Long-form content (especially long-form articles and blog posts) is currently trending on the web among brands and bloggers because they’re proven to bring more search engine and social media traffic.
However, long-form content is not something new. They existed as e-books, whitepapers, guides, etc. for a very long time. It’s just that now it’s everywhere — on blogs, e-zines, news portals, etc.
That said, it’s also true that our attention spans are getting shorter — thanks to smartphones and social networks. Long-form content possibly gained its traction among bloggers because of the Google Panda algorithm update because it started rewarding high-quality content and penalized low-quality content (mainly content farms).
Now what’s high-quality and what’s low-quality? Well, it depends and varies.
In early 2000s, it was super-easy to get search engine traffic to a website as long as it’s got some content rich web pages. It didn’t even matter if it was duplicate content (already published elsewhere) or is of lower quality as long as they were keyword-rich with over 500 words.
And it worked for almost a decade until Google released the Panda algorithm update which started penalizing low-quality websites and rewarded high-quality websites. As a result, a lot of big brands and blogs (or content farms) lost most of their Google search traffic.
Since then a certain kind of content worked perfectly well and that’s long-form articles (or in-depth articles). And today, long-form content works even if the quality is low (yes, it works for now but obviously not forever).
It appears like Google’s algorithm is not smart enough to assess the quality of two web pages when its context and word count are comparable. However, over time it should be able to distinguish high-quality content from low-quality.
For instance, if there are only two web pages that matches a certain criteria then Google usually shows the one that’s got more word count on top (assuming that both domains have the same authority).
As I have already mentioned, you could trick Google back in 2000s by publishing a ton of 500-word blog posts. Today, you can still trick Google but for that you need to publish a ton of long-form content (that’s unique and optimized).
This doesn’t mean that you should publish only long-form content (if you are a blogger). There are so many popular websites, that publishes only short-form content. It’s all about your purpose, industry, expertise, and audience.
I’m pretty sure that you’re confused now. So, let me explore the pros and cons of long-form and short-form articles.
Long Form Content
Long-form content or rather long-form articles usually have more than 1,200 words and there are some that are well over 10,000 words. It’s true that there’s no standard definition and it’s all about one’s perspective.
If a blog post is scannable then I treat it as a short-form article (even if it’s 1,000 words) and if it’s not readable and I have to scroll a lot then I treat it as a long-form article. Long-form content can be in-depth blog posts, whitepapers, ebooks, guides, listicles, etc.
And if you ask me, I don’t care about word count and I stop when I’m done. I try to make my blog posts unique or appear unique and always try to pick a timeless topic whenever I can. That’s why I do not publish news topics, app launches, company specific news, etc.
It’s just worthless as these blog posts become obsolete after few months or years. But it’s not a bad idea if you have a ton of loyal subscribers (email, RSS, and social media) who always want to hear what you want to say.
1. Less Competition
It’s obviously not easy to write an in-depth blog post (or create long-form content) that’s got several thousand words. This means that when you do it there won’t be much competition because it takes a lot to create high-quality content.
2. Keyword Rich
When you write long-form articles, it naturally becomes keyword rich and you will see yourself writing more keyword rich sentences. When you have more keywords it will become more diverse and you will get more organic search traffic. See Long-Tail Keywords (scrolls below).
3. Increases Authority
If you have a blog and you are publishing a lot of in-depth blog posts then your blog’s authority will increase over time (assuming that you are providing value in all your blog posts and they are of high-quality).
And eventually, your in-depth articles can also become your website’s pillar content. See Pillar Articles (scrolls below).
4. Better Search Rankings
Search engines love in-depth and informative blog posts (or content) and they give it more weightage. In fact, Google used to highlight in-depth articles on their search engine results pages until few months back.
Image Credit: serpIQ
Moreover, a few years back, serpIQ analyzed the first page of search engine results pages, and they noticed that there was drop in word count as we go from first to tenth result. It basically means that higher ranked web pages have more word count.
