Long-Form or Short-Form? How to Determine the Perfect Length to Boost Your Google Rankings

SEO Jun 3, 2014

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It’s the age-old question that has had mankind scratching their heads for centuries.

…Okay, maybe Columbus wasn’t too concerned with it, but it HAS puzzled SEO specialists for quite some time…

Long or short copy, which one works best? 

Well, to cut a long story SHORT (see what I did there?!), BOTH have their benefits. And like always, SEO is a little bit more complicated than the length of your blog posts. 

LONG VS. SHORT

To move forward, we need to look to the past. 

Point to note: not long ago, the 500-word article USED to be king. 

Less was more, and MORE was, well, just a waste of time.

This winning formula produced good results until Google suddenly changed their search algorithms to place a greater importance on broader topics.

The so called in-depth articles were longer, they covered a specific topic more thoroughly, and therefore were awarded a special block in the search results. 

copywriting-long-vs-shortSoon enough, blog posts were being published featuring 1,000 words, 2,000 words… and even more – with SEO strategists hoping to make the front page of Google’s search pages.

Now, don’t get me wrong– QUALITY should always take precedence over QUANTITY – and you should aim to create content fresher than the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. But sometimes you need to up the word count in order to see the best returns. 

So, what REALLY matters? Long? Short? A bit of both? Let’s take a closer look and find out…

WHAT’S LONG CONTENT?

Long-form content is usually around 2,000 words in length.

It can be about any topic, whether it’s an opinion piece on how Miley Cyrus is destroying our society, or a blog post telling the world about your special offer on fabulous shoes.

Here’s what long-form content can do for you:

+ Keeps your readers on your website for longer – especially if the article is a compelling attention-grabber…

+ Helps you dive deeper into a particular subject, without cramming everything into one post. I mean, could you really fit the political history of the Ottoman Empire (1430 – 1601) or your next SEO How-To guide into one 500 word post? I think not! 

+ Provides the highest quality backlinks.

+ Google has a special ranking mechanism for longer articles – there’s more content for their spiders to crawl through, and more keywords for them to digest.

+ People are usually more generous in terms of likes and shares towards long posts, because the perceived value is much higher than with your average 500 word piece. Just check out any of MOZ’s
posts.

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However, there are some BAD things about long-form content too: 

+ People on the internet have short attention spans (if you’ve made it this far through THIS article, you’re probably not one of them). They may not want to read through a longer article. 

+ This means they are less likely to comment or share your article, and you might not go viral. 

+ Long pieces of content generally consume more time and resources to research and write.

And this is as good a time as any to point out that the length of an article doesn’t ALWAYS guarantee a higher ranking.

SO, WHAT’S SHORT CONTENT THEN?

On the flip-side, short-form content articles are less than 1,000 words in length. These can be great too…

+ …especially for people who prefer to scan content, rather than read it in detail.

+ Short-form content is mobile-friendly, and can be easier to digest on a smartphone or tablet.

+ Shorter content can be easier to create, and if it’s FUN, it can go viral–because it’s easy to scan the content and click on that share button.

But WAIT! There are negatives too….

+ The content may not go into enough detail about a particular subject. I’m not calling it SHALLOW or vapid, but you get my point…

+ People are bored of formulaic, generic 500 word blog posts. We’ve seen them before, we’ll see them again… people are crying out for something with a bit of SUBSTANCE!

CONCLUSION

So, what type of content should you be creating then? 

Well, it all depends on the purpose of the blog post and your writing style. 

For example, if you are a new business, you probably don’t have the time to knock out a 2,000 word article without falling asleep mid-sentence. 

Consider the PERSONALITY of your business brand – what are you trying to convey to the world? Want to create short, snappy descriptions about your products? Go for short-form. Want to engage with your audience and build a long-term relationship? Go for long-form.

Consider YOUR OWN personality – are you able to deliver value in small, zappy articles, like Seth Godin? Or do you enjoy researching, writing and covering a particular topic in detail? 

In fact, I myself would go as far as saying you should stick with long-form content unless you really need to write something a bit shorter.

