Long Form vs Short Form Content: Which One's Best?

long form vs short form content

You'd be hard-pressed to not be confused by today's digital marketing space. Do this, don't do that, oh, no, but that's wrong too -- that would be a pretty common research path for anyone trying to figure out where to take their business in terms of digital marketing. And in this world of perpetual conundrums, long form vs short form content seems to be one of the single most widespread debates.

Which one's best, though? Does long form content win, or should you focus on short form? Where should you put (most of) your energy?

The arguments are compelling on both ends -- but the reality might not be as simple as a "this or that" game. In this article, I'll dive into some of the essential matters you should consider before deciding on long form vs short form content, and how understanding the right use of long form or short form content will contribute to your SEO strategy

What Is Long Form Content?

Long form content is defined as  anything over 1,200 words (with some specialists classifying anything over 1,000, 1,500, or 2,000 words as "long form"). In essence, though, any type of content that's comprehensive, in-depth, and takes more than five minutes to be read can generally be considered as "long form." This could be a blog post, an article, a whitepaper -- anything that takes up more than a couple of pages or so (on average).

SEO Advantages of Long Form Content

Long form content has a few Search Engine Optimization (SEO) advantages that make it compelling for certain businesses and strategies. These include:

  • Improved long term SEO rankings: In general, longer content does better in terms of SEO than shorter content in the long term. This is because there's more room for keyword opportunity, as well as because Google sees longer content as being more comprehensive and authoritative -- and thus, more worthy of being displayed on the first Search Engine Results Page (SERP.)
  • More in-depth analysis and insight: Long form content also allows you to go more in-depth with your analysis and provide more detailed insights. This could be helpful if you want to establish yourself as an expert or thought leader in your industry, which is closely linked to your SEO strategy
  • Great for lead generation: If you're looking to use your content for lead generation,  longer content can be very helpful. This is because you can include more calls-to-action (CTAs) and get people to sign up for your email list, schedule a call or download a white paper or e-book.
  • Opportunity to acquire links: Quality long-form content is a lot more likely to generate organic, natural backlinks – without much effort on your end. The more insightful your content is, the more people will want to link to it as an original source. 

Disadvantages of Long Form Content

There's a reason people debate on whether long form content should be the main type of content in one's strategy and that is... long form content isn't perfect. There are some disadvantages to creating long form content, and some of the main ones include:

  • It's time-consuming: Creating long form content can take a lot of time. This is because you not only have to do more research (to make sure your analysis is on point), but also because it takes longer to write 1,500 words than it does to write 500.
  • It requires more maintenance: Once you've created a piece of long form content, you also have to do more to maintain it, thats if it isn’t evergreen, which ideally it should be. This is particularly true if it's a time bound blog post, as you'll need to update it every now and then to make sure the information is still accurate.
  • It’s not easy to digest: Long form content can sometimes be difficult to scan, which data shows is more than 50% of the impressions of content on the internet.  This is because there's so much “digestable” information on the page, and people may not have the patience to read through everything.

What Is Short Form Content?

As a general rule, content marketers refer to "short form content" as anything under  1,200 words. This could be a blog post, an article, a social media update, etc.

SEO Advantages of Short Form Content

Short form content has some very particular and interesting SEO advantages that make it compelling for certain businesses and strategies. These include:

  • It's quick to consume: This could be considered a UX improvement for people that have a shorter attention span, so it's important to create content that they can be consumed quickly. Short form content is perfect for this, as people can read it in just a few minutes (or even less) and get a good understanding of the narrative
  • It's quick to create: Short form content is also quick to create, which means you can churn out more content in a shorter amount of time and probably at less of a cost. This is great if you're looking to maintain a consistent publishing schedule, which is a fundamental of SEO
  • It's shareable: Short form content is also more shareable than long form content. This is because it's easy for people to share snippets of information on social media, and they're more likely to do so if the content is short and to the point.
long form vs short form content

Disadvantages of Short Form Content

As you'd expect, short form content also has some disadvantages that should be considered before deciding whether or not to use it. These include:

  • It may not be as comprehensive: Short form content generally doesn't allow for as much analysis and detail as long form content. This means you may not be able to go as in-depth with your insights, which could hurt your credibility.
  • It may not rank well: While short form content can still rank well in search engines, it generally doesn't perform as well as long form content. This is because there's less room for keyword optimization, and Google sees it as being less comprehensive.
long form vs short form content

Long Form vs Short Form Content: The Data

Now that we've gone over the advantages and disadvantages of long form and short form content, let's take a look at the data to see if one is really better than the other. After all, everyone's got an opinion, but data doesn't lie, right? (Spoiler alert: things are rarely black and white, and data is just part of the story.)