Anyone can write a 500-word blog post as all you need is an hour or two. But it takes much more time, effort, and sometimes money too, to create an in-depth blog post that’s deeply researched and comprises several thousands of words. See, there’s a difference!
And such long-form blog posts can build your credibility as well in such a way that people will see you as an expert in your niche — provided you are offering value in your blog posts and they are authoritative.
6. More Backlinks
When you publish long-form content like in-depth blog posts, infographics, etc. it naturally attracts backlinks from other blogs and authority websites. For instance, when I started this blog I used to publish random listicles, quotes, etc. I was doing it for fun as I wanted to make it public plus searchable.
And the result? Many of those random blog posts started receiving thousands of visits a month and eventually became popular posts on my blog.
And that’s not all. It also started attracting backlinks from authority websites like Forbes, Seeking Alpha, Huffington Post, etc. as they were the most comprehensive listicles surrounding those topics.
7. Repurpose Content
When you create long-form content, it can actually be repurposed into a variety of forms. For instance, if you have written an ebook then you can split it and make it into a series of blog posts. Or, if you have a series of blog posts about a certain topic then you can make it an ebook and so on.
For example, I have recently published a comprehensive blog post about Web Hosting (it’s over 11,000 words) and I was able to split it into several individual blog posts. That is, I just created new blog posts out of its subheadings.
8. Better Interlinking
When the word count increases, it also means that you can link to other articles on your blog and then it actually becomes contextually relevant links. It’s good for SEO, and there will be more pageviews too as users end up reading more blog posts of yours.
The best example is Mashable.com because they interlink their blog posts brilliantly. For instance, when they write a unique blog post about “Microsoft” they interlink the keyword “Microsoft” to their own Microsoft category archives page (like here, here, or here).
And the result? Mashable’s Microsoft category archives page is among the top 50 results on Google for the keyword “Microsoft”, outranking several Microsoft domain names. And it’s not just “Microsoft”. Mashable is also ranking on top for a variety of branded searches like “Facebook”, “Twitter”, “Instagram”, “Dropbox”, etc.
9. Rankings Without Links
There was a time when ranking on top was difficult for a new website without a strong backlink profile especially when it was competing against authority websites (for competitive keywords).
Today, organic ranking is much more easier when you have high-quality content and it doesn’t require a strong link profile (though it’s still a good thing to have).
As I have already mentioned, none of my random listicles had enough backlinks when it started ranking on top. In fact, it attracted links because it appeared on top for those keywords.
10. Improved Bounce Rate & Time On Site
When you publish long-form content, your bounce rate and time on website should improve significantly. People will spend more time on your website reading your long-form articles and if you have interlinked your blog posts efficiently then it will reduce your bounce rate as well.
By the way, neither bounce rate nor time on site are not known to improve your search engine rankings definitely but those are two important website metrics that we must improve over time. Again, there’s no magic number that you should achieve as it depends and varies on a site-by-site basis.
11. More Social Shares
Long-form content receives more social shares (and backlinks too) than short-form content. Here’s the result of a case study by OkDork, when he analyzed 100 million articles on the web and their social shares.
Image Credit: OkDork
12. Long-Form Content = Evergreen/Timeless
Your long-form articles (or content) has the potential to become evergreen content pieces. In other words, when you publish a listicle, or an in-depth how-to tutorial, or anything that will remain relevant and useful for the next many months or years then it can actually become one of your evergreen content.
And it means, those posts will send you organic traffic for an extended period of time until it becomes less useful or irrelevant. However, if you publish a long-form news article (or a trending topic) then it won’t become an evergreen content and it will lose its value over time.
13. User’s Gratitude
When you write a comprehensive blog post about a certain topic, it not only gets more comments and social media shares but also attracts user love (when they find everything they need from one destination).
14. More Customers
When you create a lot of high-quality content, you’re actually attracting more targeted audience to your website. Since they are interested in your products/services, it means more customers for your business.
