The argument over long-form content and short-form content is one which has been debated from behind keyboards since the advent of the Internet, and one which will doubtless carry on for the foreseeable future.
How Do You Measure ROI on Content?
There is no definitive method of measuring ROI on content, as each company/brand/site will be looking for something different. Whether you’re writing to bring more people to the site, increase conversions, establish credibility in your sector, or are just writing because you enjoy it, you’ll measure ROI differently.
There are often long lead times on seeing a direct conversion from content marketing (except perhaps in the retail and fashion sectors where this is probably less true) but there are some easier short-term ways to measure ROI if direct sales are not forthcoming. To measure ROI, consider using the following:
- Organic search positions and SERP visibility (and backlink analysis)
- Traffic to site
- Time spent on site and/or bounce rate
- Social shares and engagement metrics
Now, let’s take a deeper look at each of these metrics and consider when using them to measure ROI would be most appropriate.
Organic Search Position
Getting higher positions in the SERPs will benefit any company, and having high-quality content is the best way to do this. It’s no secret that Google prefers content that answers a question, and will rank this content higher. A higher search position will inevitably have an impact on your online ROI (as long as it’s for a relevant key phrase). That is why many people engage in content marketing and why SEO, online PR, and content marketing are essentially one and the same in 2014.
Good visibility in the SERPs will get your site in front of more new users and increases your opportunity to increase ROI from content. Publishing two posts means you have the opportunity to rank for more terms, but only if these are relevant, worth reading, and good quality.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean they will rank well long-term. In a study conducted by SerpIQ, blog post pages with over 2,000 words ranked higher than shorter blog posts, which makes sense. If you’re looking for an answer to a question, it’s likely a 500-word post may not have enough useful phrases users are searching for.
CoShedule undertook similar research which proved the same. However, it should also be noted their research found content length was not a defining factor for the top positions. It appeared that domain authority was ultimately more important in this respect, but longer content had a significant impact on SERP positions overall.
Moz also found (in an old study dating back to 2012) that longer content and number of links to said content was directly correlated. This is evidence that people like longer, more informative content enough to link to it, and everyone knows more high quality backlinks has a positive influence on SERP positions. If this is still true, there’s no question that longer posts will be more likely to have a more significant impact on ROI.
Generating more traffic is important to any site, and one way to do this is with high quality content. In B2B organizations, traffic is imperative for sales. The more brand awareness you generate, the more leads should hopefully come in. If, of course, your content establishes you as an authority.
From my experience, technical guides which talk you through how to deal with an issue — something you wouldn’t be able to do in 500 words — are most popular and continue to rank highly in the most read content reports from Analytics. These may be years old, but because they are still relevant and very informative, they bring in large volumes of traffic month after month. Traffic which hopefully is qualified, interested in your sector and that includes your next customer.
Time Spent on Site
Time spent onsite is a factor used in the Google algorithm, meaning the longer a user spends on your site, the more authoritative it will appear to Google. Makes sense.
While there is no doubt a longer article takes longer to read, which would potentially increase the amount of time spent onsite – but what if your post is too long? People want an answer and they want it now. The key is to give them the answer they want in as many words as it takes–don’t overcomplicate or undersell it.
The longer you can keep their interest, the more exposed they are to your site and the more likely they are to check out other content – making them more likely to turn from lead to customer.
The first ten seconds are key to engaging the reader and splitting content up into bite size chunks with headings and sections increase your chances of maintaining the reader’s attention during a longer piece of content. Research by Buffer into this very topic has proven that the ideal length of content from a readers’ point of view is actually seven minutes (that’s around 1600 words depending on how fast you read).
Social shares are the currency of content, and the more yours has the better. There’s no better way of getting your content in front of people’s eyes than by having it shared across relevant social networks. Your content can be the best in the world but if nobody’s reading it, it may as well not exist.
Social shares are an easy method of getting more eyeballs on your work, and they have a definite impact on rankings. Although exactly what impact is still relatively misunderstood. We do know this has an impact on ROI in the long run. Recent research by OkDork indicates the average number of shares increases with content length.
So Which is Better for ROI?
The research seems to suggest that 1,000 words isn’t quite enough – it needs to be 2,000 before it becomes worthwhile. Investing time in insightful and truly useful content is likely to deliver better ROI.
While we are repeatedly told about the mobile revolution and desperately trying to engage audiences with short, snappy content, research (both old and new) still tells us that long content has more traction both in the SERPs and with audiences, and thus is responsible for returning better ROI.
The answer is in the data – longer content seems to perform better on almost every metric. However, one thing to remember is that content marketing is all about the user: you need to write what’s relevant, interesting and unique, and not get too preoccupied with set formats, lengths, or the ultimate resultant: ROI.
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