Confused about Long-Form and Short-Form Content? Here’s the Low-Down.

Man reading an article on tablet

One of the great mysteries of content marketing is how long a blog article should be. Does it make sense to spend hours or days writing a 3,000-word blog article, or would it be just as effective to spend one hour writing a 350-word post? Should I write a series of five 500-word articles or a single 2,500 word article? How do you feel about using long-form and short-form content? It’s all a question of how to harness your time and resources to achieve the greatest impact on traffic, leads, and customers.

This issue of content length becomes more complex as your develop a comprehensive content strategy that goes beyond blogging.

For example, would your ideal audience prefer a 15-second video clip or a substantial blog article that takes 10 minutes to read? Would a content campaign offering a 5,000 word downloadable ebook generate enough leads to make creating it worthwhile, or would a less time-consuming infographic do the trick?

Again, where should you put your limited time, effort, and resources– short-form, long-form, or some combination of the two? We can’t have this discussion properly without first defining what we mean by short-form and long-form content, especially since these terms are somewhat relative. Let’s consider each.

What is Long-Form Content?

Related Image: an business person's glasses on a serious-looking document

It’s hard to pinpoint. Some people would say that anything over 500 words is long-form, whereas others may think 1,200 words or longer. Still others reserve the term for materials over 3,000 words, such as technical white papers, ebooks, and research results. On the other end of the spectrum, when you consider all types of content, some marketers would define long-form as anything beyond very brief items, such as ads, social posts, postcards, or invitations. Defining long-form and short-form content isn’t necessarily easy.

For our purposes, let’s say long-form content is anything over 500 words.

Common Views on Long-Form Content

Despite variations in definition, long-form content is typically used when a product is complex, such as enterprise software, heavy machinery, or sophisticated medical devices. With these types of products or services, the audience has deep information needs all along the decision-making process–from research, to comparison and evaluation, to discussions with a vendor, and finally to purchase.

Long-form content and short-form content differ in that longer content is more effective in overcoming buyer objections, particularly in the B2B environment (Read here to learn more about difference in creating B2B versus B2C content).

Examples of concerns that must be addressed include:

  • Comparison of features and benefits compared to competitors and to what they currently use
  • Opportunity cost of not purchasing new equipment
  • Expected ROI based on cost-benefit analysis
  • Buy-in from all stakeholders
  • Trustworthiness of the vendor

Short-form copy simply can’t address these needs. A variety of long-form content will be needed for different audiences at different points along the buyer’s purchasing journey.

Related image: Display of different types of long-form and short-form content

Examples of long-form content include:

  • Long blog posts or print publication articles
  • E-books, guides, and how-to manuals
  • Comprehensive case studies
  • White Papers and survey results
  • Lengthy tutorials or educational videos

What is Short-Form Content?

The word “short” is a matter of perspective.

B2B short-form: I often create comprehensive content for B2B clients, such as white papers and guidebooks about complex products and services. In this context, I would consider blog posts, web pages, and papers with fewer than 500 words to be short-form. So the definitions of long-form and short-form content can vary based on the context.

Most likely, shorter B2B content serves a different purpose than longer content. Short-form B2B content might be for an easier-to-understand product, to support a convincing image or video, to accommodate limited space formats, for social media posts, to introduce longer content, or to target potential customers who are closer to purchase.

For example, below is a landing page for a downloadable ebook from Microsoft.

Microsoft landing page image; example of B2B short-term content

It works well because it includes a visual image of the offer, a benefits-oriented headline, minimal copy–just three short bullet points, a highly visible form, and a clear CTA button. Some improvements could be made, such as a stronger image, possibly fewer fields, removing the distracting “see plans and pricing” message at the bottom, and a more enticing CTA (such as “Send my ebook now!), but it’s still a good example of B2B short-form content

B2C short-form (inexpensive or impuse purchase): Consumer marketers get a lot of mileage from short-form content, often leveraging our emotions–even for a product that we don’t typically think of as emotional. We commonly see this type of content used for convenience products that fill an immediate need, inexpensive items, impulse purchases, or short-term special deals. This “indescribably delicious” Mounds bar ad from 1988 never made chocolate look so sexy (I know it’s old, but I couldn’t resist!).

B2C short-form (mid-priced): When short-content is powerful, it can generate huge results for even higher priced products . Consider Nike, a brand that’s well-known, trusted, cool, and boasts a huge ad budget. How many pairs of $60-$200 Nike athletic shoes have been sold based on 15-second “Just Do It” ads? The Nike ad below, featuring celebrity hero Colin Kaepernick and a socially conscious message, made a big spash in just 12 words (including the Just Do It tagline).

Effective short-form content. Colin Kapernik Nike ad: Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.
Effective shot-form ad

B2C (Pricey): As an exception to the rule, expensive brands with a certain cachet and mass popularity can triumph with short-form content. This ad for the Apple iPhone SE 2020, which sells for $399, packs a lot of visual power and information into 60-seconds.

