Long Form Content in a Short Form Content World: Why it Matters and How to Make it Work for You

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There is a lot of information available on popular SEO blogs about how long-form content is better — and some say short form content is the only way to go. Naturally, this  can be a challenge when deciding what to do in your own content development, so the sooner you can determine what works best for you, the better.

Fortunately, there are ways to deal with this dilemma, and a lot of that involves understanding what long form content really means, why it matters, and how you can make it work for you. In the end, it’s actually best to have both long and short form content on your blog—but we’ll get to that later.

Short Form Content: The World We Think We Prefer

The reason this debate began in the first place was because SEO experts acknowledge people’s short attention spans. This really is the case with much online content. Think about it—this is why we have the popularity of list posts, visual content, repurposing of long-form content into video and other media, the list goes on. Even author Mark Schaefer of The Content Code suggests, “There is a definite trend toward small,” within the content world.

How do We Define Short Form Content?

The consensus is that blog posts under 1,000 words, social media content, infographics, and listicles are all considered “short form” content. Basically, anything that gets a major topic across without going too in-depth can be considered short form, and there are a variety of ways to approach it.

What is The Advantage?

There is a lot of advantage in utilizing concise verbiage and other tactics to keep things short, sweet, and to the point. It is clear that a brand or business can certainly convey a strong message to their audience quickly and effectively. Another advantage may be that it is effective for mobile users, who are not as likely to read something lengthy when searching for content.

Short Form May Be Best For:

  • Audiences that require quick answers to specific problems
  • Content focusing on larger or more general audiences
  • Fun and light storytelling, humorous pieces, testimonials, or narrative
  • Sharable social media content
  • Content meant for a quick read

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Long Form Content: Possibly the Best for SEO

People argue that long form content is better because it has shown to have SEO benefits. There seems to be a “sweet spot” in terms of length for people who read and benefit from long form content, and there are certain characteristics that mark it as such.

How Do We Define Long-Form Content?

The vast majority of experts place the long-form length standard around 1,200-2,000 words. That being said, it doesn’t always stay within this limit to be considered long form. According to research conducted by Medium. a “7-minute” read, or approximately 1,700 words, is the right way to attract readers today, in terms of long form content.

This seems to fall somewhere in the middle of “not too long” and “not too short”, then again, you don’t want to be filling your posts with extra words for the sake of hitting this mark. Sometimes you can be on the 1,200 end, and other times at the 2,000 end, but the important thing is that you clearly get across what you want to say and that it hangs somewhere within those boundaries.

What is The Advantage?

One of the reasons that long form content has gotten a lot of attention is because it has the ability to establish credibility and deliver value to your audience. A lot of times you can’t accomplish those two things in a short form piece. Moreover, there are a lot of things that you can do to benefit your SEO in a long form piece. For example, research has shown that a higher word count generally results in more search traffic.

Another way to think about this in terms of SEO is, the more content your page has, the better chance it has of a top position in Google results. This is because you can have more key words, links, etc. Further, the more content you have developed in a piece, the more link backs you are likely to get. There is also evidence to show that longer content may get shared more; however, I might dispute this claim with how we have defined short form content in this piece (for example, consider social media content and infographics).

Finally, it is also important to keep in mind that the longer your content is, the longer people will be on your site, so you have more time to establish trust with a reader and will get lower bounce rates in return. There are also many case studies that establish the link between long form content and SEO benefits.

Long Form Might Be Best For:

  • Brands with detail-oriented or research seeking audience members
  • Data-driven stories and analytical topics
  • Readers who are using a tablet or desktop computer (not a mobile device) to access content
  • Educational or informational storytelling
  • Providing a lot of information at once

Length is Less Important Than Purpose and Content

It is important to emphasize that there are other factors will likely control the length of your post in the first place. One size doesn’t fit all here, and I think there are certain cases where you might want to use one or the other. Consider the following:

Frequency: How often are you posting on your site? If you only post once every week or two, you may need to be developing longer content. On the other hand, if you post every other day, you are more likely to have shorter posts or a mix of short and long form.

