Long-Form Or Short – Do Your Goals Shape Your Content?

Long or short, written or visual, there’s no denying the importance of content. For businesses, it is an efficient tool to get their message out there. Good content will get you the right kind of attention. It is the very reason that a former DVD rental company is now ruling the web with high-quality original content.

What is content?

Initially, content used to be written words. Then came pictures, which spoke a thousand words. Film changed the way we looked at the world. Now videos and podcasts entertain and inform. The internet, social media and apps have shaped the way content is delivered and consumed.

But whatever the medium, the best content is the kind that gets your message across very clearly. The tonality, style and information should speak to the intended audiences for it to be effective. Would the communication for a steel company and a travel company use the same tone?

Similarly, the length of the content is determined by the audiences it speaks to and the platform it is being shared on.

Let us delve into the fascinating world of streaming media for a moment. YouTube attracts millions of viewers who are looking for recipe videos, food shows, DIY help, reviews, music videos and much more. According to ComScore, the average video length was about 4 and a half minutes with the shortest being under a minute, and longer videos over 20 minutes. While short videos are favoured on YouTube there is a range of lengths.

On Instagram, most stories run for about 15 seconds, whereas videos in the main feed run a little longer at around 60 seconds. According to LinkedIn, the most effective video ads range between 15-90 seconds. But, when it comes to LinkedIn native video (video that is uploaded directly to LinkedIn or created on the platform itself), videos that are 10 minutes long (it’s cut-off point) can be very effective, especially when it comes to telling layered stories.

TEDx Talks videos average between 11 minutes to 21 minutes. A quick search revealed that at least two of the top 10 most-watched videos are more than 21 minutes long.

Similarly, an opus like Game of Thrones needs 8 seasons to tell the story on a grand scale. Would it have been as successful if it was a 3-hour movie?

This is where knowing your objectives, audiences, and platforms matters.

What is long-form content?

There is no consensus on the required number of words or duration to ‘qualify’ as long format. When it comes to words, some believe a 700-800-word article qualifies as long content while there are others who consider articles upwards of 1,000 words to be long form. And there are others like the respected tech portal, Android Authority, that look at publishing articles over 2000 words, wherever warranted.

There are many reasons why long form is enduring.

  • Establishes your credibility Longer content gives you ample space to put forth your points, help contextualise, explain in depth and establish your credibility and authority over a period of time.
  • Increases user engagement
    A well-written piece has the power to hold a reader’s attention. While it can be argued that short content, like a photo or a short video, can be engaging too, longer content provides more value to the reader with more information. It also increases time on site – an important measure of online success. Consequently, it enhances the possibility of visitors returning for more quality content and recommending your site to others. Word of mouth is the best marketing your website can get, thanks to long-form content.
  • Gives higher ranking in search results
    According to a serpIQ study, the average length of content in top 10 Google search results is more than 2,000 words. Google clearly prefers long-form content. Even Twitter has now raised its word limit to 280 characters.

SEO experts assert that long-form content ranks better. Even though ranking is based on an combination of best practices, longer content gives it a strong foundation to build upon.

Subject matter determines length of content

This is an important detail in determining the length of content. Take a user manual for example. It is a detailed and illustrated document. Though it is rarely read, it becomes a saviour in the time of need. A white paper or an analytical write-up needs to be long to do justice to the subject matter. It is an effective tool of thought leadership. A typical white paper ranges between 3,000 to 5,000 words or even longer.

On the other hand, some content like a recipe or a DIY post that prompt action need to be short and to-the-point. What they need are clear and precise instructions, and maybe an image or two. The audience is different, and their purpose is different.

Usually long-form posts have a longer shelf life as they tend to address topics that are relevant over longer periods.

Shorter content has its uses

Shorter content too can be very impactful as it grabs attention, highlights a moment or addresses the need of the hour. It is useful for reporting headlines, for announcements and scenarios where extra information is superfluous.

If you want to get more eyeballs for your content on LinkedIn or Twitter, shorter content is the answer.

Arré, an Indian entertainment content platform, is a great example of a company using varying lengths and types of content to keep the user engaged. They feature long articles, short articles, videos, podcasts and doodles. Their content spans an array of topics that is put forth in different formats.

Where to use which format?

There is so much to choose from, and technology has made it so easy to connect with audiences instantly.

But the proliferation of channels and storytelling formats has also led to confusion for many organisations. Some are afraid to explore and stick to the traditional way of communicating and hence miss out on opportunities. While others create content that often lacks purpose and creates a disconnect with their intended audiences.

Brands approach us asking for help on understanding which platforms are relevant for them, how to choose the type of content and run multi-channel campaigns. Some examples of how we leverage content to help brands achieve their goals –

  • In the wellness space, we are developing a mix of long and short-format content for a company. The longer articles are published in newspapers and help establish their authority in the field; the shorter content is useful for promoting products and events and shared via their social media platforms.
  • For one of our customers in the travel industry, their website is the go-to platform for sharing content about destination choices, pricing and offers. We develop articles ranging from 300 to 1000 words; the simple parameter defining the length of an article is a destination’s popularity. The higher the popularity, the longer the write-ups. These guide the reader in choosing a destination or best fit package.
  • Newsletters are a great option that some of our clients use to help their audiences stay on top of company or industry news and events. In order to build high user engagement, we use a mix of text, audio and visuals, headline content (which could link to more in-depth pieces) and keep the tone conversational. But when a company’s CEO speaks about an issue, the style and tone changes to a more formal approach.

Developing engaging and effective content needs a well-defined and responsive strategy that incorporates many factors. Get in touch with us, if you would to explore ways to make your content work better for your audiences and you.

Image credit: Gerd Altmann, Pixabay