Should you write one giant blog post or multiple shorter ones?
The short answer is a mixture of both.
The long answer requires some reading, but feel free to skip ahead to the Strategy and Conclusion sections below if you’re in a hurry.
Long vs Short Content — What is the Best Content Strategy
Table of Content
July 21, 2018 – Added Table of Content. Changed some of the headings. Added some opinion on micro content.
Long-form content is said to be more effective at getting ranked, shared, and linked on average. But it is riskier as an investment because it requires significantly more investment of effort and time upfront. All that for a mere possibility that your article will be well-received. It’s like putting all your eggs in one basket. Also, for a solo blogger, writing only long-form content burns you out fast. Long-form content is high investment, high risk, (potentially) high return.
On the other hand, a short-form blog post requires less investment upfront and is usually more fun to write (less burnout for the blogger). It is more concise and delivers value to the reader without wasting their time on information that is superficial. Also, short articles are faster to write, within the same time span of writing one long article, you could have written 2-3 short articles. Short-form content is low investment, low risk, (potentially) low return.
Before we get any further. Let’s make sure that we’re on the same page…
Definition of Long-form and Short-form Content
There isn’t an official definition for these two forms of content.
Below is my definition, and I’m glad there is someone out there who agrees with this definition.
Long-form content – More than 2000 words
Short-form content – About 800-1200 words. Maybe less. Maybe more.
To be honest, I’m not 100% happy with this definition. To me 900-1500 words articles should have their own categories, maybe call it medium-form content, but the last time I checked, it’s not a term that anybody uses. So I better stick with mainstream terms!
Advantages of Long-form Content
- More shares and links. A study by Moz and BuzzSumo, in which they analyzed more than 1 million articles, indicated that long-form articles are likely to get more shares and links than shorter articles. I wonder if this is a result of getting ranked better on Google (see number 3).
- Better user engagement. A long article that is well-researched well-written sends a strong signal that we are here to provide share insights and valuable knowledge and information. As such, the readers are more likely to reciprocate by spending more time (i.e. longer session duration) reading your article and make a contribution by leaving constructive comments that add on to the discussion.
- More likely to rank well on Google. Research shows Google’s top 10 results are more than 2000 words long on average. This may or may not apply to your niche, but it is very probable that your well-written long article will rank better than a shorter article, given that domain authority and etc. are similar. Just as a sidenote — average, as we know, can be a misleading metric without knowing the distribution of the data. As an extreme example, the average wealth between you and Bill Gates (net worth: ~$92 bil) is $46 billion, but that doesn’t mean your net worth is anywhere near that.
- Concentrated marketing effort. Promoting one article is easier than promoting three. It’s just common sense. Yes, you’re kinda putting all your eggs in one basket. But selling one basket (given that they’re the same price) is easier than selling three. Imagine yourself pitching to an influencer. Perhaps you want her to give your article a shoutout on her Twitter account that has a million followers who are all interested in your niche. Do you think she’s more likely to give a shoutout with one or three links? Also if you’re going for paid promotion, chances are you’re getting limited in terms of the number of links. Promoting multiple shorter articles are like juggling multiple balls, you’re more likely to drop them. Following the same analogy, promoting one long article is like throw a basketball up then catching it.
- Focused research. For a long article, you have one core topic, multiple sub-topics, and perhaps some tangential complementary material. Either way, your area of research will be more focused. A book or an online article that you find during research will most likely contain more than one points that you can use in your article.
- Less context switching. Context switching is a big productivity killer. You lose your focus, and consequently your flow when you switch context. For short articles, you will be completing one article then move on to the next article faster. You will be switching from researching to writing to proofreading then restart again for the next article multiple times (if you write fast) throughout the day. There is less context switching involved in the process of producing long articles.
- Great way to gain deeper knowledge. Writing a long article forces you to look at a topic real hard. Writing multiple short articles is going wide, writing a long article is going deep. Sure, long articles may not be as fun and as easy to write, but it’s a great way to establish your authority on a subject. And guess what, you learn a thing or two when you research and write about a topic. This may not be of your concern if you outsource the writing.
