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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.