According to the Semrush State of Content Marketing Report 2022, articles with over 3,000 words get 138% more traffic. And there's more to it: articles under 500 words are not only performing worse in SERPs, but they're less shared too.

Add this to the fact that 47% articles with complex heading structure (i.e. which have H2s, H3s, and even H4s in their structure) perform better, and things would seem crystal-clear: long-from is better.

Here's where things get complicated, though.

SEO-wise, longer pieces do better.

But the average internet user's attention span is of about 8 seconds (which is actually four seconds less than it was in 2,000).

"Sure, but when someone's really interested in something, they'll read about it, right?"

Well, you're not wrong. But research shows that the average time spent on a website ranges between 44 and a whooping 82 seconds, depending on the industry (with B2B at the higher end of the spectrum). That's less than one and a half minutes to get someone's attention and make them want to come back to your website/ become a potential customer.

Based on these statistics, we can say that those who tout the importance and efficiency of short form content aren't incorrect either. Short-form does better from a myriad of points of view, and this is probably best understood when we look at the fact that the average person spends 147 minutes on social media every day. More even, TikTok, the quintessential short-form video social media channel, has grown in popularity to the point where Android users spend nearly 20 hours on the platform, every month. Again, a sign that (some categories of) content are better consumed in small bites.

Data isn't that crystal clear on whether long form vs short form content should be the go-to content marketing tactic.

Long Form vs Short Form Content Examples

OK, but if we look at some of the most popular pieces of content on the internet, which type of content wins? Is it the short form or the long form?

Well, if we look at both short form and long form content examples, we'd be... just as confused as we are now.

TechCrunch, Mashable, and Smart Passive Income are three of the most popular blogs in the business and tech space. They all produce long-form content (or at least most of the time.)

Some of the most popular YouTube influencers, we'd notice they produce not only a lot of content but also content that leans towards the longer format (think of PewDiePie or Cocomelon YouTube channels.)

On the other hand, content shared on LinkedIn and in Twitter threads seems to be gaining a lot of popularity as well. These would both fall into the "short form content" examples, and the rising acclaim of influencers who have made a name for themselves on these platforms stands as proof of people's interest in short-form content. If you're curious, just check out Justin Welsh on LinkedIn, a prime example of how to turn your ideas in short nuggets of info people digest at the swipe of a fingertip (literally.)

Let's look at a different type of content example. Let's say you manage a blog for a company that sells software. You could:

a) Write a long-form article on the different types or use cases of software your company offers, their advantages and disadvantages, and how to choose the best one according to needs.

b) Create a series of short-form videos (under one minute each) highlighting the features of each software product and what makes them unique.

c) Create a Twitter thread with the essential nuggets of information from the long-form article.

d) Write a short blog post on one of the software's practical applications and include a link to the long form article for those who want to learn more.

Which one should you choose?

The correct answer is (drum rolls): it depends.

Which One's Best for You: Long Form Content or Short Form?

This is where we segue into the main point of this entire article: should you do long form content or short form content?

Circling back to the last sentence of the previous section, it depends.

On what?

Well, the winner in the long form vs short form content debate depends on:

  • What type of content your audience is most likely to consume and what's the best way to deliver your message
  • The overall goal you want to achieve with your content (is it brand awareness, lead generation, linking oppportunity, or something else?)
  • How much time and resources you have to create the content in the first place
  • The industry you're in (e.g. B2B consumers might need more time -- and content -- to end up making a purchase.)
  • The schema type you're aiming for (e.g. a recipe blog can do well with articles under 500 words, but that might not be true for a blog that aims to delve into the history of various types of cuisines, for example.)


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