Whether to use short-form or long-form content is a dilemma that marketers are regularly faced with when crafting campaigns, and there is rarely a definitive answer. Shorter, snackable articles can be just as valuable as longer, more comprehensive whitepapers and blogs, so how do you decide?
What is the difference between short-form and long-form content?
To get a better idea of what exactly short-form and long-form entail, the best place to start is to set a few boundaries or word lengths for the two camps. Short-form content typically contains less than 1,000 words. This means that it is easier to digest and it eschews in-depth detail for more basic overviews. It is also quicker and easier to create. Obviously, this is not always the case, but short-form aims to get messages across quickly and succinctly.
There are a variety of formats that are suited to short-form output, including blog posts, infographics, social media posts, news articles and emails.
In contrast, long-form content is generally more detailed, allowing marketers to take a deep dive into certain topics, with a word count of 1,000-1,200 or more. A few long-form formats that are regularly used by marketers include comprehensive blog posts, white papers, eBooks, tutorials and evergreen webpages.
Long-form aims to cover a topic in detail, answering many of the questions and queries that a typical searcher would ask within a single piece. Google likes longer content for this reason as a single source can offer a definitive overview of a subject.
Does word count really matter?
While long-form aims to inform and educate to a greater degree than snackable content, it does not mean that it is automatically more valuable or relevant for the reader. Both short-form and long-form have a place.
This means that the length of your content is important and does matter, but longer is not necessarily better all the time. Context is what is key when deciding whether to greenlight a daily news project or a new eBook. The content needs to serve its main purpose and support key objectives.
Word count can also have an impact on tangible metrics that reverberate far beyond the initial publication. For example, a Backlinko study found that long-form content generated more backlinks than the short-form alternative. It noted that word counts running up to 3,000 and higher regularly outperform short blogs and articles.
However, a separate study by Fractl found that content with 1,000 words or less is eminently more shareable than longer pieces. After analysing 5,000 articles across the web, Fractl found that the sweet spot was at 695 words. Blogs and articles in this ballpark are the most linked to and drive higher sharing rates.
The study offered a succinct answer to the perennial short-form versus long-form issue: “When it comes to word count, this just emphasizes that it depends on the topic and why you’re creating the content; the length should correspond to the reader’s intent. Do they want a quick answer or a conceptual deep-dive?”
Is there anything else I need to consider?
Understanding your audience’s needs and search intent is important when weighing up what format to use. Successful campaigns should have a mix of both, but how do you decide on a case-by-case basis?
First, you need to outline a few goals for each piece of content you want to craft. For example, if you are set on increasing the visibility of your brand before a product or service launch, you could opt for a blog or email that details the feature set and launch date and follow up with daily social media posts to generate awareness. Short-form works well here for raising awareness. A deep dive is not required at this stage.
Another factor to consider is your competition, and again, keep your goals in mind. If you want to rank for a high-volume keyword and increase traffic to your webpages, it makes sense to look at what your close rivals are doing. If they have a few high-ranking pages in Google, you can compare them and build a template from there.
For example, pages occupying the top spots in search might cover a few points in depth and hit a word count of around 1,000 words. You can follow up by detailing the same points but then differentiate your article by going more in-depth and exploring different areas of the topic. Creating something more comprehensive here – i.e. long-form – is the way to go to achieve your goals.
Finally, take a look back at how your existing content marketing output has performed. Your audience may already be more receptive to short-form or long-form content and key metrics will provide evidence of that trend. Using Google Analytics, track ‘traffic’, ‘conversions’ and ‘engagement’ to see how shorter news or blogs compare to longer blogs and whitepapers.
You will then be able to see what sort of content is best for driving the highest level of conversions through search or engagement on social media. Combining this data with search intent will give you a pretty good idea about what content length is best to pursue.
Another factor that should inform your decision-making is the customer journey or conversion path. There is now a myriad of touchpoints that a customer will use before they actually convert into a sale. Knowing the types of content that work best in pushing customers along the cycle will also help you to come up with the right word lengths.
Both short-form and long-form are an important part of the content marketing toolset and will need to be utilised together to achieve key objectives, whether that is to entertain and drive shares or educate and inform at the bottom of the funnel to clinch a sale.
Just remember to analyse data to determine why a shorter or longer piece may have performed or not, and use these insights to improve your output moving forward. Creating content that serves a purpose and matches user intent is key – the rest should fall into place.