21 Hours of Research and 6 Experts Says Short-form Content No Longer Works in 2019!

What’s the first thought that comes to your mind when you think about writing a blog post?

If it’s anyhow related to the length of the blog, you may want to rethink your content marketing strategies.

Some say short, punchy blog posts are the way to go in times of dwindling attention spans and instant gratification.

Some say lengthy, informative content is the king as it appears more authoritative.

What do I say?

I say your content should be long enough to get the message across, but not a word longer. The key here is to serve your audience and not get hung up on what Google or others think.

BUT… and that is a big but (no pun intended), time and again research has shown that long-form content performs better in the SERPS.

Why Shorter Blog Posts Have a High Appeal?

Now, before you go ahead and make your articles 5X bigger, take a moment to understand why so many advocate short form content.

“Humans have shorter attention spans than goldfish” — said a headline of an article that I read recently. It turns out that throughout 18 years, the average human attention span has reduced from 12 seconds to 8 seconds. That’s lower than a goldfish!

According to a study done by Microsoft, the rising popularity of smartphones, mobile data, messaging apps, and social media is the cause behind falling attention rates.

Since we now have access to content anywhere and at any time, it’s become tough for us to focus on one subject.

While our civilization is yet to come under the risk of being bested by goldfish in a game of Sudoku, the availability of content 24×7 does bring a new set of challenges to a marketer vying for their audience’s attention.

Call it a double-edged sword, if you will. Today, it’s easy to get someone’s attention, but easier to lose it as well. Shorter blog posts mainly cater as a solution to this dilemma.

But there’s a twist in the tale!

Before you start creating bite-sized content consumable by goldfish, know that a BBC study has proven the “attention span lower than a goldfish” claim as a myth!

According to the study, the whole idea of measuring the average attention span is not of much use.

Especially since no one till date has spoken to a goldfish nor has there been studies that suggest any fish, in general, have unusually short memories or attention spans.

Source Global Research states that the favorable wholesale shift in the view of snackable content being more popular is plain wrong! Their survey about the habits of numerous business people and thought leaders demonstrated that a significant number of them are looking for substantial content pieces.

Even though short articles online remained the most preferred, the survey concluded by saying that every format has its audience. Look at the graph below to know more.

So, Long or Short — What Should I Try?

I’d say long.

But not long for the sake of hitting a specific word limit; long for being packed with value and serving your audience.

If you provide an incredible experience to your audience, they will come back for more!

According to Orbit Media’s survey that included 1000 bloggers, it was found that those who post lengthier articles are likely to see better results. But how long is too long?

Well, according to the same survey, the average length of a blog post as on 2017 was 1142 words, which is higher than that of 2016, when it was 1054 words. Back in 2014, the average was just 808 words.

After studying the trends, you can clearly understand what form of content is superior and what the future of content marketing may look like.

Even though long-form content isn’t inherently higher in quality than their shorter counterparts, it’s easy to see why they get favored more by search engines too — because they can solve problems better.

Now, that you have an idea about WHY long-form content is better, let’s get to learning HOW they can drive more traffic and sales.

Why Long Content Generates More Traffic and Sales

Long content doesn’t only make you a good guy in the eyes of your audience; you also get love from Google and social media.

When a blog covers a diverse range of topics, answers all questions from existing and potential customers in depth, you can bet that it is going to go viral.

Here are the ways a long copy can outperform 500 to 750-word pieces:

1. Ranks Higher on Google by Gaining Backlinks

Long content ranks higher in Google search results — many gurus say that. But how does it happen?

Backlinks!

When you publish an article that addresses pressing matters of your industry, it will act as the go-to source of all information.

And being an authority on the topic, your article is likely to earn natural backlinks from those who refer to it on their blogs.

High-quality links, coming from authority sites further increase your site’s trust in Google’s eyes and that puts you higher up in search rankings.

Brian Dean, Founder of Backlinko, analyzed a million search results to find out the factors that correlate most with rankings. He discovered that longer content generally outranks short content, making length one of the most compelling factors of high rankings.

He noted that the average word count of a first-page result is 1890 words.

Remember: Correlation is not causation, so don’t always expect to rank on the first page (not immediately at least) by beating your competition in content length.

2. Gets More Social Engagement

Want to create a buzz online? Then create content that people would love to share with their friends. And that’s hard to do unless you double down on providing value by helping your audience address their pain points.

BuzzSumo and Moz teamed up in 2015 to analyze over one million articles, web pages, and posts to determine what aspects influence social shares and backlinks. The analysis revealed that 85% of the total web content consists of less than 1000 words.

They found that long-form content that contains more than 1000 words consistently got higher average shares and natural backlinks.

The research also revealed that most new contents do not generate social shares at all simply because they are not worth sharing. But the content that people do share with their friends turned out to be well-researched articles or opinion pieces.

In case you’re wondering, SEMRush has a drool-worthy guide on — How to Create Content That Is Viral and Evergreen.

3. Ranks for Hundreds and Thousands of Keywords

Long form content performs better in 2018, but it was not always like this. Before, you stood a chance of ranking your content on the first page by just writing a 500-word article, stuffed with keywords.

