The goal of search engine optimization (SEO) is to earn your website prominent placement in search engine results. Claiming the coveted top spots increases your business’s online visibility, credibility, and website traffic.
The best way to do this is by investing in content marketing, which can help your site gain exposure and ultimately, generate leads for your business.
But while you’re likely aware of the importance of content creation, you may not necessarily be sure how to tackle it. If so, you’re not alone.
One of the most common things businesses wonder about is whether they should be producing shorter or longer content. To answer this question, you need a clear understanding of each type, along with their respective benefits and limitations.
What is Short-Form Content?
Short-form content is generally defined as content with less than 1,000 words.
Due to their limited word count, most short-form pieces provide a general overview of their subject, in contrast to longer articles that discuss topics in greater depth. Standalone tweets and other similarly brief social media posts are examples of short-form content, although you can also find short-form blog posts of 300-600 words.
The Benefits of Short-Form Content
The benefits of short-form writing include:
1. Quick Consumption
For various reasons, many people prefer blog posts that they can read and benefit from without a major time investment. Some readers simply don’t have much time to spare, while others dislike reading altogether.
Whatever the reason, short-form blog posts are useful for those inclined toward quick reads.
Short-form content creators can optimize their work for further skimmability by using clear headings, short sentences and paragraphs, bullet points, and so on. These help readers quickly locate the points most interesting and relevant to them if they do not wish to read a post in its entirety.
2. Quick Creation
Just as short-form posts don’t take long to read, they also don’t take long to write.
This can keep your workload at a manageable level. You don’t have to stress about researching, drafting, and editing an extensive piece while still tending to other responsibilities. This can be a major advantage if you often feel that you’re short on time.
It can also afford you the freedom to produce and focus on other types of content if your strategy calls for it.
3. Mobile Friendliness
With so much of website traffic now originating from mobile devices, mobile friendliness is more important than ever… Making it a good thing that short-form content gives you a headstart when optimizing for mobile!
Short-form content is easier to read on mobile devices.
Because of its length, short-form content offers a more user-friendly read than longer posts, which can be cumbersome to scroll through on smaller screens.
Short-Form Content Examples
For some real examples of effective short-form content, check out these popular posts from two well-known brand names—Airbnb and HuffPost.
Example 1: Airbnb
Airbnb’s blog features a variety of articles intended to inspire and educate hosts, such as its post breaking down the results of Airbnb’s research on guests’ views of Airbnb Experiences.
Although short, this post is packed with value.
It offers insight into research data on guests who are more likely to book Airbnb Experiences and why. For optimal scannability, the author even includes bulleted takeaways to help readers glean major points for hosting.
And coming in at less than 900 words, this post is proof that research findings can be concise yet still provide value to readers.
Example 2: HuffPost
This post by HuffPost—How To Whiten Your Teeth At Home Fast—is an excellent short-form example.
For one thing, with less than 350 words, it’s a quick read.
The article also happens to be part of HuffPost’s Finds section, which centers around brand sponsorships and advertorial content. Posts in this category generally cover one select product, explaining to readers why something makes a worthwhile purchase.
Choosing a shorter word count for this type of content is ideal because these posts are in essence, sales pitches. They don’t need to be overly complex (unless the product in question requires it). Instead, these posts get straight to the point, explaining how to accomplish something (like whitening your teeth) and what product can help.
The Limitations of Short-Form Content
What challenges might you face as a result of using only short-form content?
Because of its generally shorter production time, short-form content is ideal for producing timely news pieces and updates that are relevant for only a short period. As a result, many short-form articles (though not all) tend to be created for the here and now.
While this can certainly attract readers looking for the latest news on a particular topic, it also points to short-form content’s tendency to be transient rather than evergreen.
Consequently, if you rely on a purely short-form content strategy, you may feel the need to keep producing new content, lest you want to see your traffic dip.
2. Less Engagement
To be clear, shorter posts don’t always translate into lower user engagement. After all, some readers may be intrigued by a particular post and decide to explore other content on your site.
However, that said, you may also find one-off users with no interest in perusing your site further. Instead, they simply skim the short-form article they landed on and then leave without any other meaningful engagement.
To combat this, make your short-form content compelling and include internal links to pique readers’ interest.
Understanding Long-Form Content
You’ve probably figured out that long-form content boasts a greater word count than its short-form counterpart. There’s no clearly defined point at which a post is considered long-form, but 1,000 words is a bare minimum. There is also no maximum, meaning you may find long-form content with as many as 10,000 words online.
The Benefits of Long-Form Content
Long-form writing offers two major advantages:
1. Branding & Credibility
Longer posts give you more room to develop and showcase your brand. They allow you to share your unique brand personality, style, tone, and values. As a result, your readers can develop and deepen their connections to your business.
On top of that, lengthier posts can help enhance your business’s credibility—an important component of that customer-relationship-building process.
