The Trouble with Short-Form Content

The demise of long-form content has been heralded for years. “People are too busy to read long articles today;” “Long articles are hard to read on phones;” “Reader attention span is down to eight seconds,” which, if true, means you’ve already stopped reading this article. But if you haven’t . . .

Various forms of short-form content, as short as Twitter and Vine, have become very popular. But for any B2B company, the data says that long form is as important as ever, and, in fact, it is much more effective than short. . . for the sort of reader B2B companies want. (If you’re trying to reach that critical enterprise-software buying 16-to-21-year-old demographic, short form is fine. Actually, if you can explain your customer experience mapping expertise in an infographic, go for it.)

Otherwise, here are some of the ways in which long form is more effective. For the purposes of this discussion, long is more than about 1,500 words.

  • More sharing: A study by BuzzSumo of 100 million articles on social media found that, on average, long-form content gets shared more than short-form content. In fact, the longer the content, the more shares it gets. Among the 10% most-shared articles, 3,000-10,000 word pieces got the most average shares (8,859).
  • More backlinks: One study by Moz, and another by HubSpot, found that long-form content is much more likely to generate a large number of backlinks.
  • Longer engagement: A study by Medium found that the best performing posts are on average 1,600 words long, and engage readers for seven minutes. Another study by Pew Research last year found that despite the small screen space on mobile phones, consumers spend more time with long-form news articles than with short-form. Indeed, the total engaged time with articles 1,000 words or longer averages about twice the engaged time with short-form stories.
  • Higher search engine rankings: A study from serpIQ found that the average length of every top 10 result on Google was more than 2,000 words. As Marcus Sheridan (the pool-guy-turned-inbound-marketing-expert) puts it, If Google has a choice to show two articles for the same keyword, which one are they going to choose: The one where readers average 45 seconds on the page, or the one where readers average 4.5 minutes on the page?
  • More long-tail search engine traffic: In-depth content draws search engine traffic for longer than short form content for two reasons. First it has more two-or-more word search terms. For example, Bloom Group ranks first on Google for “thought leadership best practices.” That’s not a term we ever optimized for, but we have an in-depth article on the topic, and that four-word search term brings a visitor to that article about once a month. That’s not much, but if you add up all those three- to six-word terms in all our articles, that’s a lot of traffic. Second, that article, which is two years old, is just as relevant today as when it was written. Few short-form articles have that kind of shelf life.

Short form does have a role in B2B. Through a Tweet or a LinkedIn post, it can draw attention to a longer article or report. And it can serve, as in these 700 words, to address an issue on which a company has a point of view, but which does not warrant in-depth research or analysis.

Short is quicker and easier to produce than long. And, for that reason, there is a lot more of it. BuzzSumo found there is there is 16 times more content online with less than 1,000 words than there is with 2,000-plus words. But a lot of that is me-too material that will not stand out or differentiate its authors. So, if all other things are equal, it’s a lot harder to cut through the clutter with short form.

To impress their customers, and attract new ones, B2B businesses need to inform, demonstrate expertise, stimulate discussion, and appear to be established.

They can’t do that in a 500-word listicle, and they risk doing the opposite. 

 

Comments

A great article and a good demonstration of the sort of content that is just right for B2B.... Good writing, well argued and some strong evidence (not just assertion).

The people who don't engage with long articles are the people who aren't interested, so of course lots of people disappear early. The key point is how many people stay a long time... They are your audience and prospects.

Submitted by Tim Parker on

Thanks Tim. The most interesting part of this for me was I did not have a strong opinion until I started looking for evidence in the public domain. There are a lot of unsubstantiated asserions about the power of short form and, as mentioned, it has its place. But there is apparently overwhelming evidence of the continued value of (good) long form. So the exercise of uncovering the evidence led me to a point of view. That's always more interesting and educational than looking for evidence to support a PoV one already has.

I enjoyed your thoughtful and fact-filled post, Tim.

I concur with — to make an impression and to convert ‘considerers’ to customers, long-form content is key.

B2B content consumers — customers, analysts, prospects, and advocates — are part of an ecosystem — where there is no one way to enter. This ecosystem is part discovery-driven, part funnel-driven, part sustainability-driven. Effective businesses teach, help solve, and partner with readers to continue to build and sustain a relationship.

The ‘lily pads’ of that ecosystem are content and content marketing. Search, form factor, short-form video, factoids, tweets, 2,000-word blog posts and 18-page white papers each have a role and responsibility in the content marketing ecosystem. Without one, the other ones do not thrive. Take away the tweets and graphic factoids and the social referrals to the 2000-word blog post decrease — along with the white paper downloads. Remove the 2000-word blog post from the ecosystem and the social referrals amount to nothing more than billboards with no destination.

Successful content marketers holistically think of content. Social posts and short-form content are based on the long-form content destination — like one lily pad leading to another. The user experience is critical — always pointing to the next step — in a B2B marketing ecosystem. Sometimes shorter content is quicker and easier to produce than longer content. However, if it's created in the context of this bigger ecosystem, then it's not so easy — since we have to weave together the story allowing multiple entry points into the ecosystem.

As keepers of the content marketing ecosystem, we need to pay attention to all of the lily pads and other things influencing its health. Things change, ecosystems change, and content marketing strategies change.

Here’s to feeding the ecosystem with long-form, short-form, and new-form content!

@GerryMoran

Submitted by Tim Parker on

Thanks Gerry. Yes there's a place for both. This data tells me the most important thing is to know what you can expect to achieve with each.

Add new comment