Short-form content includes:

  • Under 500-word blog articles, web pages
  • Many infographics
  • Print, banner, and PPC ads
  • Twitter, Instagram, and other social platforms
  • Landing pages and call-to-action copy
  • Captions or other copy supporting visual media
  • Brief messages such as greetings, an invitation, or a thank you
  • Slogans and taglines

Which Way to Go—Long-Form or Short-Form?

Signpost representing choices (this way, that way, another way)

Studies, facts, and the expert opinions abound on long-form versus short-form content, especially for blog posts and web pages. Every situation is different, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Testing different types of long- and short-form content is the best way to know what type of content will prove most successful for your organization.

Most of my work is long-form copy, so I admit I have a bias. Here are some of the reasons I gravitate to long-form content, particularly for blog posts and web pages in a B2B context.

Long-Form Content Drives Positive Results:

  1. Higher Search Rankings: The chart below, from a study by SerpIQ, indicates that longer content has a positive effect on search rankings. Here, the top 10 search results are all more than 2,000 words, with approximately 2,450 words getting the number one spot.
Chart: Average Content Length of Top 10 Search Results (Serp IQ).
  1. Strong Topic Authority: An important part of Google’s search ranking algorithm is topic authority. Many factors go into how Google determines authority, including content that covers a topic comprehensively–which gives long-form content the upper hand.
Chart: Content Topic Authority (Marketmuse Data)
  1. Brand Building: Apple’s reputation is solid, so even an expensive B2C Apple product can soar on ads and buzz. But what about niche B2B brand? An ad just showing trendy people using the product is likely to flop. For new and little known brands, long-form content helps establish positive brand awareness.
  2. Audience Credibility: Long-form content is perceived as having greater credibility and value. Someone who is looking for industry insights or information for solving a business problem will trust quality content that is thorough and well-researched. A PPC ad or a 500-word blog post simply won’t have the same impact as a guide, ebook, or research article.
  3. Long-Lasting Results: Long-form, evergreen content builds on itself as it continues to draw traffic, likes, and shares. As opposed to short-term topical content, search-optimized evergreen content remains relevant, although it might need some updating from time to time.
  4. Social Shares: It may seem counter-intuitive, but long-form copy is shared more often, as colleagues choose to provide high-value information to their peers. For example, one study showed that the most shared articles from the New York Times, especially on LinkedIn, had significant word counts of several thousand words, as seen in the graph below (source: CoreDNA).
Chart: Aveage Shares by Length (Buzzsumo)

Long-form copy isn’t always the answer.

The No-Fluff Rule: Long-copy isn’t always needed, and you don’t want to waste anyone’s time—yours or your potential customers. There’s no point overloading content with additional verbiage to meet a specific word count, especially if you’re adding unnecessary fluff. If people are looking for expert opinions, how-to information, or analysis, long-form is likely the way to go—but only long enough to make your point.

Consider Mobile Users: Many marketers also shy away from longer copy because it may be more difficult to read and absorb on mobile devices. While people are on their smartphones all day long, it can be tough to scroll through overly wordy articles. Proper formatting can make an enormous difference in readability, which helps keep users’ eyes on the page (Learn how to maximizing readability here). As you develop content strategies, consider if shorter copy, a video, or other type of short-form content would be more appropriate.

Primary Factors in Choosing Long-Form or Short-Form Content

There are endless combinations of marketing content and channels, so it’s not always easy to decide what sthe best strategy is. The top two considerations for deciding between short-form and long-form content are your goals and your audience.

What’s Your Goal?

Consider what you want your audience to think, feel, or do to support your marketing goal. Are you creating an ebook to position yourself as an authority—or a landing page convincing people to download that ebook? Both pieces of content will have overlapping information, but their purposes are very different. The ebook requires proving your knowledge and sharing insights—long-form content. The landing page requires brief, persuasive copy that supports the call-to-action–short-form content.

Who Is Your Audience?

This is arguably the most important factor in how you package your message. Are you trying to attract a technical audience who loves to devour in-depth information or someone looking for the lowest price on a particular printer? Are you targeting people at the beginning of a complex product search or convincing someone near purchase to click the add-to-cart button? Think about creating audience personas to better understand your audience’s information needs (Learn how here).

Long-Form or Short-Form, Let Quality Be Your Guide.

There’s no simple winner in the long-form versus short-form battle because they each serves a different purpose.

The most important rule is that whatever type of content you choose, make it high-quality. If long-form content is the “right” choice, but it’s poorly written or factually incorrect, you’ll do more harm than good. A superbly written, well-focused 500-word article will be a better investment of your time than a carelessly written 2,500-word article. Likewise, short-form copy that has low-impact can be disastrous because you only have a small window of opportunity to make your point.

If you don’t have the time or expertise to create copy that provides value to your reader—and drives traffic and leads—consider hiring an expert freelance copywriter. Get results with Boston-based copywriter and content creator Amy Westebbe at Westebbe Marketing.

One thought on “Confused about Long-Form and Short-Form Content? Here’s the Low-Down.

Leave a Reply