Focusing on long or short form content is one of the ongoing debates in content marketing.
Should you focus on producing less content, but longer more “quality” pieces?
Or should you create as much short form content as you can and just add internal links to connect it all as one resource?
Partly, this argument comes about because of the requirements of Google for what it seems more likely to rank on page one of search.
But you also have to balance that with the apparent falling attention spans we all have – apparently now we even a goldfish can concentrate on something longer than we can.
So which should you actually focus on if you want to get the best results?
The case for long form content
Much of the reason content marketers have been putting a lot of focus on long form content, is because all the studies of Google search rankings show that it prefers long form content, so is more likely to rank it.
One chart in particular, from a study conducted by SerpIQ, found that the average content length on a page in the top 10 search results on Google was more than 2,000 words.
It found that on average, the first search results had 2,416 words, while even the page in the 10th position, had 2,032 words.
Just to say that content length is the most important thing would be huge miscalculation.
It isn’t just that Google prefers pages with more words on them, you can still have a 2,000 word page that is full of rubbish.
It’s that the opportunity to provide more information, and in greater detail exists within long form content.
The fact that long form content is more comprehensive, well researched and generally more valuable (if it’s been done properly) gives it another edge in the SEO arena over short form content.
That is that long form guides tend to earn more backlinks from other websites – which is a massive factor in SEO.
If you have a page full of research, stats, exclusive content and decent thought leadership, you have a much higher chance of someone linking to it as a reference for their own work, than you would from a 500 word article that you’ve got from looking at what everyone else is writing.
HubSpot did some research into this and found that content length (coupled with high quality content) tended to generate more backlinks.
HubSpot have had another hand in the proliferation of long form content creation with their promotion of “pillar pages”.
These are long form webpages, which provide as much as information on a given subject as it is possible to give.
The idea being that a user could find out everything (at a high level) about a subject they were researching, simply by using that one page.
Google likes this stuff, because it’s a useful resource and provides a good user experience.
HubSpot are by no means the first to do this, in fact the idea is basically a copy of what Wikipedia has always been – just without the ability for everyone else on the internet to change the information on the post.
The main downside of long form content, is that it takes a long time to research and write, is more expensive (particularly from that time and resource perspective) and there’s still no guarantee that just because you wrote 3,000 words on a subject, that you’ll rank high for it.
The case for short form content
Short form content is like a good news story.
It’s short, snappy and gets information across quickly to your audience.
Considering that the human attention span is now about eight seconds, can you rely on people getting to the bottom of a 2,000 word slog to click on a CTA?
Or are you better off sticking to a few 500 word articles, giving them a catchy headline and promoting them instead?
One of the reasons you might want to stick to short form content, is because it’s quicker to produce.
You still don’t want it to be rubbish.
But you can create and publish more 500 word blogs before you could produce a pillar page.
And, doesn’t Google prefer websites that are updated more regularly?
It says it does.
So posting shorter articles more often is a good way to create more pages on your website for Google to crawl.
If you have more pages on a given subject, then Google will figure out what your website is about and show you higher in search.
And short form content does generate SEO results.
Take ourselves as an example.
We’ve been posting new blogs (between 500-1000 words each) everyday for the past three months now (you can read them all on our blog) and in that time we’ve seen our own website traffic nearly double to roughly 2,000 monthly views and have seen the number of keywords we rank for increase as well.
So, long and short form content both generate results.
And here’s the thing.
Why you need to focus on quality – not word length
Whether you produce long or short form copy, the thing that will ultimately make the difference is the quality of the content.
If you have the time and resources available to create long form guides and thought leadership articles consistently, then do it – you can still produce the odd short form piece of content as well.
If you don’t have the resource for long in-depth articles, then focus on creating shorter articles on a topic.
As long as the quality is good, the article gets information across to your reader and is even vaguely entertaining, then you will see results if you’re consistent with it.
You do need BOTH long and short form content
In fact the Pillar Page strategy we mentioned before, relies on you creating both.
You have your main high level Pillar Page, but surrounding that is a series of shorter blogs which expand on the individual topics within the Pillar Page.
Focus on creating the content you’re able to create.
If you can afford the resource to create long content do it.
But just because you’re relying on short articles and social media posts right now, doesn’t mean you won’t get results.
Great content will ALWAYS get found, because people share it.
Some of the best results we’ve seen came from short articles that took about an hour to write.
It also helps to just keep the quantity ticking over (which satisfies Google) while you create longer form content over a bigger time frame.
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