If you are creating long-form content by yourself then it’s going to take a lot of time and effort. And if you plan to outsource your content creation then it’s going to cost you a lot of money.
2. Time Consuming
Oh yeah, it’s time consuming. Very, very time consuming unless you’re a superhuman.
3. No Guaranteed Rankings
Just because you have created a long-form content piece doesn’t really mean that you will get guaranteed search engine rankings.
4. Difficult To Scale Up
If you are publishing only long-form content then it’s going to be obviously difficult to scale up (unless you have a team of content crafters).
Again, when you focus on long-form content, it can lead to your blog’s inconsistency. Sometimes you will end publishing a blog post or two a week and then there can be several weeks without any new blog posts. Just like mine (or similar single-authored blogs).
Short-form content or rather short-form articles have usually less than 1,200 words (or ideally less than 600 words). The perfect examples of short-form content are social media posts on Facebook, Twitter, etc., or image posts on Pinterest, Instagram, etc., or videos on Vine, Imgur, etc.
Short-form content is super-popular among industry experts as they prefer micro-blog posts to share their thoughts. The best examples are Jim’s Marketing Blog and Seth Godin. They update their blogs more often and most of their blog posts are less than 600 words.
In fact, I also have a category of blog posts called “3 Cents” where I publish micro-posts of 300 (unique) words or less without any subheadings and centered around a specific topic.
1. Short Attention Spans
A research by Nielsen on how people read websites shows that people don’t read web pages word-by-word, instead, they scan it. Likewise, people don’t read your blog posts (when it’s got thousands of words), they scan it. However, if you publish short-form content chances are they read it.
Short-form content is mobile-friendly and that’s why people love to use social media websites and apps on their mobile device. So, if your blog posts are short then people would rather read it on their mobile device itself than “saving for later”.
3. More Shareable
It’s true that long-form content gets more social shares but short-form content is more “shareable” if you think about real sharing. That is, if you find an interesting long-form article then you might share it on your social media channels but if it’s a really interesting (and useful) short-form article then you might actually read it and share it with your friends.
Or, you might end up embedding it in a blog post or a slideshow, or Twitter, or Facebook, etc. It means, short-form content gets distributed more quickly (forget social media shares). The best example is, a viral post on Facebook or Twitter.
On the other side, you will see thousands of social media shares for a blog post of say over 4,000 words but without any comments. It can be interpreted as, users didn’t read it and they just assumed that it’s good for others.
Otherwise, I don’t see a reason why these long-form articles are not attracting comments or discussions. An example could be JeffBullas.com, it’s attracting over 400,000 visits a month and his blog posts are getting thousands of social media shares.
However, if you check the actual blog posts then you can see that it’s getting less than 5 comments on an average or no comments at all.
When you focus on short-form content, it’s much more easier to make your blog hyperactive. Because you will be able to publish several posts a week. However, it also depends upon the kind of topics that you focus plus industry.
5. Less Time Consuming
Creating short-form content ideally doesn’t take as much time as long-form content. For example, you can update your Facebook Page or Twitter several times a day but you can’t update your blog at the same pace (at least I can’t). Again, it depends upon your industry and the kind of topics that you focus and also your expertise.
1. It’s Not Easy
No, no, it’s easier to write a 500-word blog post than a 5,000-word blog post. But the problem is it’s not easy to limit our words especially when we have a lot to say.
And this quote says everything:
“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” — Mark Twain
2. Can’t Go In-depth
When you publish only short-form content then it wouldn’t be an in-depth analysis. There are several topics that require more clarity and in-depth research, and this necessitates more word count. That’s why I do both. ;)
3. Can Annoy Readers
If you’re publishing a lot of short-form (or even long-form) articles per day or even per week then it can really annoy your users unless you’re delivering great value in all your blog posts.
4. Not Search Friendly
Short-form articles are not so search friendly. That is, if you are primarily targeting search engine traffic then you will need a lot of content rich pages that are optimized with keywords as well.
