We’ve all heard the dire warnings about waning attention spans and their impact on marketing. We know, for instance, that most consumers are engaging with brands through their phones (including almost half that use phones for purchases) and that the devices aren’t as conducive to long-form content. We’ve seen the studies that say the average person’s attention span has dropped from 12 seconds (in 2000) to 8 seconds. We’ve seen the advice focusing on these facts that tell us to keep our marketing strategies simple, make our content short and to the point, and—above all—get to the point quickly.
Why, then, would you ever use long-form content as part of your marketing strategy?
These snapshots of people’s average attention spans and behaviours do not tell the whole story. The reasons that people turn to web content are diverse, and there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that in a sea of one-minute videos and 200-word blog posts, people are hungry for more—more depth, more analysis, more meaning. And they’re willing to put in the time to get it.
Let’s take a closer look at how long-form content can actually be a winning marketing strategy.
What is “long-form” content?
What counts as “long-form” content? For the purposes of marketing strategies, any blog post over 2000 words or video longer than ten minutes is long-form. To read or watch something of that length, the consumer has to commit a valuable chunk of time, and they will likely have to fend off other distractors in order to make a conscious choice to finish the content to the end. In other words, long-form content is content that consumers actively choose to keep consuming whereas some short-form content is simply flashy enough to deliver its message before a consumer has really made an active reading choice.
More important than the technical parameters of long-form content is what it allows the writer to do in that space. While shorter videos and blog posts necessarily have to make tough choices about what content to cover and how thoroughly to discuss it, long-form content gives creators space to really dive into the details. This content is often more thorough, providing alternative viewpoints, background information, and detailed explanations that are often missing (and missed) from most marketing content.
Will people read long-form content?
Our instinct might be to shy away from long-form content because we fear people won’t actually read or watch it. However, the statistics paint a different picture.
SEO analysts have found that longer content (greater than 2000 words) ranks higher. In fact, the average length of content in the number one spot was 2,416 words. A more detailed analysis found that pages with long-form content tended to generate more backlinks and to keep users on the page for longer periods of time (which makes sense because it obviously takes longer to read). All of these factors increase the overall SEO value and pull up the trustworthiness of the site as a whole for consumers.
In addition, the depth and analysis of long-form content give it a longer shelf life. While many short posts are very reactive to immediate news stories and of-the-moment buzz, longer articles tend to give the kind of background and analysis that makes them relevant in a month, six months, or even years from now.
Finally, people turn to long-form content because the content tells them something they really want to know. Chances are that if they are willing to invest time into reading and understanding longer content, they are also more likely to share it and talk to people about it, giving long-form content a farther reach.
How should you use long-form content?
Just because long-form content has marketing benefits doesn’t mean you should throw out the rules about simplicity and shorter content. It is definitely not a good strategy to make every video you post or every blog you write a long-form piece. In fact, long-form pieces will come across as more reliable and meaningful if they are used occasionally and purposefully.
Save long-form content for the “ultimate”
Your long-form content should stand out for its true depth and level of analysis. Consumers are not going to be impressed with 2000 words of fluff, so don’t use long-form content unless you have something worth saying. A great place to use longer content is on comprehensive videos or the “ultimate” guide to an area of expertise for your brand. Many brands are also using long-form content to publish “white papers” from their experts, which is a great way to build credibility and reach.
Readability becomes especially important for long-form content. Visual breaks in the form of headings, images, and title slides can make a longer piece seem much more accessible and user-friendly. The longer the content, the more attention you need to pay to how it appears on the screen if you want people to stick with it.
Ultimately, using long-form content should be a tool in every marketer’s toolbox. If used intentionally and sparingly, long-form content can be an excellent way to boost your brand’s reputation and audience.