How Long Should Marketing Content Be (Really)?

How Long Should Marketing Content Be (Really)?

Once upon a time, back in my newspapering days, a guy who worked in the press room approached my desk in the newsroom.

He held up a copy of the previous weekend’s paper.

“Did you write this story about the flood?” he asked.

I replied that I had.

The flood story was a long one. We were constantly walking a tightrope at the paper between long and short stories.

See, journalists are trained to write short. They use words efficiently to both grab the reader’s attention and to share the most important information before the reading stops.

Sound familiar? Kind of like those folks who say, “long content doesn’t work because people don’t read”?

At the same time, you can’t go too short. If you simply optimize for space, you’re likely to leave out vital context the reader needs to understand the story.

Not to mention the risk of stripping all the color out of the paper and making it really boring.

So which is it? How do you balance “just the facts” with enough context to apply them? Do readers pay more attention when the writing is short or when it’s full of color?

Long vs. Short Content

Let’s review the combatants.

In this corner, we have Long Content. Weighing in at 1,000 words or more, it’s the Google Goliath.

SEO consultants love this guy. They’ll tell you that search engines equate more words with more information, and thus with more value. Algorithms reward value with a higher ranking in search results.

In this corner, we have Short Content. Sprightly and nimble, it packs a punch and gets out of there. Favored by advertising copywriters, it’s not worried about context. It does one job and it does it fast.

Long form pros and cons

Pros of long-form content:

  • The SEOs aren’t wrong. Search engine algorithms do search for high-value content to serve searchers, and in-depth information is one way to deliver value.
  • If you’re targeting an audience unfamiliar with your topic, long content gives you lots of space to define, explain, and show relationships between concepts.
  • Long content can be almost endlessly repurposed. Think about it: if the typical X post is around 8 words (240 characters) and your blog post is 1,200 words long, you can milk a LOT of tweets out of that single piece.

Cons of long-form content:

  • Algorithms might love long-form, but algorithms don’t become customers. Critics of long-form will tell you people don’t want to read long pieces.
  • Long or short, every piece of content should be tightly focused on a single message. When you have pages and pages to play with, it can be very easy to go off on tangents and distract your reader from the key takeaway or call to action.

Short form pros and cons

Pros of short-form content:

  • Writing short forces you to stick to the point. Like the journalist’s inverted pyramid, you have to get the important message out of the way quickly, making it harder for your reader to miss it.
  • You might not get as much repurposed content from a short-form piece, but what you do get will already be pretty well optimized for sharing on social media. A few minor tweaks to make it platform specific and you’re good to go.

Cons of short-form content:

  • If SEO is an important channel for you, you can’t count on the content’s substance to convey your expertise to the algorithm. Other SEO elements, like backlinks and metadata, become more important.
  • What good is getting skimmers to read your content if it’s so boring they forget it? When you’re stripping word count, color and personality are the first to go, leaving facts to stand drab and alone.

As Long As It Needs to Be

Let’s go back to that conversation in the newsroom. The pressman had come into the newsroom specifically looking for the writer who wrote the long article on the flood — who turned out to be me.

“I’m not much of a reader,” he told me. “I just look through the paper to make sure the print looks good. I usually don’t read more than a few paragraphs.”

He set the paper down on my desk and pointed to the story.

“I read that whole story and I didn’t even realize it. I just meant to look it over and before I knew it, I’d read it all the way to the end.”

Here’s the secret, friend.

“Long-form vs. short-form” is a red herring. It doesn’t matter.

It’s not about attention spans. It’s about getting the point across.

Think people don’t read long content? Wrong.

People don’t read boring content.

People don’t read irrelevant content.

People don’t read pointless content.

If it’s interesting, it matters, and it has a clear purpose, People. Will. Read. It.

This week’s takeaway?

Don’t try to make it shorter. Don’t try to make it longer. Just try to make it better. And use whatever number of words it takes to do that.

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