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Long-Form or Short-Form Content?

Striking a Balance for Your SEO Efforts

One of the biggest conundrums facing marketers today is a surprisingly simple question: should you focus on long-form or short-form content? Where should you and your content teams direct the most energy? That's the big question. Finding the right approach is challenging, with search algorithms and user preferences changing constantly. 

Content3Even experienced marketers can feel confused here at times. On the one hand, we have popularly-quoted statistics about decreasing reader attention spans. If you only have five or six seconds to hold someone's attention, short-form content would seem to be the winner. On the other hand, long-form pieces seem to rank better. So, what's the right approach? 

We need to start by addressing how content length influences your search performance. 

How Much Does Word Count Impact SEO Performance? 

It might be surprising, but word count alone is not directly factored into how a page ranks. That doesn't mean that word count isn't important; it is, but not for its own sake. In other words, you can't game the system by simply building more and more content into your pages until you cross some magic threshold that rockets you to the top of page one. 

The goal of search engines is to help users find what they want. To that end, companies such as Google have invested vast amounts of time into determining how to evaluate pages for usefulness. The result is a complex set of unknown internal metrics that produces the algorithm we see results from today. Above all, Google says they strive to deliver "high value" content to users. 

What is "High Value" Content? 

High-value content is any post that capably and directly satisfies user intent while meeting Google's standards for EAT—expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. Valuable content can be in short or long form. 

Writers provide the details and nuance readers seek, offering a convenient way to learn about a new subject, product, or service online. However, delivering "high value" will take more time and space. With that in mind, it makes sense to see how average blog lengths have risen over the last decade. In 2014, the average post length was about 800 words. Today, it's more than 1500 words and climbing

Does that mean short-form content is losing value? Not at all—people still want quick answers. Google's snippets feature is a good example. Having your content featured in a snippet can help you earn tons of clicks, and you can only get there by delivering relevant value. Nearly three-quarters are paragraphs—so if you can answer big questions quickly, you can capture traffic even with short-form content. 

So, which should earn the most attention from your team? That depends, and moving forward starts with understanding the advantages of both approaches. 

The Benefits of Producing Short-Form Content 

Quick, easy-to-digest content is a staple of the average web user's content diet, even if blog posts continue to stretch out in length. Properly executed, you can use short-form content to promote your long-form pieces effectively. Social media platforms are the best place to invest in short-form content: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and others provide valuable ways for brands to connect with the public through bite-sized posts. 

There are other benefits, too. Short content is easier and faster to produce; it lets you promptly get involved in trending topics or fads. You can quickly answer key questions in small bites and use this content to engage with your audience and facilitate conversations. 

The Advantages of Sticking to Long-Form Content 

What about the benefits of long-form content? We've already established that smartly crafted, it can help improve your rankings. Longer pieces provide more opportunities to target specific keywords and are more useful for reaching buyers at multiple stages of the funnel. You can write more thoroughly, which builds trustworthiness, and you can include more links, which helps create authority for your domain. 

Long pieces give your brand voice space to expand and grow, which helps the public better understand your business. Users may spend more time on pages with compelling long-form posts, which increases the chance that they'll make more discoveries on your site. While short pieces might have a correspondingly short lifespan, you can update, improve, and upcycle existing long-form content as long as its core remains relevant. Both approaches offer potent tools in the right hands. 

Where is the Best Balance for Your Brand? 

The right mixture of content will vary between brands, niches, industry verticals, and even among audience segments. Experiment with different types, conduct content audits to determine what performs best, and strike a balance to help your brand excel. It should be clear that there is value in both types of content. Whether you're effectively reaching social media users with short-form content or building authority and presence with long-form content, what matters most is making your voice heard.