One of the most heated debates within the content marketing industry centers around content length. SEO experts point to long-form as the superior content, while viral stars highlight their short-form pieces. Oftentimes, this leaves brands stuck in the middle. Most companies have limited budgets and struggle to decide whether they should invest in long-form or short-form pieces. The answer actually lies in their content goals and brand strategy.

Start By Defining Long-Form Content

Image via Flickr by photosteve101

Before you can start the debate over which content type is best, take a minute to identify exactly what you mean by long-form and short-form. Chris Giarratana at Search Engine Journal defined long-form content as pieces with more than 2,000 words. This typically includes whitepapers, ebooks, and in-depth guides. Conversely, short-form content hovers around 1,000 words and encompasses blog posts, social media posts, and emails.

With this definition, it’s unlikely that your brand will only use one form of content. You might create a long-form eBook or guide and then promote it in a blog post that discusses the highlights. You could then promote the eBook on social media or through an email blast. All of these content forms work together to drive traffic to your brand and generate sales. The content lengths work together to answer the various needs and questions of customers during their journey.

When to Use Long-Form Content

There are two primary reasons to use long-form content: educating customers and generating links. Long-form content can provide in-depth information that short form posts lack the space to address. If you’re trying to analyze industry trends or explain clearly how customers can achieve something, then a long-form post or a video is typically best. Many sales managers use long-form content pieces as tools to push leads deeper down the funnel to encourage a purchase.

Multiple studies — including one published by Neil Patel and covered by CopyPress — have found that long-form pieces do well in Google rankings. Google tries to provide the most value possible to customers, which means it often promotes long-form content to increase the odds that users find what they’re looking for. However, Google’s algorithm is more than a probability game. It also analyzes information like time on site and bounce rate, which means content pieces that hold audience attention longer tend to rank better. As the Sales Lion blog famously said, “If Google has to choose between two articles on the same keyword, is it more likely to choose one where readers spend 45 seconds or 4.5 minutes?”

When you’re looking to attract quality customers who engage with your brand for several minutes, you can’t beat long-form content.

When to Use Short-Form Content

While some revenue-focused managers and SEO specialists feel tempted to point to long-form content as the de facto solution to generate sales and boost rankings, short-form pieces play an important role in marketing as well. Short-form pieces drive buzz, traffic, and engagement with your brand. For example, Facebook Live encourages brands to spontaneously broadcast events, even if they only last a few minutes. Short-form pieces are great for sharing important news or creating something light and pithy that readers can scan.

BuzzFeed is a great example of short-form content that works. Most of their posts are gif-heavy and scannable. Readers can get the gist within a few minutes and then move on. While the publishing platform has moved to create more long-form posts recently, the lighter and highly engaging posts are key traffic drivers.

How Content Length Varies By Industry

Traditionally, B2C brands are more focused on becoming viral sensations while B2B brands need referrals, rankings, and authority. This is why B2C brands tend to lean more toward short-form. However, your industry and your company don’t have to limit what kind of content you create.

For example, Caitlin Doughty created the video series Ask A Mortician, which debuted in 2011 and still operates today. This series discusses cremations and burials. Doughty creates quick five-minute videos and blog posts that address questions many people have when planning their care after death, including Q&As about organ donation and the environmental impacts of embalming. This video series is changing the funeral industry, one that historically has had a serious tone and limited marketing opportunities.

Doughty proves that your company and industry shouldn’t limit the types of content you create. It’s entirely possible for B2B brands to create something that goes viral or for B2C brands to create long-form think pieces or tutorials for customers. In many cases, the content length isn’t as important as the content itself.

The Best Way to Know is to Test

While reading statistics about audience behavior can certainly give you an idea about what forms of content customers want, the best way you can know for certain is to test different content lengths and see what your customers respond to. Consider running a test over the course of a month — or several months depending on your publishing schedule and sales journey — to see how customers respond to your content of different lengths. You can evaluate its performance by a few criteria:

  • Time spent on site and number of pages visited after reading (are your customer engaging with your brand longer?)

  • The number of shares, likes, and clicks to your content (are people interested in what you have to say?)

  • The number of leads generated and sales converted because of the content (are you driving the traffic you want?)

  • The number of links to your content over two to six months (are people accessing your content organically and finding it useful?)

By evaluating the long-term effects of your content length, like sales and links, you can better determine the lifetime value of a piece of content and whether length plays a role in your content’s ROI.

Long-form and short-form content isn’t siloed. Creating content requires a set marketing and SEO strategy for brands to get the most out of their efforts. This is why the long-form and short-form debate continues to rage on. There is no one answer for every brand.