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The average top position result on search engines is a 2,416-word blog post, and the average word count of a voice search result page is 2,312 words.
This might make it seem like long-form content is ideal when it comes to content creation, but when marketers are trying to choose between short-form vs. long-form content, there are more factors to consider.
These factors include your target audience, the medium you’re writing in, the subject matter, your existing marketing efforts, your goals for the content, and your own data, among others.
When you’ve considered all these angles, then you’ll have a better idea of what type of content you need to create.
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Short-form vs. long-form content: Definitions
To create a strong content marketing strategy, you need to understand the difference between short-form and long-form content. Unfortunately, the experts are divided on what defines them.
Some will tell you that short-form is fewer than 200 words.
Others will argue that it’s between 400–600 words.
Still others will say that short-form is anything under 1,000 words.
On the other hand, longer content is defined by most experts as 2,000+ words, though some believe 1,000+ words is long-form. At Granwehr, we tend to agree. While some content under 2,000 words can be considered comprehensive, for most topics, anything under 2,000 words is leaving out important and relevant information.
For example, this article, which is over 2,000 words, is long-form content. When you clicked through, you wanted to find out which you should use: long or short-form content. We could tell you off the bat in just a few hundred words, but there are nuances to the answer that you’ll miss if we do, and missing those can have very real consequences for your business.
So instead, we plan to tell you when short-form is better than long-form, and vice versa, the reasons why, and the data to support it, along with how to create each type of content for best results. These are the things important for you to know when asking the question: “Which is better, short-form vs. long-form content?” And to cover them well, it will take more than 2,000 words.
Common types of long-form content include guides, blog posts, reports, whitepapers, case studies, listicles, and ebooks. Long-form articles are usually considered inbound marketing.
Common forms of short-form content include news articles, social media posts, infographics, and emails. Many of these efforts are also inbound marketing.
The data on long-form vs. short-form content
There’s plenty of interesting data on long-form vs short-form, but it’s important to keep in mind that there are other mitigating factors, like what your audience is looking for or what the medium you’re publishing in is.
For example, as mentioned, most articles in the top position of Google are long-form content, and the same can be said for voice search results pages, which indicates that search engine algorithms reward this long-form content.
However, data from Medium shows that the ideal blog post for them averages about 1,600 words.
Another study found interesting data on how length can vary widely by industry:
In this study, none of the industries are putting out anything like long-form content, yet they’re still getting readers, which is a good reminder that long-form isn’t always the best content to create.
Interestingly, long-form doesn’t just perform well for blogs, but in some social media platforms as well. Posts between 1,900 and 2,000 words perform the best on LinkedIn, for example.
When it comes to long-form vs. short-form content, data shows that long-form earns more traffic and more links. One study found that 2000+ words articles performed better across several categories. Long-form content generates higher organic traffic.
Data also shows that long-form content earns more backlinks:
Further, long-form articles on average had more shares on social media than short-form content.
However, this is just for articles and landing pages. Other long forms of content have different expectations. Whitepapers, for example, should be between 6-12 pages, while ebooks fall into the same category as blog posts — 2,000–2,500 words.
What about short-form content?
One study found that the ideal length for an email is between 50 and 125 words, which got a response rate over 50%. Another study found that emails around 200 words had the highest click-through rates.
Social media posts depend on the platform. As mentioned, LinkedIn posts are practically long-form blog posts at close to 2,000 words while Facebook posts with fewer than 80 characters received 66% higher engagement.
Tweets below 100 characters got 17% higher engagement than longer tweets.
Organic Instagram posts should be between 138 to 150 characters, yet sponsored Instagram posts should be below 125 characters for better engagement.
The pros and cons of long-form content
Long-form content works well for a variety of purposes, especially when writing blog posts or articles that you’re optimizing for search engines, but it’s not always the answer.
The benefits of long-form content
- Tends to rank highest in organic search
- Has a higher conversion rate for expensive products/services
- Gets more backlinks on Google and other search engines
- Gets more engagement on LinkedIn
- Shows that the writer is a thought leader
- Generates twice the engagement of short-form on mobile
- Is a little more likely to reduce bounce rate compared to short-form (72% bounce rate vs 79%)
Long-form content is also expected in some mediums, like whitepapers, ebooks, and when blogging.
The cons of long-form content
- Generally requires a larger investment for content marketers
- Requires a large investment of time from content creators
- Isn’t right for every audience
- Takes a lot of work to create high-quality content
The pros and cons of short-form content
One aspect of modern audiences that works in the favor of short-form content is that human beings now have short attention spans compared to even a few decades ago. The average attention span is about 8 seconds, which means there’s always going to be a place for short-form content.
The pros of short-form content
- Costs less to create than long-form
- Requires less investment of time
- Requires little investment from your audience to consume
- Converts higher than long-form content for some types of landing pages (low-cost products/services or lead magnets)
- Creates quick brand awareness, especially on social media
Short-form content is also expected in a variety of mediums, including almost all types of social media posts and usually in emails.
The cons of short-form content
- Can’t cover topics in-depth
- Isn’t likely to drive website traffic or generate backlinks, especially for short-form articles
- Stiffer competition from the combination of short-form and long-form content
Short-form vs. long-form content
Choosing the length of your content shouldn’t just be based on numbers — you also need to take into account factors like your goals, how your unique audience responds to your content, your overall digital marketing strategy, and where in the buyer’s journey your readers are. Before you start creating content, here are some things you should take into account.