Purpose: What is the purpose of your post? We always have goals in mind when it comes to developing content. Some of these may include: spreading brand awareness, increasing social engagement, or providing education. If you consider the variety of goals you could have for developing content, it is easy to understand that different purposes will mean differing length requirements.

Substance: What exactly are you trying to say? My personal opinion is if you can say it in 100 words then you should probably create content that is short form. If it requires 2,000 words that’s okay, just develop a long-form piece on the topic.

Audience: As always, when developing content it is important to know your audience. This means considering their needs, interests, and potential concerns. Your ultimate goal is to create content your audience is going to read. I recommend completing a content audit with this information each year.

The Verdict: You Have to Use A Little Bit of Both Content Forms

In my opinion, successful content marketing requires both short form content and long form content. After considering all of the benefits of both, and the reasons why you may want to use one or another, I see both as still highly valuable in different situations.

If I were to summarize my findings, I would say that short form content allows your business connect and engage with its audience regularly, while long-form content may be developed to educate and inform in a more, well, “lengthy” fashion.

Do you have thoughts on long form vs. short form content? Do you think we are living in a short form world? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Jason Hawkins
Jason Hawkins is the CEO & Co-Founder of The Miami SEO Company. He has over ten years of experience in search engine optimization, conversion rate... Read Full Bio
Jason Hawkins
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  • Camilla Zajac

    Great post, thanks!

  • Roger Rogerson

    Yes and no.
    Nice to see someone cover “short form” content.
    But you started to drift around the long-form stuff.

    Standard response for the LFC – ad far as I know, no one has actually proven that G will rank content based on it being longer. It’s more likely ranking occurs due to value and appreciation (people link to it).
    Then there’s the “7 minute sweet spot” – it’s not like the audience will look at the page and mentally go “oh, it’s likely to take me 7 minutes – that’s ok” 😀

    Nit picks aside – the summation is spot on.
    It boils down to suitability for user-need/intent.
    Someone searching for weather forecasts? They really don’t want a 1K word page with the info buried between words 600 and 650.
    Someone looking for lyrics? Do they really want a history of the artist, where the word lyrics comes from etc.?
    People searching for how to do something complicated? Sure bet they want details!

    There are optimal solutions here though;
    1) If the topic permits it, provide both LF/SF-Content and link between the two
    2) Provide a “quick hit” with the relevant data at the top, and then follow it with more info (or target anchor from the top to the nitty-gritty at the bottom for those that don’t want to wade through 1K+ words).

    • Jason Hawkins

      Thanks so much for your response Roger. I think you make an awesome point about really thinking about the topic, and I like your idea of the “quick hit” section with relevant data even better. It kind of gives readers the best of both worlds, so I’d like to see more of that!

      • Roger Rogerson

        Certain code/script sites do it – they provide explanations and workings, alternative methods are discussed – but they also supply links to the most relevant/sought after parts so you can land, jump, grab and go (which in many cases is what you want).

        In a way, the whole “content creation” is a bit of a farce.
        How many times have you actually sat and read the entire product description? Looked through all the specs?
        For certain things (higher value/risk) you will – but for bread, milk, cookies, normal shoes/shirts etc.?

        The simple rule is provide what they need, provide what they may want and then put a bit extra in … and put it in that order.
        That way people can scan, get the gist … read and get more.
        Everyone’s happy 😀

  • Daniel Grant

    It was very interesting to read your article. Thanks, Jason.

  • The short answer to all this bit is that more content that is actually relevant to the sale is better, otherwise less content is better. All the direct sales copywriters in the world will tell you long sales copy works better to sell a product, but the opposite is true if the information is irrelevant.

    My idea of a good landing page is something that breaks basic topic/questions into sections, and has hyperlinks to more detailed information for each so that the user can get as involved as they want. Realistically the first lander is short, but the rat-hole is long accommodating for all user types.