Long-form and short-form content both have their place in a content marketing strategy. Short-form content is a great tool to capture and engage an audience, while long-form educates and informs. However, both types of content have potential downsides. Short-form content can be seen as shallow, and long-form as boring – but they don’t have to be. Ultimately, you need to produce both types of content to see the results you want, but neither short-form or long-form content will serve your company’s purposes if not planned and executed properly.
Below, we walk through how to use both types of content, SEO considerations, shareability and more. We should always improve our SEO writing process to make the articles relevant to the user search intent and respond to their needs.
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What Makes Short-form Snackable, and Long-form a Meal?
Short-form is short and sweet, no longer than 1,000 words. In reality, short-form content falls very short of its word max. The average blog post published on WordPress is just 280 words long. In addition to blog content, examples of short-form content include social media posts and infographics.
Long-form content is longer, more insightful and requires 1,500–2,000 words. Pro tip: An extensive study from medium.com found that 1,600 words – or about 7 minutes of reading time – is optimal. Examples include (bulkier) blog posts, whitepapers, e-books, case studies, and webinars.
How to Ensure Short-form Content Captures and Engages
Create something great that only you can. Your target audience is likely bombarded with so much short-form content that they need to block out most of it to get through their day. The short-form content that you produce must be remarkable, relevant and unique. Content pieces lacking in word count, especially anything under 300 words, are not going to be SEO superstars, so if short-form content isn’t special enough to make people stop scrolling through their newsfeeds, it will likely be lost forever. Types of short-form content that accomplish this include:
- Sharing counter-intuitive ideas
- Humor that will resonate with your audience (see @tacobell for examples)
- Pithy observations
- Event coverage
- Direct answers to straightforward questions
Keep it simple. Focus on one thing, and one thing only. Each blog post, Facebook update, infographic, etc. must be about one single idea.
Use images. Source or create graphics that are compelling and eye-catching, especially on social. You have a limited amount of words in short-from, so show and not tell whenever you can.
Be consistent. Posting short-form content daily (every second day or whatever schedule works for you) gives you the opportunity to maximize the number of times you’re seen and boosts opportunities for interaction.
How to Ensure Long-form Content Educates and Informs
Tell a Story. A great story needs three things: a beginning, middle and end. In order to keep your audience’s attention for 1,500+ words, the content should be structured using a familiar arc. A reader is more likely to stick through to the end if they can anticipate a payoff/satisfying conclusion. An interactive case study that begins with a challenge, middles with a solution and ends with a happy result is a great example.
Show off. Long-form content gives you a chance to show off your company’s expertise. Create content that is highly data-driven, analytical and backed by a lot of research. Pick topics that your company knows the most about and are directly related to your product/service. Include plenty of real-life examples of happy customers and case studies where they fit.
Do not repeat yourself. If your idea can be expressed in a few hundred words, it’s probably best to leave it at that and walk away. Otherwise, you’ll be struggling to figure out what to say for the remaining 1,400. To avoid repetition, pick a meatier topic that can be broken down into many sub-topics.
Get a designer involved. Long-form content is kind of like food in the way that you eat with your eyes first. A 2,000-word whitepaper that looks like a high school essay is not appetizing. Get a designer involved to play with illustrations, images, structure, call-outs – anything to present the text in a visually pleasing way.
Which Format is More SEO-Friendly?
As mentioned above, short-form content is great for capturing your audience’s attention, but it can really only provide surface-level understanding of a topic or idea. Search engines, specifically Google, reward high-value, educational and informative content by ranking them higher on search result pages.
A serpIQ study found that the average word count for content ranked in the top 10 of a Google search results page is more than 2,000 words.
Additionally, long-form content is more likely to generate back-links from other websites, signaling to search engines that a piece of content is a great read and should be ranked higher.
When it comes to SEO, long-form content wins.
Which Format Gets More Shares?
BuzzSumo conducted a study of 8 million articles shared on Facebook, Twitter, etc., and they found that the top 10 percent most shared articles are overwhelmingly long-form. Content that ranges from 3000-10,000 words are getting the most shares on social.
The rise of short-form content came out of the mobile shift and the fear that iPhone users (and the like) would only be interested in reading content as long as a tweet. However, the opposite is proving to be true and long-form is getting more shares across all social networks.
Which Format Generates More Conversions?
Once again, long-form for the win. Long-form content has a much longer shelf-life than a tweet or a 400-word blog post, so it’s visible for longer and to more people.
Most importantly, whitepapers, e-books and other educational content demonstrate a company’s expertise, which goes a long way in building a brand’s authority and paves the pathway to thought leadership. Producing well written, helpful and unique long-form content will earn a company the trust of their target consumer; and trust = contact form submissions, demo requests, etc.
Crazy Egg, for example, watched its conversion rates skyrocket when it started producing long-form content. The company began creating content 20 times longer than its short-form counterparts, and conversions increased by over 30%.
You Can’t Have One Without the Other
While long-form content does see higher conversion rates and performs better on search engines and social, short-form does have a very important role in content marketing.
Short-form acts as an introduction to your brand. Quick, timely blog posts and social updates bring people in. They provide opportunities to start conversations with the people you want to talk to, and long-form gives them a reason to continue the conversation.
The key to success (capturing, engaging, educating and informing) for both types of content is quality.