YES, shorter articles can be digested better on smartphones.

YES, they are more likely to attract the attention of your readers.

But if your content is good enough, fresh enough and different enough, longer articles can really resonate with your audience.

If you’ve spent 2 weeks to write a single piece of content, I bet my new Ray Ban shades that this masterpiece of yours will get more social love than a short piece (unless you’re Seth Godin: Hi, Seth!).

You have more time to explain what you need to explain, and a better chance of making the BIG TIME on Google’s search pages.

Consider this: have you ever wondered why Wikipedia’s articles are nearly always on the front page of Google’s search pages?

Go to Google now and type in any celebrity’s name, a country, a city, a historical event or the name of a major company. I can guarantee you that in most cases, there will be a Wikipedia article sitting there on that page, waiting for you to read.

Why is that? Well, aside from having plenty of backlinks and links to authority resources, Wikipedia pages are LENGTHY, ORIGINAL articles with plenty of WELL-WRITTEN material. And that’s what Google loves best.

If Google has two articles on the same keyword, with one going really deep and the other one scratching the surface, which one do you think Google will serve you?

EVEN MORE EFFECTIVE CONTENT MARKETING 

You STILL reading by this point?

Guess the theory is true then – keep your readers interested and they will make it through to the end. As a parting gift, have a look at these bonus tips for more effective content marketing:

+ Make your headlines FANTASTIC – this is what will make your readers want to read your content, regardless of the length of the article. Lists are always great – for example, 7 ways to do this, that, or the other… or the BEST, GREATEST, MOST FABULOUS of whatever you are writing about. Websites like Buzzfeed use this style all the time, and generate plenty of traffic. Try it for yourself and see…

+ Write more emotive headlines! Instead of just presenting the facts, ENGAGE with your audience. “Did you know that your cat is plotting to kill you?” can resonate more than “Cats plotting to kill”. Although I think is this example, both headlines are enough to cause alarm.

Now, go write some EPIC content!

4 comments
  1. Azizul Yusof

    Great writing Damian.

    I’ve managed to read it all the way down, which i rarely do.

    Few things i wanna share with everyone, based from my research and learning,

    1. Don’t make your reader think too much with your writing. Your reader has a lot other stuff in their head to think about.

    2. Try to make it as light as possible. Try not to force their brain to work.

    3. Highlight, Bold or underline the important words or sentence. This is for the scanner type of people (ie myself)

    4. Try to use bullet points, also for scanners.

    5. Try not get your readers bored with your writing.

    Follow all that and you can write as many words as you want, people will read all the way till the end.

    Note: Most of the time blog post need to follow the same rules as advertisement, ads copy and landing page.

    You wanna attract your readers with the headlines, you wanna keep them interested to read, you wanna make them thinking of reading more of your blog posts and you wanna make them subscribe to your blog (AIDA).

    And the truth is they are hard to do….

  2. Tom @ Website Speed

    @Azizul Yusof
    good summary – brings it to the point in 197 words (short copy)

    @Damien
    Both types of content have their right to exist. I think they supplement each other. Filling a blog or traditional site with long form content only would probably provide you with lots of longtail searches, but out-bore the visitors.
    Not everyone is like Yusof and me and reads to the end. (thanks for putting this topic into 1,243 words).

    Short 500-600 word content can easily be sued to drive traffic to longer articles, where visitors find more details. Used this tactic a few times and it works.
    T. (sorry to be so brief with my comment – 114 words)
    :)

  3. sudarto

    I think, the first to note is the contents of the article. Whether it contains something that is able to provide additional value to the reader or not. Because, the aim of most people reading the article is to find and add new information, to deepen the search for information and light information.
    Secondly, who the target market we are and what we are informed. If we target those who are willing to buy expensive products, they need complete information. If they just want to buy cheap products, do not need in-depth article.
    The important thing is to stimulate them to be willing to buy the products that we offer. This is my response.

  4. Daniel Christian

    Makes sense. It’s evolved from 150 words to 300, up to 500 and now 1000 to 2000.

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