Creating Content: Shorter is better, unless it isn’t.

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We’re so overloaded with information that we can barely sit still for 5 minutes. Life is full of distractions; everybody’s busy. There is no way someone will take the time to read our 3,000 word article or watch a 10 minute video. Or is there?

Content-Management-StrategyOur first instinct when writing blogs is to assume that a post is “too long” because of its word count. Or that a video is “too long” because of its running length.  Except…

The best selling movie of all time is Avatar, and it’s two hours and 40 minutes long. Two of the most favorited YouTube videos of all time are over six minutes long. Wikipedia has an Alexa rank of six, and most of its entries are quite a bit longer than your average blog post.

Are these just exceptions to the rule, or are they proof that there’s more to online marketing success than meets the eye?

“Too Long” Isn’t About Length

What really makes content “too long?

Irrelevance. More than anything else, content feels too long if it appears to be irrelevant. If you’ve quickly bounced from a lengthy blog, perhaps relevancy, rather that length, was the issue. We won’t invest much of our limited time to determine if an article “speaks to us”; content must convey main points immediately.

A tombstone of text. Posts without breaks are  intimidating to look at, difficult to read, and “feel” longer – even though they take up less space on the page. The same goes for posts without images. Subheadings and lists can also do a lot to make posts easier to navigate.

Lack of personality or originality. Dry content feels painfully longer than something entertaining or personal. Don’t talk at your audience, share your story in a new and engaging way.

Lack of Clarity Long content can bog down in specifics and your audience can lose track of the key points. If a post or video is long, it should start off with a short and entertaining summary and it should repeatedly recap to make sure that the information is being absorbed.

Key Takeaway 1:   Don’t bury the lead!
Key Takeaway 2:   White space is your friend.
Key Takeaway 3:   Illuminate the key points.

Why Longer Content is Sometimes Better

It would be equally bad to say that longer content is always more informative. But here are a few reasons why longer content can be better:

  1. Enthusiasts share. Who’s most likely to share an article about the art of break dancing? Hint: it’s not the guy who would get bored reading a long article on the subject.People who are enthusiastic about a subject are generally the ones most likely to share content about it. They also may find shorter posts less fulfilling and uninformative.
  2. To end channel surfing. Most internet surfers have a habit or a routine when they go online. They search, click, and hit the back button over and over again. Or they sift through their Facebook profile, click, and hit the back button. Or they do the same on StumbleUpon, Twitter, or Reddit.The point is, if you want to improve your engagement and conversion rates, you need to interrupt that routine. One way to do that is to draw them in with a long post or video that solves a problem and gets them interested in what else you might have to offer.
  3. A short post just can’t be enough.Every piece of content is, or should be, designed with a singular purpose: to solve a problem. The problem can be basic and broad or more complex and specific. And in either case, a short post just isn’t enough to solve the user’s problem.We’d all like to believe that everything can be solved with a thirty second video on YouTube. A more comprehensive answer is often the better one. It all depends on the problem and your target audience’s skill set.

Key Takeaway: Content marketing is but one aspect of a small business SEO strategy;  sacrificing relevance or quality for some arbitrary measure of length is counterproductive. Ultimately, good content isn’t long or short.  Meeting the needs of your target audience is the best harbinger of online marketing success.

Have you found that longer posts or videos can sometimes do better? If not, could it be the way that you’re approaching them?

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