Short-form content is an effective solution for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it's a good route to take if there just isn't a great deal to say but there is something of value to be said. Secondly, it's beneficial for lower attention spans because it requires less time from your readers. It’s what makes short-form so attractive.
Shorter content also benefits the content creator. It’s much easier to write several 300-word blog posts than it is to write a 1500-word piece that delivers highly useful information throughout. Since more of your readers make it to the end, they’re more likely to interact with your content by commenting and sharing your posts.
But there’s one major challenge when writing short-form content – there must be no compromise on quality. Smaller word counts can often lead to content that is missing the most valuable information.
While short-form content capitalises on lower attention spans in some cases, long-form content can act as a reward for commitment. This allows you to discuss topics in much greater depth using your expertise to build strong arguments. It goes without saying that it will take a lot more time to write and perfect long-form articles but at the same time you generally don’t have to produce it as often.
Long-form content must be formatted correctly to grab the reader’s attention. This includes the use of engaging titles and informative subheadings. Your introduction must also pique the reader’s interest to communicate the value of spending a few extra minutes reading your post.
Skimming and Scrolling
Content consumption habits have drastically changed since the introduction of smartphones. Many people – particularly the younger generation – almost exclusively consume content on their mobile devices. The continued growth of media consumption via smartphones means that content needs to be well-optimised for mobile devices.
This trend coincides with skimming and scrolling, which have become more popular, as people seek out the most informative or interesting parts without reading in detail.
This has presented a challenge for writers as they must grab the attention of the reader in a shorter space of time. While skimming and scrolling may not directly affect the ideal length of content, content creators must consider these new habits when structuring their articles.
What to Consider Before Writing
A content strategy will help you determine the ideal length for your content. Below are some of the factors to consider before writing.
Your Primary Objectives
Creating content is likely part of a wider strategy to achieve certain business goals. For example, improving your SEO ranking and increasing traffic to your website. These goals will influence the length of your content. If you want to improve your SEO ranking, for example, you’re often going to need long-form posts (more on that further below).
The industry which your brand operates in has a huge influence on the length of your content. Prominent digital marketer, Neil Patel, goes into great detail about the optimal length for a piece of content in different industries. His findings below are based on his vast industry experience and some additional research:
- FinTech - 2,000 - 2,150
- Finance - 2,100 - 2,500
- Manufacturing - 1,700 - 1,900
- Sales - 2,500 - 2,700
- Retail - 1,500 - 1,700
- Real estate - 1,800 - 1,900
- Home & garden - 1,100 - 1,200
- Tech - 800 - 1,000
- Gadgets - 300 - 500
- Marketing/ advertising - 2,500 - 3,000
- Healthcare - 2,000 - 2,150
- Fashion - 800 - 950
- Recruiting - 900 - 1,000
- Food - 1,400 - 1,900
- Travel - 1,500 - 1,850
- Film - 1,500 - 1,700
Your Target Audience
Another important factor to consider is your target audience. Identify their age, interests and any other factors you think could influence their attitude towards your content. For example, the industry data above demonstrates that some sectors consume more long-form content than others.
Content length should also be based on how far along the customer journey your target audience is. Someone at the beginning of the customer journey may need to get up to speed on a certain topic and so is more likely to consume detailed long-form content that comprehensively educates them on the subject matter. On the other hand, someone who’s further along the customer journey might require more short-form content complete with CTAs (calls to action) to drive more conversions.
How Often You Post
This one is extremely simple. If you post frequently, you can afford to produce more short-form content. You may choose this path because of your audience's preference to consume content in smaller chunks. In contrast, posting less frequently could result in more of a need to produce more long-form content that explains your chosen topics comprehensively.
Quality Over Quantity
Regardless of your target audience and all other factors, quality always trumps quantity. Don’t just publish content for the sake of it. When you absolutely must meet a word count and you feel it’s unreasonable, try to reconsider the title. In many cases, you can alter the topic slightly to give yourself more to discuss.
What Do Search Engines Prefer?
Optimising your content for search engines is crucial to success. So, how does content length play a part in this? The reality is that search engines prefer substance, facts, and evidence over anything else. They will rank the most useful information on page one. It just so happens that this is usually long-form content. Logic says there’s more room to be thorough in your posts without the constraints of a smaller word count.
That being said, if you can deliver exceptional value in fewer words, there’s absolutely no reason why your content will not perform well in search results.
What Does Research Suggest?
Although the ideal length of content is somewhat subjective, research suggests there may be some general rules to abide by. A study conducted by SEO specialists Moz in collaboration with BuzzSumo analysed over a million websites to discover the optimal content length. They suggested that the minimum length to aim for was around 1000 words. This is because long-form content over 1000 words typically received more shares and links than short-form content.
Aside from this, a 2016 study from Backlinko analysed over 1 million Google search results to find out which factors correlate with first page results. They found that the average word count for content featured on the front page was 1,890 words. The theory was that longer content is linked to more social shares and thus ranked higher. The researchers also theorised that lengthier content boosts a page’s relevancy and provides Google with a deeper understanding of the content’s topic.
An additional study conducted by Buzzsumo found that, on average, long-form content is shared more often than short-form content. The 3,000 - 10,000-word range gets the most average shares. This support’s Backlinko’s theory about long-form content ranking higher in search engine results due to the increased number of shares.
Despite what the data shows regarding reader consumption habits and short attention spans, long-form content is on the rise and highly effective for improved organic search performance. The 2019 Orbit Media Annual Blogging Survey found that the average blog post was 1236 words long, 56% longer on average than in 2014.
So, How Long is That Piece of String?
The reality is there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to choosing the length for your content. Every author’s circumstances are different. Even so, there are several factors that every content creator should consider before writing.
Start by identifying your content objectives. What are you hoping to achieve with your content? Thereafter, pinpoint your target audience and decide whether you need to shorten the article or go into detail about the topic on hand. You may also need to consider the industry you operate within or how frequently you plan on posting, among other factors.
While there is no definitive answer regarding an optimal length, research suggests that long-form content generally performs well, as long as it's relevant, useful and search-engine friendly at the very least.
Ultimately, you must remember that no matter the length of your content, quality always beats quantity. Long-form content that lacks substance is a waste of time for both readers and content creators alike. So choose your words wisely.