form with many subtle nuances that can make or break your company’s reputation. Content length is one of these nuances. 

There’s a common belief that shorter attention spans and increased mobile searches makes short-form content better. At the same time, you hear SEOs praising long-form content as the best format for increasing online exposure.

So, what do we make of all this? 

Well, they’re both right and wrong.

While there’s much truth to these arguments, they both lack some important context. Although shorter content is better for people who need to get to the meat of the matter quickly, it’s more limiting when demonstrating your industry expertise. Likewise, longer form content can be great for SEO but can be overkill and lose a reader on lighter topics.

The winner between long-form and short-form content is dependent on your business objectives, your audience’s needs and their intent. But before revealing our insights into the above, let’s define the differences between long and short-form content.

Long-form content 

Long-form content is generally content that exceeds 2000 words.

The most common types of long-form content are long blog posts, guides, ebooks, whitepapers, databases and webinars.

Besides length, other unifying factors of long-form content are in-depth research and statistics, evergreen information and content that’s designed to be educational and informative.

When should you use long-form content?

Long-form content is a great way to target the top and middle of the marketing funnel — the awareness and consideration stages of the customer journey.

Ebooks, for instance, are a great way to generate leads. On the other hand, white papers are ideal for demonstrating industry know-how to potential B2B clients that need validation for a business’ expertise.

Creating long-form content is also a great way to provide more information to your audience when launching a new product or a service. This is especially useful for B2B companies in industries with technical or complex products or services.

It’s important to consider, however, the purpose of your content. Don’t expect readers to stay engaged for 2000 words if you’ve only got 800 words to say. Trying to make a long-form piece out of a short one for more keywords has disaster written all over it.

What are the benefits of long-form content?

In a nutshell, significant.

Longer pieces of content have a better chance to rank for more keywords. Comprehensive guides, for instance, are more attractive for other backlinking and shares as well. According to Hubspot, the ideal word count for a blog post just in terms of SEO benefits is 2100-2400 words. 

High-quality long-form content is also a great way to increase consumer trust and conversions.

Web analytics platform Crazy Egg, for example, saw a 30% increase in marketing conversions when they switched to long-form content. Their conclusion was that “in reality, you cannot have a page that’s too long—only one that’s too boring.”

A great example of a piece of long-form lead generation content is Backlinko’s SEO guide to 2020. Chapter by chapter, Backlinko’s SEO guide provides actionable insights that go beyond the standard SEO trend predictions, and delves deeper into the root of quality SEO strategies.

What are the downsides of long-form content?

The rise of mobile searches and shorter attention spans present real challenges to long-form content. Generally speaking, long-form content’s weak spots lie in its mobile compatibility and longer loading times in comparison with shorter content.

In addition to the above, long-form content’s purpose can be easily misunderstood. Keyword stuffing is common in poor-quality long-form content that’s duly penalised by Google. If you’ve ever considered shoving keywords into content where it’s not welcome, take heed of WordStream’s blog on the dangers of keyword stuffing to your website.

To stay on Google’s good side, check that your target keyword density is less than 2% by using Yoast and steer away from adding irrelevant information on your content.

Short-form content

Short-form content is seen as being 1,200 words or less, although this also varies between different industries. Short-form content includes emails, press releases, blogs posts, and social media posts.

When should you use short-form content?

Short-form content is especially effective at the bottom of the marketing funnel when your audience is at the decision-making stage. It also works well at the top of the funnel for increasing brand awareness and fostering industry thought leadership.

Either way, knowing your audience and product or service is key. If your buyer persona contains business entrepreneurs with little time for reading new content, a concise and clear blog post is well placed to build brand awareness. If you’re selling a technologically-sophisticated B2B service package, then a white paper or evergreen guide is probably better suited to showcasing your industry expertise.

What are the benefits of short form content?

Due to reduced timeframes of reader engagement, short form content shines best on mobile-based searches and retaining audience’s attention.

According to Buffer, audience engagement for a particular piece of content averages at 7 minutes (or 1,600 words), before losing a reader’s attention.

Short form content allows companies to be more powerful in their messaging. For example, Txchnologist microsite from the tech conglomerate General Electrics successfully showcases their unique industry knowledge and engages the audience using short form content.

Also, short-form content production requires less time and resources, allowing you to consistently produce content to better connect with your audience. 

What are the challenges of short form content?

Way back when in 2011, the ‘selfie’ was slowly becoming popularized, and the Iphone 4 was the latest cutting-edge technology. It was also the golden age of short-form content. Short-form content dominated Google search results and lengthed between 350-600 words.

So, what changed?

Essentially, Google wised up to sites putting out high volumes of low-quality content for the sake of keyword rankings, and  Google Panda was created. The Google Panda algorithm introduced harsh penalties on sites that resorted to keyword stuffing, encouraging better quality written content to be created.

This trend has continued to this day with long-form content dominating the SEO game and ranking higher on search results.

Wrapping Up

So, what’s the verdict? 

Well, it really boils down to content marketing your goals. Are you looking to grow your digital footprint and rank higher on SEO? Then long-form content is best. Are you focusing on fostering thought-leadership? Then short-form content is more appropriate.

However, a comprehensive content marketing strategy has more than just one goal. After first focusing on your main objective, you should create a variety of different types of content to fulfil other goals as well.

Always remember your objectives on every piece of content that you produce and see how it fits the bigger picture. This way, you’ll master the subtle nuances of content marketing and satisfy your and your audience’s needs.

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