Bonus: Pillar Articles
Pillar Articles are (usually) long-form articles and it can be a listicle, or a guide, or a tutorial, or even a how-to article.
And the topics of pillar articles are mostly timeless and are considered as evergreen content that provides up-to-date information about a certain topic.
Pillar articles offers value to the users and ideally they should be unique (in one way or the other). And it basically means that, such articles attracts more organic traffic and backlinks over time.
Also, it’s worth to mention that viral articles are not necessarily pillar articles. Of course, if one of your blog post has gone viral then it can instantly bring a ton of traffic and it can continue for several hours and days. However, such traffic lose its momentum and eventually the “viral” article gets a “just another blog post” status.
Pillar content not only increases the credibility of the blog and blogger (by showing expertise) but also attracts high-quality backlinks from other blogs and websites. And it might even increases the readership of the blog.
The only problem is (at least for me) keeping such blog posts updated. It’s quite a challenge to update an old evergreen article as updation can take as much time as writing a fresh blog post.
In 2009, I published this list of Google products as a fun post. But eventually it became one of the most popular blog post and it started generating thousands of pageviews every single month.
And when I started updating it with more Google products (as they launch it) the traffic increased further and then I applied that strategy to all most of my blog posts.
Bonus: Long-Tail Keywords
Long-Tail Keywords are keyword phrases that’s got three or more words in it.
Here’s a fine example.
If you have a food blog then one of your primary keywords could be “chicken recipes”. So, that’s classified as a short-tail keyword. Now, when you enter it on Google, it shows you more suggestions and they’re usually long-tail keywords.
In other words, long-tail keywords are more specific and hence they’re more valuable in an advertiser (or SEO) point of view. And the good thing is, long-tail keywords are less competitive (and its Cost Per Click on various search engines is less than its primary keyword.
It also means that the competition and CPC for a keyword like “credit cards” could be a lot higher than it is for the keyword “credit cards for students”.
Likewise, it’s much more easier to rank a long-tail keyword than a short-word keyword for the same reason.
Because, when you’re trying to rank for a certain keyword, you are actually trying to outrank your competition. So, if you’re trying to rank for “credit cards” on Google then it you have to outrank over 248 million results.
But when you want to rank for “credit cards for students”, you need to outrank only 33 million results. Now that’s a significant difference. Moreover, short-tail keywords are usually generic in nature and hence its top results are usually occupied by big brands (or authority websites).
The only problem with short-tail keywords is, the keyword volume. The number of monthly searches for short-tail keywords are way high than long-tail keywords. It means the potential traffic from those keywords is less.
However, the traffic quality of long-tail keywords are so great that its searchers end up buying your product or service. You can easily combat the “low volume” issue by finding hundreds of long-tail keywords for your campaign (especially if it’s a pay-per-click ad campaign).
The best way to find keywords (short-tail and long-tail) is by using Google Keyword Planner. And the easiest way is by simply Google searching your primary short-tail keyword so that Google will show its directly and semantically related long-tail keywords at the bottom of the results page.
By the way, if you are a blogger who is targeting long-tail keywords then you need to make sure that you haven’t overly optimized your blog posts with such long-tail keywords as it will do more bad than any good.
As you have imagined, there’s no definite answer as to which form of content you should focus on. Ideally, it should depend upon your expertise, audience, industry, purpose, and interest.
For instance, I have published around 250 blog posts and it combinedly might have at least 1,000 subheadings. So, if I split each blog post into multiple blog posts then it makes it more readable but then I will lose the “Pillar” and “Long-Tail” advantage.
That said, I usually do not have a word-count in mind when a topic is selected. I just continue writing until everything that’s on my mind about a particular topic is written. And that’s it.
For instance, this blog post is over 3,000 words when I thought it wouldn’t take more than 600 words. Actually, this was yet another “3 Cents” topic . But when I started I realized that the subheadings require more clarity and hence it ended up like this.
So, what form of content do you prefer — long-form or short-form — Why?
Happy Blogging! :)