The Surprising Reason Why Short vs Long Form Content Is the Wrong Debate | Perficient Digital

The Surprising Reason Why Short vs Long Form Content Is the Wrong Debate

Short form content is best! You can crank out more content more consistently and keep your audience engaged.

Long form content is best! You can develop your topics more deeply and build more search authority.

Which is the right way to go? Cue the Wizard’s favorite straw man: “Some people go both ways!”

Let’s look at the arguments for and against content length as an indicator of quality, and then we’ll think about what really matters for quality content.

Longer Isn’t Necessarily Better

Two of my favorite Moz folks have gone hard after the conventional wisdom that longer content usually means better content:

All three of these posts argue that the value of long-form content has been oversold to marketers. I’ll get into their specific arguments below, but I think they could be fairly summarized as “It is a myth that long-form content is more valuable content.”

Fishkin argues that studies showing a correlation between content length and such things as search rankings or social shares contain a hidden, but perhaps unjustified, assumption that those metrics are indicators of valuable content.

Smith takes that further in rants against the whole concept of “quality” or “great” content. He says great content is

  • unique to the beholder,
  • an unclear goal,
  • at best a “piece of a very large pie.”

Both arguments seem to ultimately hinge on the elusiveness of the idea of “quality content.” The one thing they agree on is that length of content is a poor measurement of quality, whatever that means.

Is quality content that which gets shared the most? Ranks highest in search? Gets read more? Gets more engagement? Something else?

Furthermore, does striving for quality content even matter?

I think it does. With web users being bombarded with more and more content, you have to make every piece of content stand out in some way. But given that “quality” is such an elusive and amorphous goal, how can we be sure we are creating it, whether short or long?

Toward a better definition of quality content

I would argue that the best way to evaluate the quality of your content is by evaluating it with these three questions:

  1. Is it helpful, useful, and/or interesting to your target audience?
  2. Does it comport with your marketing goals? These could include (but are not limited to): building brand reputation and trust, substantiating the need for one of your products or services, creating community around your brand.
  3. Is it unique enough to stand out from other content on a similar topic?

Learn more about The Three Marks of Great Content

I think you can see that for any of those three objectives, the length of your content would have little relevance. Instead, let the fulfillment of those goals determine how long or short the content should be.

In other words, create content that is long enough to be helpful and interesting, meet your marketing goals, and provide a unique take on the topic…and no longer.

Rand Fishkin has maintained a list of examples of what he calls “10X Content,” and it contains examples of both short and long form content that is excellent at fulfilling those objectives.

I’m not saying to completely ignore metrics such as search rankings, organic traffic, social shares, and engagement. All of those can tell you something useful about your content marketing. But judging the real value of that content based solely on those, or on tactics such as “create longer-form content” designed solely to boost those metrics, is missing the mark.

BONUS: Why Content Length Is Not the Same As Content Quality (from our Here’s Why video series)

Resources

If you’re looking for more direction on the “how to” of creating content that achieves the three goals I outlined above, I highly recommend the following:

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15 responses to “The Surprising Reason Why Short vs Long Form Content Is the Wrong Debate”

  1. I’m really enjoying your blog, Mark –and this article hit the nail right on the head.
    Very excited about the direction that search is going. *Context* is King, anything beyond that is just copy for the sake of a backlink.
    I think a lot of SEO companies are going to have to fire a lot of “all-purpose SEO copywriters” this year, and move in the direction of Subject Matter Experts. And with that, the boutique all-in-one SEO company is dead.
    In 2017 I think many smaller SEOs are going to have to find a niche and stick to it.

  2. Mark Traphagen says:

    Thanks, Micheal. Here at Perficient Digital, for as long as we’ve been helping clients to build content strategies for SEO, we have always insisted on using only the highest quality content produced by qualified experts. It’s a realization that any piece of content with the client’s name on it has more at stake than just it’s keyword value!

  3. Completely agreed, we’re somewhat new at the SEO profession as we started as a content marketing company. We’ve also ‘niched down’ to serve only travel businesses because we’re inspired by articles just like this one.
    As time rolls on, I’m happy we chose to stick to one industry. It makes it easier to do blog outreach and build long term relationships, get referrals, etc. Really enjoying this craft, always learning –and it’s working.
    You’ve been in the industry a long time, I imagine you still get that rush when you make a big rank change or increase conversions for your clients. I don’t think the feeling ever gets old!
    Thanks for the reply, have a great week Mark.

  4. I have thought for a while that the seemingly unstoppable march toward longer content is going to spawn “Long content spam” as i seem to stumble across quite a few longer articles almost completely devoid of any content.
    I count myself lucky that in my area a few really nice pictures is all I need to get my content shared.

  5. Mark Traphagen says:

    And that’s the thing, right Neil? “Your mileage may vary” as they say. What I was really trying to shoot down in this post was the notion that there is some magic or “secret sauce” to content length that could be applied across the board. Totally depends on your goals and your audience.

  6. Mark Traphagen says:

    For sure, Michael, and congratulations on your success. Yes, that rush never gets old (even if I do)! One of the great things about this industry is that even though it’s hard and very serious work, it’s also like a game, and it’s not hard to see if your winning or losing.

  7. I think short and long content are both similar. The most important is the content should be original and has good quality. Because only quality contant can attract readers to come back and tell others to see our pages.

  8. Harris says:

    Like you said how ever it takes to get your point across. This how most of us were taught. Teach me the quickest, easiest way possible. But I believe most people write longer content is to get all the long tail keywords included within the article and dwell time. But I can be wrong. Good read though.

  9. Mark Traphagen says:

    Harris, no doubt getting more keywords in motivates some to write longer content. But if doing so makes the content of the quality suffer (and the reader suffer as well!) then is it worth it? I think not. I can usually sniff out content written more for SEO than for people, and it’s never something that would impress me with the brand that published it.

  10. Rob Powell says:

    Hi Mark, very interesting article! One thing that advocates of Long-Form Content ignore is that we live in an increasingly time-poor society – people often just don’t have time to read articles that are the same length as eBooks. So I agree with your overall thrust. Thanks!

  11. I generally agree with you – it’s apparent that people’s reading habits have changed thanks to the Internet, however, there are exceptions. Depending on the complexity of the topic, you’ll have a hard time delving deep into a subject and staying within a thousand words for instance. I am also inclined to think that length should not be a criterion of whether a piece is of low or high quality. As Mark explained, content should be useful and/or interesting to your audience and give a unique point of view. If those conditions are met and the piece turns out to be longer, leave it be!

  12. Jakob Mygind says:

    Length and quality is by no means the same. I actually did quite some tests with two sites in the same niche. one had long form content, written by a student vs a short form site written by a pro copywriter.
    The pro written site, left the student site in the dust…

  13. Eric Enge says:

    perfect case in point!

  14. Poznavach says:

    2000-3000 valuable words written by a pro writer is the best formula right now.

  15. Pobeditel says:

    In the mobile first world, I am sure that short content is much better. The attention span is so small, so you better say what you want to say …. as fast as possible

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