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The Long and Short of it | How long should a blog be?

by  David Dwyer on  23/08/2018    783 Reads

The content on your website is not just there to fill in the white bits, it has to work for you in some way or it’s simply a costly space filler.  Acres have been written about writing; what works, what doesn’t, and we’re going to examine a specific topic: long form versus short form.  Which works best, which will improve your search engine results, which will improve dwell time, which will best serve your customers - existing or prospective?

Both have their place, both can help you achieve your desired results but that’s not to say that they are equal, they’re not.  The differences between them are significant, and the correct choice is important to how you present yourself, your ideas, your values and your services. Some of these differences are quantifiable, others are more nebulous, but it is possible to draw useful conclusions.

 

Blog writing advice

Long versus short - what do we mean?

Anything over 1000 words is generally considered long form, less is seen as short.  Typically short form pieces will run around 500 words, although slightly shorter or longer is not unusual.

Content as value

Before you create content, or pay for it’s creation, you need to be clear about what you want, why you want it and what it is intended to do for your business.  This ideally should form part of your brief, regardless of whether your copywriter is in-house or external.  It is important to understand where the content sits in relation to your overall marketing and SEO strategy - filler is nobody's friend and you should avoid it like the plague.  Moreover because of the way Google, Bing and others trawl websites to build search indexes, low quality, information-poor content will not contribute to your visibility and may adversely affect it .

Content, long or short, should be informative and attractive.  It can suggest a direction of travel to the reader, whether that be an enquiry, a phone call or further reading.  It should do something even if that is simply inform them.

Long Form advantages:

  • Authority - Long form piece tells your reader that you know what you’re talking about
  • Dwell time - Long form attracts and holds the attention of readers seeking information.  Consequently they stay longer on your page.  This dwell time can have a significant effect on your search rankings.
  • Repurposing - Longer pieces can be more easily reworked or divided, delivering more bang for your buck.  A long white paper can be delivered as a series of shorter, linked pieces.
  • Strategic base - Long form is a great starting point to introduce new products or services; it lets you engage with your audience and explain the benefits of your offering
  • Altruistic - Even if a reader doesn’t hit the ‘buy’ button immediately, delivering good quality, interesting information increases your visibility and credibility.  You become a trusted source of opinion and information and are far more likely to translate that interest into business.
  • High return on investment - Quality, increased dwell times, credibility are all great returns on your content budget.
  • Brand building - Long form is a valuable way to introduce a new brand or service, allowing you fully explain your offerings and their unique features.
  • Sharing - Long form pieces are far more likely to be shared, and shared more extensively - that’s an even better return on investment.
  • Increases conversion rates - Long form copy can demonstrate up to 30% better conversion rates than short form.

Cons:

  • Intimidating - There is no getting away from it, some readers find longer pieces off-putting.
  • Lacks immediacy - A long form piece is a slower burn - for the reader it doesn’t have the quick gratification of a short piece
  • Higher costs  - Whether you’re paying for your content directly or in your time, creating them takes longer, requires more research and effort.  That investment can be offset by repurposing and serialisation, increasing the return on your expenditure.

 

Short Form advantages

  • Immediate impact - Short form tends to be snappy, it grabs the reader and doesn’t require as much of them as long form.
  • Cost effective - As a rule of thumb, short form is cheaper, whether that is is pure cash terms, or simply less of your time.
  • Quickly repeatable - Since they take less time to create, they take less time to repeat, so a quick follow up is less demanding
  • Brand reinforcement - Short form is an effective way of reinforcing an existing brand or message, think of them as a “remember me?!” or as quickly flagging new developments to your audience.
  • Agility - Smaller and quicker, short form is inherently agile.  If you need to move fast and to be seen to be moving fast, short form can be a godsend.

Cons

  • Restricted delivery potential - Short form simply cannot deliver the depth of information that long form can.  You cannot therefore expect to generate the same level of engagement with the reader, especially if they are seeking answers to complicated questions.
  • Restricted information content - Fewer words, less information.  It’s obvious and true.
  • Seen as disposable content - Shorter form pieces are not expected to have the ‘legs’ of longer content - They tend to be replaced more frequently and because they aren’t used to deliver in-depth analysis or explanation they can be regarded as disposable by your readers.
  • Far fewer shares than long form



At present (because who knows what tomorrow may bring) long form represents a better investment.  It is favoured by search algorithms and it has the added advantage of generating a higher sharing rate which is essentially people doing your work for you, spreading your words and ideas.  While parts of the internet are intensely visual, there is no escaping the power and facility of words to transmit ideas, and to transform those into action on the part of your audience.

It was significant that while researching this piece, a search in praise of short form content was predominantly finding articles and opinions from several years ago, it would seem that there has been a shift in perception.  The advantages claimed for it were as listed above but they tended to emphasise the benefits to the creator rather than to the reader or intended audience.  While we hesitate to be too black or white about this, we would definitely think that a style of content that puts the needs of the creator above those of the recipients may be somewhat lacking.  

An alternative view is expressed here although it is significant that this article instances mixed and predominantly visual media - not really comparing like with like - and concludes that you should embrace short form before it disappears, something of a mixed message!

We would suggest that long form demonstrates considerable advantages in the current online space.  It is favoured by search engines and there is sufficient evidence to suggest that line-for-line is carries greater weight and impact than short form.  You can reduce long form content into small, more digestible chunks should you feel the need to do so; concatenating several short form pieces is more difficult.

If we can say one thing with certainty it is that nothing is certain.  A few years ago various pundits were loudly proclaiming the death of long form content, they were wrong to do so then just as we might be wrong to write off short form today.  If you would like to discuss this with us as part of your overall SEO strategy, please contact us.  By staying on top of trends and changes Inspire ensures that our advice remains relevant today and everyday.
 

Inspire Web Development, Inspire Web Services, Local SEO, Search Engine Optimisation, Web Design, Website Content, Website Copywriting
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