Digestible versus long-form – it’s the debate that never stops
A task for everyone: choose a side.
Option A: long-form is back!
Longreads.com is thriving, even short-form supremos BuzzFeed are producing lengthy, investigative pieces. The success of long-form audio storytelling such as Serial and S-Town is yet more proof of long-form content’s renaissance. And it makes sense – people are sick of the 24-hour news cycle.
Option B: cut to the chase
Nobody reads anything longer than a tweet. And not one of those 280-character tweets, either. Short and snappy is the name of the game.
So which is the right way of thinking? Let’s reduce the scope of this debate a bit and focus on something we’ve probably all had experience with: a company blog. It’s a great way to walk the walk – to prove to existing and potential clients that your company knows what it’s talking about and is putting that into practice in its own communications.
To look at how long that blog should be, we need data.
A happy Medium
Medium was created by Twitter co-founder and former CEO Evan Williams. Since it launched in 2012, millions of articles have been published on the site – written by diverse crowds from business leaders to politicians and celebrities. In other words, the people behind Medium know a thing or two about what makes blogs work.
And according to those same people, the optimum length for a blog is less about the number of words and more about the amount of time it takes to read it. Their data suggests that seven-minute posts capture the highest total reading time on average. In terms of word count, that’s around 1,600 words. A photo-heavy post could bring that average down to closer to 1,000 words.
One size fits all
When it comes to producing high-quality content, there is no such thing as one size fits all. For example, HubSpot calculated the sweet spot for blogging as being 2,500 words. A joint survey by BuzzSumo and OKDork put it as 3,000 words.
Clearly, we need some steer. And if you’re looking for editorial steer from the hive mind of stats-led marketing blogs, then be prepared for a whole lot of conflicting information.
Instead, turn to the exact quality that makes great content marketing stand out as useful, engaging and authoritative – human expertise. An experienced and talented editor is the not-so-secret weapon for any successful content strategy. There is a reason that the rough guidelines of 300 words for a news story; 600 for a short feature; 1,200 (and beyond) for an in-depth look have become a staple of magazine and newspaper writing – it just feels right.
In the same way, in the relatively young world of mastering SEO for online articles, your content will benefit from the tried-and-tested expertise of someone who has dealt with questions such as word counts hundreds and thousands of times before.
Find that expertise, utilise it, publish and then measure the results. This is not a time for comparing your output with that of other publishers. Trust the instincts and nous of the people at the coalface.
And if you can marry finely tuned editorial instinct with smart insight and forward-thinking content strategy, you’re on to a winner – regardless of size.
Quick word count for this blog: 563 words. Seems about right.
[This article originally appeared on the CMA blog]