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Does Long-Form Content Work in Today's Small Attention Span World?

By Kristen HicksNov 9, 2017

long-form-content.jpgThe 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.

Data Shows Long-form Content Performs Well

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.

Long-form content gets more shares.

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.

length-vs-sharesSource Moz

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.

Long-form content performs better in search engines.

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.

google-position-versus-word-count

Source Backlinko

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.

Long-form content is better for conversions.

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.

It even performs well on mobile devices.

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.

long-form-mobile-engagementSource Journalism

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.

How to Create Long-Form Content That Performs Well

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.

Don’t stretch it.

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:

  • Go deep. Chances are, there are many blogs out there that already have given a shallow look to the topic you’re writing about. To differentiate yourself and keep your post useful past the 1,000-word mark, dive deeper into the subject. Think about the different questions and issues people are likely to have related to the subject and try to respond to as many of them as possible in your post.
  • Devote time to research. You’re always going to have a hard time finding much to say about a topic you don’t know much about. The best fix to that is spending time seeking out other sources on the subject to learn more. A big part of good writing is research, so plan on spending a chunk of the time you devote to each blog post on finding other articles or even books on the subject and reading through them.
  • Get specific. It can be harder to say much of value when you’re talking about things on a broad level. Providing specific examples or step-by-step instructions can both make a blog post more valuable, and help you say more while staying useful to the end.

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.

Plan on spending some serious time on each long-form piece.

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.

Use formatting to break it up.

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:

  • Break it up into sections. Avoid having a wall of text by breaking your content up into different parts and writing clear headings to make it easy for readers to find the parts of the post they’re most interested in.
  • Use numbered lists and bullet points. Where possible, organize your writing with lists (like this one) that make it easy for readers to jump to specific points.
  • Include a lot of white space. Keep your paragraphs short and use spacing between paragraphs and sections.
  • Include images. Using images in your content is a good idea in general, but it can also serve to give readers a visual break from words and make the post easier to scan.

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.

Promote your content.

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:

  • Promote it on your social media accounts. If you want to reach a new audience with it, consider investing in paid social advertising.
  • Share it with your email list. The people who already know and like your brand are some of those most likely to appreciate the new content you create.
  • Optimize it for search engines. Before publishing, do keyword research to make sure you’re using the best terminology for your topic and optimize your title, headings and meta tags.
  • Make it easy for readers to share. Use social share plug-ins so visitors who like your post only have to click a button to share it with their followers.
  • Consider PPC. It’ll cost you, but pay-per-click advertising can bring attention to your post from people who wouldn’t see it otherwise.

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.Check Out Essential Content Marketing KPI - Interactive Checklist

Additional Topics: Content and Design
The Author

Kristen Hicks

Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based copywriter and content marketer specializing in helping businesses connect with customers through content online.
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