Think how-to guides, FAQs, and step-by-step tutorials. Because such pieces dive deeply into their respective subjects, they show off their authors’ expertise and enhance their sense of trustworthiness.
2. Social Shares
It might seem unlikely that people would even read long posts, let alone share them, especially with all the talk about the shorter-than-ever human attention span.
However, research conducted on 100 million of the most shared articles revealed that, long-form content gets shared significantly more than short-form.
Long-Form Content Examples
Consider these long-form examples from Precision Nutrition and NerdWallet.
Example 1: Precision Nutrition
Precision Nutrition is a wellness company dedicated to cultivating strong nutrition and lifestyle coaches. As such, it often publishes long-form content aimed at educating beginner coaches, like its guide on talking to clients to encourage change.
With more than 3,500 words, the article outlines best practices, scenarios, and tips for communicating with health clients. It not only makes a powerful guide for any coach looking to improve their skills, but it also establishes Precision Nutrition as a resourceful authority.
Well-planned and executed long-form content can do the same for your business—that is, build both your readership and credibility.
Example 2: NerdWallet
At over 4,500 words, NerdWallet’s article 26 Legit Ways to Make Money lists and explains a complete host of possible side hustles.
The readability of the piece also contributes to its effectiveness. Each strategy of making money listed includes an overview of the total time and requirements needed to execute it—formatted as expandable text boxes with bolding and bullet points.
In addition, NerdWallet embedded a relevant episode from their Smart Money podcast in this particular post. This not only adds another layer of information, but it also provides another opportunity for readers to dwell on the page for longer.
Long-Form Writing’s Limitations
While its advantages are highly desirable, long-form writing comes with drawbacks of its own. Potential limitations include:
1. Lack of Mobile-Friendliness
The smaller screens on mobile devices mean that blocks of text appear much longer than they do on desktop. Likewise, longer posts appear much longer than they do on desktop. Seemingly endless paragraphs and posts can be overwhelming, and image-heavy posts can be difficult to load on mobile devices.
To address this issue, format your long-form posts for better readability.
2. An Extended Creative Process
Long-form posts demand more time in researching, writing, and editing. As a result, spending so much time on singular posts can limit your output if you don’t have a content creation team and are trying to blog regularly on your own.
While what you do post will provide a lot of valuable information, you might not be able to maintain a consistent publishing schedule, especially while juggling other responsibilities.
You can get around this issue by outsourcing content creation to somebody with the time and skills to handle it.
Which Content Type Should You Use?
Now you know the ins and outs of content length—still, the core question in the short-form vs. long-form debate remains. Which type is right for you?
The truth is, the length of your content should be determined by your goals for it and what exactly users are looking for.
Determine Your Content Goals
Short-form writing is best when detailed information is not needed. If you sell inexpensive, commonly used products or services, there’s little risk involved for your buyers and no need to restate what they probably already know.
(For instance, if you’re selling socks, your readers don’t need to read 3,000 words about them.)
Additionally, content written for an audience that already trusts you often doesn’t need to be as extensive as for an audience that you’re still trying to win over.
What about long-form writing?
The opposite is true. More expensive, rarer products and services generally warrant a thorough explanation. Posts for audiences that are unfamiliar with your business are also more effective when they’re more in-depth and informative.
Think User Intent
Don’t forget to consider what users are searching for, though. That is, what is the intent behind a user’s query?
This concept is known as user or search intent—and with a solid understanding of it, you can create content that’s better catered to users’ needs.
Take for example the two keyword phrases “nutrition definition” and “nutrition tips.”
If you search both phrases in Google, you’ll see that content length varies between the queries’ search results. “Nutrition definition” mostly results in single-paragraph definitions, while “nutrition tips” brings up extensive guides and listicles to eating right.
This makes sense because someone searching for “nutrition definition” is likely looking for a brief description or explanation of nutrition. Meanwhile, someone searching for “nutrition tips” is probably looking for more comprehensive information beyond a simple definition.
As you create content for your own website, consider what users are expecting when they enter a particular search query into Google or Bing. The length of your content should ultimately align with user intent.
Beyond the Word Count
Word count isn’t the only factor when it comes to executing a successful content strategy. How well your posts perform depends on several factors, including:
- Formatting and Readability: Does your formatting make for a comfortable reading experience? Do you use vocabulary your audience can easily understand? Remember to consider user experience as you create content, regardless of whether it’s short or long.
- Keyword Research: Don’t leave your rankings to chance. Thorough research will help you target relevant keywords that interest your target audience.
- Distribution: Are you using the right distribution channels to reach your audience? Are you sharing your content at the right times? Outreach matters because if you’re not promoting your work, how will users find it?
These factors can make or break your content marketing strategy, so be sure to educate yourself on best practices. You should do this even if you plan to hire writers for content creation so that you can be confident in the quality of the work they deliver.
This post was written by Compose.ly writer Nia Gyant and originally published in November 2018.