This is the age-old question: how many words are optimal?
I wish I could give you a concrete answer, but I’d have to lie. Let’s look at some of the variables and research to see what we can come up with.
First, let’s consider the human factor here. We are a fast-paced society of multi-taskers and according to a study performed by Microsoft, the average attention span of a person has fallen from 12 seconds to just 8. There’s been plenty of media hype around the fact that a goldfish can apparently focus for 9 seconds — far surpassing what we humans are now capable of.
Many people seem to have the impression that due to our short attention spans, shorter content is best. It’s what will be read, shared, and talked about. People like lists they can quickly scan and won’t bother to read full or comprehensive articles. While it’s true that this digital world seems to have limited our ability to focus on one thing at a time, many experts are now arguing that people really do absorb and desire long-form content.
What’s the difference between long-form and short-form?
Let’s all get on the same page here and make sure we’re comparing apples to apples, as many people seem to have a different opinion on what constitutes long-form versus short-form content.
Most experts will agree that anything over 2,000 words is long-form content and that anything around or below 1,000 words is short-form content. That leaves quite a gap that’s open for interpretation, as many blog posts will fall somewhere in between.
Many bloggers and writers today are regularly publishing content that’s 400 to 500 words, and I’m of the belief that anything that hits 1,000 words or more is long-form content — again, there are many opinions on the subject matter.
One cool piece of research that I came across was a Medium study that actually found a “sweet spot” in their research — content that takes around 7-minutes to absorb, typically around 1,600 words, was the most engaging. I’d call that long-form content, but some would feel it didn’t quite make the cut.
Long-form versus short-form content
So what does this mean for your content marketing strategy? Well, that all depends. If you have a successful blog and get plenty of traffic to your website every single day, and your blog posts are just 400 words each, you may not need to change anything. Perhaps your particular audience is getting exactly what it wants.
But what if things aren’t going as well — maybe you just can’t get the traffic you need or a single stitch of engagement. No one seems to be reading or sharing your blog, and you couldn’t get to the 10th page of the Google search results if your life depended on it. This is where trying some long-form content could be beneficial for you.
We know that search engines develop their algorithms to provide the best possible user experience. They clearly believe that a good chunk of their users want in-depth content, and here’s why: research is showing that they do. Conversion rates and social shares are proving that we are not all goldfish, and there really is a major demand for educational and thorough content.
Data proves that we should be prioritizing long-form content
If you want to rely on numbers and research, as all good marketers strive to do, there’s an incredibly compelling case for the value of long-form content.
According to the data we’ve found, long-form content will:
- Get more social shares
- Cause you to rank better on the search engines
- Increase your conversion rates
- Generate more organic and unpaid traffic
And again, there are always variables with these numbers. Some studies still continue to show that we only absorb a fraction of this long-form content anyway – so is there really a point?
My answer is yes. As a Content Marketer, I truly believe in the value of long-form content and I’m going to tell you why. The very foundation of content is about providing value to your audience. My belief is that real value comes from actionable, helpful advice that people can implement and use in their own lives. And, it comes with no strings attached. You don’t force people to opt-in to your email list to see your best content. If they want your newsletter, great, but you aren’t going to hold your best stuff behind lock and key. We should all be putting our best work out there for the world to see and benefit from — that is truly being of service.
If you ask me, being of service is what long-form content is all about. It’s about giving without expecting anything in return, and the data shows that eventually you’ll be rewarded for it by more social shares, more organic traffic, better conversions, and more organic traffic.
So if what you’re doing isn’t working, or you simply want to do better, try creating some more in-depth content. It will help position you as an authority in your industry, and you can incorporate some of the tricks we know work with shorter reads, like bulleted lists, plenty of eye-catching images, and summaries. Also, ensure that what you’re writing about warrants long-form content.
If you’re the type of person that questions everything you read, which I hope you are, you might be thinking, “Am I seriously reading a blog post about how great long-form content is that ISN’T EVEN LONG?” Yes — that’s exactly what’s happening here. I could go on, but I feel that I’ve made my point. I’m not going to keep writing for the sake of it, because that wouldn’t be any more valuable than my current less-than-2,000-word post.
The point I am trying to make here is that long-form content only works when you have something valuable to say, teach, or share. No one wants to read 2,000 words on what you ate for lunch today, but they might be interested in reading about the marketing strategy that doubled your income last year.