Back then, factors like keyword density mattered more than the actual value a piece of content can provide. It led to a drastic drop in the quality of first-page search results. In other words — people were not finding what they came for.

Google eventually caught up to these bad tactics and rolled out the Panda & Penguin updates that eliminated these low-quality sites for good. But that was in the year 2011 and 2012 respectively.

Till this date, Google’s algorithm has become much smarter at judging not only a content’s quality but also its intent thanks to RankBrain.

So, when you publish a thoroughly researched, long-form article now, the chances are that you’ll automatically rank for hundreds and thousands of related keywords.

Doing this will not only bring more traffic to your site but also increase the likelihood of getting more conversions.

Now, one solid piece of content (3000–4000 words) that answers all the user queries is deemed more valuable than 5–6 short 500-word contents that aim to do the same separately.

4. Builds up Brand Authority

What matters more in SEO — relevance or authority? In the quest to demystify some of Google’s top ranking factors, I set out to understand how the search engine giant ranks its results. I discovered (unsurprisingly) that content from authoritative brands naturally ranks better.

Think Forbes, think Huffington Post, think The Wire Cutter, why do you think their blogs rank automatically on the first page within days (if not hours) of posting? Brand authority is your answer.

There may be hundreds of variables responsible for determining search result positions, but when you pit relevance against authority, the latter wins. What does this mean for you?

Well, like it or not, it means that if you are a newcomer in the online market space, chances are Google is going to take your word as less valuable than someone who has been here a while.

You may have expertise on a given subject, but without authority and trustworthiness, it’s going to be significantly hard to rank for any given keyword. That’s why you must focus on building up a brand that has a loyal group of followers.

And what better way to build up followers than consistently posting detailed, highly actionable guidance that solves your target market’s problems? Long form content is perfect for the job!

To take it one step higher, you can combine it with these proven tips on How To Build Brand Authority in 90 Days.

Does This Mean I Cannot Post Short Blogs Ever?

Not really. Big brands do it all the time and generate a crazy amount of engagement too.

Seth Godin carved a niche for himself by posting short blog posts daily on a wide variety of motivational topics. Seo.com made a post on Seth Godin’s top socially shared posts and let me tell you, many of these topics are between 50 words to 300 words long.

Take a look at the statistics below. And those are from 2016!

How did Seth manage to garner such colossal popularity on social media? By showing up daily and introducing fresh perspectives and ideas that resonate with his audience.

Heck, some of his posts even rank the first page on Google — like “But what will I tell the others?” Try typing the phrase on Google search, and you’ll find the 57-word post ranking #1.

And it’s just not Seth who is killing it with short blog posts. Disney World Parks posts several short blogs every day to give away behind the scenes information, and their fans love it!

Their posts are just over 200 words each on an average, and they garner many Facebook shares, retweets, and pins on Pinterest.

Here’s the catch though — both the examples I stated are highly authoritative figures in their respective industries, with fans around the world. So, they can get away with doing many things an average person or a company cannot.

I’m not saying this to conclude on a negative note; it’s just the reality. The sooner you accept it, the better. You’ll probably do great with short content when you reach Seth Godin’s or Disney’s level; till then, keep working on writing detailed, long-form posts.

Long Form vs. Short Form Content — What Experts Prefer?

To make this copy more compelling, I reached out to a group of blogging experts, with different backgrounds, who have been in the business for years. I urged them to share their personal experience and results with both, short form and long form content, and which performed better.

You can read expert’s opinions on this page:

Long-form vs Short-form Content: What Experts Think Works Best?

Tips on Writing Long-Form Copy That Doesn’t Suck!

Okay, I can write over 5,000 words on this topic, but for the sake of brevity, I’m going to give you the highlights in 150 words or less. I used these words of advice to grow my blog naturally ever since it went live in 2016. Here we go:

  • Time spent doing research is more important than time spent writing.
  • Aim to make your posts as detailed as possible while introducing a fresh perspective.
  • Make your content emotionally compelling and include CTAs to encourage more shares.
  • Stay far away from using misleading or clickbait-y titles as they do nothing to boost your credibility.
  • It’s okay to monetize your content, but not at the risk of sacrificing user experience. Don’t litter blog pages with ads or affiliate links.
  • Write a lot of case studies, in-depth guides, opinion pieces that are exclusive to your industry.
  • Give credit where it’s due — that’s not only an honorable thing to do but will earn you friends in high places.
  • Quality always triumphs over quantity, and user experience always beats the desire to earn quick money.

Final Words

To conclude, I’ll say that the question “How long should my content be?” is wrong. Short form content can work for few but not for everyone. It depends on the type of business you’re running and how much information is required.

You should rather ask yourself “How one can offer more value to their audience?” There lies the key to finding success with content.

What’s your take on the subject? Which one do you prefer — long-form or short-form content? Or is there any sweet point between those that have worked great for you?

Either way, I would love to hear your thoughts about the topic and discuss more. Do leave a comment to initiate the conversation.

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