16 October 2018
Content is a valuable tool to engage and nurture prospects, and marketers spend a lot of time planning, writing, and publishing content to grow audiences and drive new prospects into their company pipeline. However, buying cycles are becoming more complex with decision makers having less time to read through massive amounts of content. For many buyers, the rising volume of marketing messages isn’t empowering—it’s overwhelming.
That leaves many to believe short content wins in the engagement competition, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. The length of your content truly relies on the interest, education, and value it brings to the role and industry you’re trying to reach. Buyers who are looking to self-educate by proactively investigating potential purchases and services are looking for answers to their questions. As marketers, we are constantly asking ourselves, “How long should our content be?” The short answer: Long enough.
Ultimately, to truly engage with your audiences, there’s a need for both short-form and long-form content. Each has its own benefit.
That being said, neither will serve your company (or the reader) if not planned and executed properly, or if it feels like it wastes the reader’s time. A brand must earn and re-earn customer loyalty throughout the buying journey—staying relentlessly relevant at every turn.
Below is a brief overview of when to use short-form vs long-form and considerations of why.
Defined as brief, “snackable” content, short-form content is generally fewer than 200 words. It helps readers become aware of your company, product, and services, and helps to build trust with them. Examples include status updates, tweets, event reminders, short videos, infographics, blog posts, and “bite-sized” e-books.
Ideally, you want to keep it simple and memorable with one single idea that explain stories quickly. If your marketing is good, you don’t necessarily need to have a larger story because audiences typically only need certain elements and their brain will be able to fill in the story-making gaps.
While many find short-form content creation easy and inexpensive, the downside is it doesn’t require any deep investment from the audience. HubSpot published a study showing blogs that publish more frequently tend to get more traffic, which can drive engagement and clicks, but they can also be short-lived with high turnover rate.
Longer content is generally seen as more authoritative and trustworthy. A highly invested audience that wants to learn more about your company seeks in-depth, comprehensive content, covering everything they need to know.
Long-form content is anything more than 1,000 words in length. There are many reasons to use long-form in your content marketing strategies. One advantage found through research by BuzzSumo is that long-form content gets more shares, which shows that people find value in well-researched articles packed with insights.
Companies that have adopted inbound marketing need gated long-form content. White papers, webinars, and more comprehensive e-books are more insightful and can help build lasting, long-term customer relationships. B2B sales often use this type of content in the early stages of marketing cycles, when the audience has little to no awareness of the company’s products or services.
Case studies and executive summaries are also useful to help buyers benchmark their own experiences against others’. This form of content provides examples and dives deeper into explanations of the challenges customers have had, offers solutions, and helps those looking to purchase see and learn from an experience similar to theirs.
Long-form content does require more planning, research, and forethought, so make sure it is justified. Don’t write an “ultimate guide to” when a summary or a simple infographic will convey the same message.
Additionally, big chunks of text can be off-putting. Tell stories but keep sentences short and concise, with bulleted text where possible. Add images, infographics, and embedded videos. Create actionable tips that generate real value and are easy to digest. Your customers will thank you!
Backed by Science
Still wondering which direction to go when producing, optimizing, and distributing meaningful content—be it short- or long-form? Both are valuable, but you should not merely default to either. Basing your decisions on pure instinct will not be nearly as effective as basing them on data-backed evidence.
Think “smart-form” content—which requires the use of the right data and insights about your audience to help inform editorial strategies. By applying data and research, you can go beyond “just what’s trending” and gain data-driven insight into how an audience or segment talks about any specific subject area. It can reveal the right topics and present moments of opportunity to create contextually-relevant content that is audience-driven. When companies listen, and then analyze, their unstructured data (pictures, videos, and text), they can build personalized content that will resonate with their customers, forging a link between your content strategy and the customer experience.
The Long and Short of It
Overall, the benefits of using a mix between the two is the best approach. Focus on building a foundation for your long-form content, while employing the social aspects of short-from for your marketing plan. Short-form content will help connect and engage with your audience, while long-form content requires deeper critical thinking intended to educate and inform. Don’t expect it to be easy or quick, though. Smart-form content takes time to customize, test, and optimize, but you will better serve visitors by answering their questions and delivering more meaningful connections with authentic and compelling content that offers multiple benefits—for both your business and your customers.