The way people behave online has long led to talk of shorter attention spans. In the United States, 71 percent of all time spent online is now spent on mobile devices. And 30 percent of the time people spend online now happens on social media sites.
Social media moves fast and rewards scrolling quickly past one message and onto the next. And mobile devices aren’t usually associated with spending long periods of time sitting and reading. It’s natural for people to assume these trends point toward a preference for shorter, “snackable” content that can be consumed quickly.
And yet, actual research looking into the issue of how content of different lengths performs doesn’t back up that assumption.
People have been asking the question of whether short-form or long-form content is best for a while, which means that a lot of data has been collected on the subject over time. The results point toward long-form content performing well in a number of key categories.
Research that examined which blog posts receive the most social shares found that, while most content doesn’t receive any social engagement, blog posts of over 1,000 words are much more likely to earn social shares than shorter posts. And as posts get even longer than that, the trend in increased shares continues.
Even though social media has a reputation for being fast moving, a lot of what people share on the social media sites are in-depth, thorough pieces.
Anyone doing inbound marketing is (or should be) thinking about SEO. Attaining high search rankings is one of the most effective ways to help people find your content.
While it’s far from the only factor that plays a role in search rankings, multiple analyses of word count trends in the posts that land the top spots in Google have found that those over 1,000 words tend to dominate the first page, with an 1,890-word average for posts in the coveted No. 1 spot.
Moz research has also found that posts over 1,000 words earn more backlinks, one of the most important factors Google’s algorithm looks at to determine search rankings. If SEO is a priority in your content strategy, then high-quality long-form content should be a part of your plan.
While content marketing strategies often aim for a number of different goals, ultimately one of the most important is achieving conversions. A number of studies done on the effect of word count on conversions have found that longer pages tend to convert better, by anywhere from around 30-50 percent. It’s clear that people appreciate having more information before taking action.
As unintuitive as it may seem, people actually do still read long-form content on their mobile devices. Long-form content gets right around the same number of views as short form does, and Pew found evidence that people actually take the time to stay on the page and keep reading longer posts—spending several minutes with them, much longer than the time they spend on shorter pieces.
Whether or not attention spans are getting shorter due to the web, long-form content is still sought out, read and shared. The data makes it clear that a strong content strategy should include long, thorough pieces of content packed with valuable information for your audience.
While the research shows that long-form content can get great results, making your blog posts longer won’t automatically net you those better results. You have to take the right approach to creating long-form content and getting it in front of people.
If you were like a lot of kids, you probably got experience in your school years figuring out ways to creatively stretch the length of a paper to the minimum pages or words assigned by the teacher. Even if that worked OK for you during your school days, don’t be tempted to do the same for your content marketing.
Your goal here is to create content that people appreciate enough that not only will they like it as they read it, but they’ll be more likely to follow you and trust your brand in the long term. If you only have enough substance to fill 500 words, then don’t artificially inflate your post to 1,000 because you feel like you’re supposed to.
If you’re struggling to figure out how to write long posts that are still valuable, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
As an example, HelpScout recently published a post on writing good conclusions. It’s a seemingly small subject (conclusions are often just a paragraph or two), but they go deep by analyzing why such a small task is hard. They get specific by providing examples. And they even bring in a quote from Stephen King’s book On Writing, showing they did the research. Starting with a subject that seems too small for long-form content may actually be just what you need to figure out how to really go deep and get more valuable.
When you read the compelling data on long-form content, it may make you wonder why everybody doesn’t just switch to doing long-form posts only. Once you start to make the switch yourself though, the answer will quickly be obvious: it’s difficult and time consuming.
If keeping up with a blog of 500-word posts is already hard for you to fit into your schedule, expect it to be approximately twice as hard to stay on top of things if you decide to start aiming for blog posts of 1,000 words and up. As blog post lengths go up in general, the average post now takes over three hours to write and some people report spending over six hours on each post.
The cost of getting the better results that highly valuable long-form content can provide is putting more time and energy into each piece you create. But as with most things in inbound marketing, it’s worth doing in large part because it’s hard. Content marketing is competitive and taking the more challenging approach is often the best way to stand out.
While shorter attention spans haven’t decreased people’s interest in long-form content, they do play a role in how people read online—which is to say, they scan. For all the hard work you put into a 1,500-word post, you can’t expect your visitors to read every single one of those words (and that’s OK, really).
People read only about 20 percent of the text on the page, but you can make it easy for them to get what they need from their post even without reading every word. Here are a few good tips to keep your content skimmable:
Your visitors don’t have to read your posts in their entirety for them to engage with them and find value in them. Make it easy for them to get what they need from the post the way they’re most likely to interact with it.
No matter how long your content is, you need people to see it for it to do you any good. For most businesses, that means putting a portion of your inbound marketing efforts toward content promotion.
For long-form content, the more work you put into creating the content should be matched with more effort in getting it in front of people. If you’re confident that a content piece is especially useful to your audience, then create a promotion campaign to ensure the people you want to reach are exposed to it. A few good content promotion tactics to consider are:
Producing long-form content does take more work, but if you make sure that it’s high quality and do your part to promote it, it can help you reach more people and give you the chance to gain their trust once you have their attention.