There has been much debate about the length of content and what performs well in terms of SEO, engagement and social sharing. Readers want short, snappy content, ideally under 140 characters or at most a list, right? Well, actually, wrong. The evidence of 7 recent studies is that long form content is alive, thriving and driving high levels of content performance.
I have summarized below the findings of the following seven articles on long form content:
NewsWhip’s study found that long form articles and posts do very well on the social web, despite increasingly being accessed from mobile devices. People seem happy to read long articles on their phones.
NewsWhip picked the top 10 most-shared stories on Facebook for a range of publishers during November 2013. As you can see below, the average word counts were 1,000 words or more. The BBC site being the main exception.
Newship noted that one of the longest viral stories was a 3,535 word transcription of a lecture by Neil Gaiman on the importance of reading, posted by the Guardian. This has been shared over 300,000 times since being posted in October 2013, as we can from BuzzSumo below.
They also highlighted a post of almost 2,500 words on Huffington Post on the habits of happy people. This has had over 470,000 shares as we can see on BuzzSumo below.
SERPIQ undertook an analysis of the top 10 search results for over than 20,000 keywords. They found that the length of content had a direct correlation to the ranking or position in the search results.
One hypothesis that SERPIQ make is that longer content is often better quality than shorter articles and that quality content is going to be favored by Google.
SERPIQ concluded that at least 1500 words is a good target for articles and blog posts.
Quartz editor Kevin Delaney recently said the business-news outlet’s publishing strategy is not to publish articles between 500 and 800 words.
Delaney says “Too much reporting is 700-word articles that everyone else has got.” Interestingly he argues you should either publish short articles of less than 500 words, or more in-depth features of 1,200 words or more. In essence he argues the social media performance curve for content is V shaped as follows.
Columbia Journalism Review argues that “longform has gone digital and is thriving.” They back their views by pointing to the appointment of ‘longform editors’ at the likes of BuzzFeed.
Darren Rowse of ProBlogger carried out an experiment to test how longer blog posts performed. He found that the longer blog posts performed better than other regular length blog posts and featured heavily in his site’s most-read new posts. Thus if you are writing a guide you may be better writing one detailed post than say a series of posts.
Darren gives as examples:
The Ultimate Guide to Selling Your Blog (5470 words)
The Complete Guide to Getting Started on Pinterest (4734 words)
The Ultimate Guide to Leaving Comments on Blogs (2047 words)
All these posts performed well above average compared to other posts and were amongst the most read new posts on ProBlogger in 2013.
Garrett Moon carried out his own exercise on content performance and found that for him long form content ranked higher on average than shorter pages.
However, there wasn’t a significant correlation between back links and content length.
Unlike Garrett, Neil Patel found a correlation between post length and the number of links as shown below.
Neil also compared likes and tweets for different length content. He found his blog posts that were under 1,500 words on average received 174.6 tweets and 59.3 Facebook likes. By contrast posts that were over 1,500 words, on average received 293.5 tweets and 72.7 Facebook likes.
Neil also undertook A/B testing to see if long form content converted better. He found that the longer form content converted better … “even when the form fields were way below the fold.”
There does appear to be evidence that long form content far from being dead can help improve your content marketing performance. Check how well content is shared from your domain with a BuzzSumo search.
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