Your campaign goal
With any piece of marketing content, before you begin, you must always have some sort of goal for the content.
What are you trying to accomplish? For example, if your campaign’s goal is to increase organic traffic to your website in general, then you’re probably going to be blogging, and you’re probably going to have to create a lot of long-form blog posts.
However, if your goal is to collect emails from a lead magnet, then you might want a short landing page while the lead magnet itself will be long enough to make the download worthwhile.
Landing pages will also vary in length, depending on goals. If you’re trying to sell a very expensive product (hundreds or thousands of dollars, for example), then you’re likely going to use a long-form landing page that can counter all the reader’s objections.
Your short-form content is going to similarly have different goals. For example, if you’re just trying to raise brand awareness, you’re likely going to use shorter posts, but if you’re trying to sell a product/service, you might want something longer that explains the benefits.
Once you have a goal in mind, you need to start looking at your audience — specifically, how your audience has responded to you in the past.
Every website has a different audience, and every audience is going to respond differently to your content.
How does your audience respond to different types of content? What have you had the most success with in the past? Audiences are different, and only you know what your audience prefers.
To find this information, you’re going to want to use a tool like Google Analytics, which helps you dive deep into your audience that uses your website.
Navigate to the audience tab in the left menu, and take a look at all the different data available to you, including these data points:
- Geographic location
- Devices used
Then, you’re going to want to cross-reference this data with sales of your products and services.
Which products sell the best? Which struggle? What content is tied to these products/services? Where are your content gaps? What kind of content can you create to fill these gaps?
For example, you might have a product that doesn’t have a landing page, or maybe you haven’t been creating social media posts that point to the product. Maybe you need to blog about the product, or create a webinar for it.
Think about what content is going to resonate most with your audience based on what’s working for other products/services.
Now that you have a good idea of what has worked in the past, you need to dive a little deeper into what your audience wants.
You need to consider search intent. What is your audience looking for when they type in a search query related to what products/services you sell?
If the top-ranking content is long-form blog posts, users probably want a comprehensive educational piece of content. If it’s short-form product pages, your best bet is to create one of those as long as it is relevant to the services you offer.
There are several different types of user intents (often called “search intent”) that you need to consider:
- Informational intent — your users are trying to get specific information about a topic. The content you create for this is generally educational for most businesses.
- Navigational intent – People with navigational intent are inputting a query because they want to visit a particular site. For example, when people search “Facebook” in Google, they’re not usually looking for information on the social media platform. They simply want to navigate to it through Google.
- Commercial investigation — your users are in the middle or top of the sales funnel and are thinking about making a purchase, but they’re not sure yet who they will purchase from, what they will purchase, or if they will make a purchase at all.
- Purchase intent — your users are coming to your website because they’re ready to make a purchase — they are at the end of the sales funnel.
Once you’ve determined why users are coming to your website to consume your content, you can decide what the appropriate piece of content is to serve them.
User intent should drive the medium you choose to create content in.
For example, if you’re connecting with them on social media, perhaps they have informational intent, and if that’s on LinkedIn, then you’ll likely want to create a long-form post.
If they’re coming to read landing pages about a product or service you sell, then maybe they’re thinking about making a purchase. You may want to expand the landing page if it’s not converting, or perhaps make it shorter depending on what you’re selling.
Maybe you’ll want to create a whitepaper for users who have commercial intent so that they can learn more about your product/service. Knowing this, you’ll want to make it between 6 and 12 pages to match the expectations for the medium.
Maybe you’ll want to create more blog posts if they mostly have informational intent, and you know from the data that you need to create long-form blog posts if you want to rank on Google.
However, if you have an existing audience and aren’t worried about generating new traffic, then short blog posts might be okay.
Finally, you’ll want to consider where in the buyer’s journey your readers are so that you can create the right pieces of content for users to consume depending on where in the buyer’s journey they are.
Your buyer’s journey
A simplified buyer’s journey has 3 stages — awareness of the problem, awareness of the solution, and awareness of you as a provider of the solution.
A buyer who is in the first stage will likely best be reached with informational content because they are just now figuring out that there is a problem they need to solve. They will need to learn more about the problem, which is usually best accomplished by long-form content.
An ebook explaining the problem could be helpful. For example, if you’re a high-priced software company, you will need to nurture these searchers with educational content. You might want to create case studies that explain how the product has helped similar customers with their problems.
This can push them straight to the third stage — they will see you as the provider they want to work with.
For another type of business, creating long-form content might not make sense. An ecommerce clothing company, for example, probably will not need to create a lot of long-form content on their product to sell it. That’s because the information needed to make a buying decision is less about words and more about images. Though visitors will want to know what the product is made of, what the return policy is, etc, they’ll mostly want to see how it looks from multiple angles, including on a mannequin or model.
In that case, on social media, they might want to create a lot of short Instagram/Facebook/Twitter posts about the product itself, including benefits and/or features, along with different images of models of various sizes in a variety of situations and outfits to demonstrate the product’s versatility.
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Choosing between short-form and long-form content requires you to take a number of factors into account. You need to start by looking at user data, think about where they are in the buyer’s journey, and pick which medium will work best for them.
Once you’ve done that, you have to think about user intent and consider what the expectations of each medium are. Then you’ll have a clear idea of what content to create.
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