What’s the Right Length for Your Content?

Addressing the question of word count in your writing strategy

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

As an integral part of your content strategy, you are often faced with the challenges of defining:

  • WHY do you communicate (your objectives)
  • WHAT to communicate (finding the right messages)
  • WHO to say it to (your target audience)
  • WHERE to say it (the platforms to use)
  • HOW to say it (the tonality of your messages)

While this is all part of creating your overall strategy when it comes to execution, the length of the content poses another challenge.

In the coming paragraphs, you will find information specifically on the length of the posts that you are publishing for your audience.

For simplicity’s sake, other formats, such as pictures, video content, infographics, and charts will not be mentioned in this piece.

Keeping Up With Content Trends

Looking at the content trends we can see that the rapid technology evolution brings a myriad of new formats to life. From video content, infographics, and interactive content through personalized storytelling to bite-sized content, you can easily get lost in the sea of opportunities.

And while it is tempting to keep up, and always produce new content in new formats, you always need to think about if that format will resonate with your target audience or not. Think about how Buzzfeed established the institution of listicles — which is great but might be completely inadequate for your target group. Similarly, LinkedIn and Medium allow readers to indulge in long-form content — which I find amazing personally, but if it is not for your audience, then you shouldn’t go for it.

Trying to keep up with trends also means trying and testing and letting it go, if it doesn’t resonate with your followers.

Vertical Scrolling

With the widespread use of smartphones, our content consumption habits radically shifted. It is not unusual for the millennial generation to consume news and content almost exclusively on their mobile phones.

And as the browsing, reading, and watching happen on our mobile devices our consumption behaviour is shifting towards shorter, snappy content when it comes to news, entertainment, and easily understandable messages.

But this phenomenon didn’t eliminate the need for longer, more in-depth reading formats to acquire information or create stronger emotions through storytelling.

The fact that content is consumed via vertical scroll on mobile devices might not have a direct effect on the ideal length, but it needs to be considered on how to present the content so it should be easy to digest on a small screen as well.

Content Length: Definition of Long and Short

Definitions vary for short and long-form posts, but as a rule of thumb, long-form refers to anything that is above 1,000 words — approximately four minutes of reading time. The short form is everything under that, but within the category, we can talk about really short 200 to 500 word bite-sized snack reads, and 30 to 140 character reads too, especially on social.

Things to Consider for Defining Post Length

When creating your content strategy and defining the ideal length for your text-based posts there are several factors that you need to watch out for and weigh in the decision:

  • Your objectives
  • Your industry and your brand’s lifecycle
  • Your target group and their journey
  • The platform

Your objectives

Creating great content is not the objective, it’s a means to an end to reach it. Talking about objectives we talk about three different layers of them:

The business objective is a measurable target that can be used to set goals and track your achievements. It can be a KPI of increasing sales, market share, reducing churn by X%, etc.

The marketing objective is everything related to marketing that helps you achieve the business objective. It is an activity that helps to move the customers up the customer engagement scale: awareness, consideration, preference, trial, purchase, loyalty, advocacy).

The communication objective is the objective that we need to act on. What is the expected outcome, what consumer behaviour or what change in behaviour is expected from the campaign? It has to be phrased in a tangible form, e.g. 1,500 people to register, 5,000 extra likes, coupon download, product trial, reviews written, usage of the app, incoming leads, share, etc.

The overall content strategy needs to include the business objective, and the individually created content elements will reflect either a marketing or a communication objective.

Example: to increase SEO ranking, you will need long-form posts. To increase the level of education of your users you will also need long-form posts. If you want a direct action — registration, sign up, like, share — you will need to reach out for a shorter form.

Your industry and your brand’s lifecycle

When defining your content length, the industry your brand is in is key to finding the right format for the right message. The industry where your company operates by default calls for certain formats. Say you are in FMCG in general, you will need to build love and appreciation with your customers, providing opportunities to connect with you on an emotional level. On the other hand, if you are in the service industry, the part of the bonding will be created by the care and attention you provide. If you are in technology, finance, or any other area where the decision-making process is usually longer and the customer journey is more complex, you will need to raise awareness, inform, and educate.

On the two far ends of the scale, while emotional bonding is usually created by more frequent shorter forms, providing information mostly requires longer forms.

Adding to this, depending on how established your brand is, your communication style and form needs to be adapted to it. Coca-Cola doesn’t need to introduce its product to anyone, it is well established, and because of that, in the majority of cases, any information that would be apt for long-form content is inadequate for the brand. On the same tone, a newcomer brand will need to provide convincing information, while keeping and guiding the customers’ attention towards a better understanding of their initiatives. This is easier done in a longer form.

Your target group and their current position within their customer journey

The length of your posts should also be adapted to the people you are targeting. It starts with understanding your audience, knowing them and knowing their general attitude towards content consumption. It can depend on their age, on their interest, on their education, or any number of other factors.

As you are “pushing” your customers through their customer journey, paying attention where they are and what you do, you need to also understand how they are related to your brand. Establishing awareness and consideration needs just as much information and rightly placed pieces of emotional messages.

  • In the early stages, establishing awareness and promoting consideration, the alternation between longer and shorter post lengths can be beneficial.
  • While a few stages later, when you require action from them, as trial or purchase, shorter, call to action messages work better — as they should already be passed the stage where they are getting familiar with your brand only now.
  • The loyalty and advocacy phases, however, when you already have their full attention, again allows for longer forms.

The Platform

The ideal length of a post is defined by the features of the platforms where you are publishing them. Some formats work on some platforms, while others will not. Just think about Twitter, where brands are able to establish meaningful engagement with their followers in as little as 140 characters. Instagram allows you to write long posts, but as it is about capturing attention in a visual way, the displayed text has less of an importance. LinkedIn allows you to use both “social-like” short posts and long-form blog posts to deliver a longer message — and both are accepted by the users.

Further Points to Remember

Start with the bigger, move towards the smaller

As you can see in the above list, as we are advancing toward the end of the list, it gets narrower. As in every type of strategic or tactical approach, your aim should be to start with the broadest notion and make your way towards the narrowers. This is valid for setting the outline for a presentation, or creating any kind of strategy, as well as finding the right version for your post you wish to publish.

More is not more, less is more

When it comes to creating content, regardless of the length or the format you choose you to need to focus on the fact that less is more. You need enough content to engage with your customers, but you shouldn’t publish anything just to publish something. A useless piece is not worthy of your time and efforts, let alone the time and effort that it requires to read from your customers. When you have a point to deliver, post and publish. But don’t do it just for the sake of filling the empty spaces in your content calendar.

It is about you, but for them

Do not only write about what you can write about. Write about what you believe your audience wants to read. There always should be a benefit for your customers, no matter what type of content you put out there. Similarly, the format and the length should also be adapted to their consumption habits, not to your comfort or usual MO.

Content is a great way to create meaningful connections with your audience. Make the best of it. For them. And for your brand.

Written by

Check out my book on Amazon: www.amazon.com/dp/B088GJFM1B. Newsletter: zita.substack.com Email me: zitafontaine (at) gmail

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