Advantages of Short-form Content
- Low investment, low risk. Short articles require less time to research, write, proofread, and edit.
- More fun to write. Less burnout for the writer(s). This is important for a solo blogger. As a solo blogger who has no one else to back you up, you want to be able to produce helpful content consistently. In bizspeak, this allows you to have small wins every day. A burnout is the last thing you want to happen to you. It makes your morale and productivity drop. If you manage a group of writers, this can affect your writers too. And many employees use burnout as a sign to quit.
- Procrastination-resistant. Some of us, such as myself, are constantly fighting the urge to procrastinate. Writing a long article is a daunting task and a great way to trigger procrastination. A short article is easier and more fun to write, you’re more likely to complete the article before the devil of procrastination rears its head. Completing an article (win) gives you a sense of achievement which you can use to fuel your will to complete more articles. It is a virtuous cycle.
- Churn out more content, faster. As a consequence of being a low-investment option, given the same amount of investment, you can produce more short articles. The result? Your website seems more frequently updated. It’s no fun to follow a website or blog that doesn’t get updated. And while long content is often extremely informational, in this age of short attention span, short content may be more effective at delivering value to your readers.
- Diversifying your content portfolio. As a solo blogger, producing a long article is akin to putting all your eggs in one basket. The eggs are, of course, a metaphor for time and effort (and money, if you’re outsourcing it). While research has shown that long articles are more likely to get shares and links on average, it is not 100% certain. What if it doesn’t? What if your topic is really competitive? What if the average doesn’t apply to your niche? If you work with a team of writers, you can ignore this point. With a team of writers, you have the resource to produce multiple long articles simultaneously, diversifying your portfolio with long-form content instead.
- More natural. Let’s be honest. Not all topics require 5,000 words to explain. I can understand that topics like How to Start a Blog or How to Rank on Google require more lengthy discussion, but it’s probably a stretch if you’re reviewing a single product. Who reads the whole article anyway, I know I don’t, I always get bored halfway through. Why? Too many “supplemental” information in those lengthy articles that are only tangentially related to the core topic.
- Gather more data. With short content, you get more quantity with the same investment. For the price of one long article (say 3000 words), you could get three short articles (1000 words). All the better if these short articles have vastly different topics (within the same niche, of course) because they will be supremely effective at gathering useful data. Data such as search keywords, likes, shares, links, number of comments. Data that you can use to answer critical questions like: what do my readers like to read? What does the internet want from me? What keywords did I get ranked on Google? All of which can be gathered from a long article too, but you’ll be doing it at a slower pace.
- Short article as topic filter. Use short articles as an instrument to filter out topics for long content. I’ll discuss more in the following section.
Strategy of Mixing Short- and Long-form Content
The good news is you’re not limited to one type of content — you can produce both of them (or rather, all of them, as I will illustrate below — it turns out that we’re not living in a binary world) . That way you get the best of both worlds. It’s not like you have to pick one format and are required to stick to your choice until the end of time.
The approach that I suggest is to produce many short articles, then pick the better-performing ones and expand them into long articles — improving its Google ranking if it has room for improvement (it almost always does) or further securing its number one position.
Do not start a long article from scratch. Unless you have the resource to do so, always use a shorter article that is already ranking on Google. Why? Less risk. Big articles require huge investment upfront, as a solo blogger, you will need to spend lots of time and effort on an article that may or may not become popular.
The ratio of short to long-form content should be 10 to 1 for a solo content producer who has resource constraints.
That ratio can be reduced if you have the resource to invest in long-form content to perhaps 5 to 1 — you still don’t want all your content to be lengthy — your resource is better spent elsewhere and also you’re readers will probably have a problem digesting them.
[July 2018] I’m now convinced that micro articles should be a part of this content strategy. The idea is to be natural (somewhat) and mix in articles of various lengths. Most of your articles should be micro articles (longer than 300 words, probably less than 500/600 words). Despite the short length, don’t cut any corner. Be as helpful and pack as much of information as you can inside these tiny articles. These are your canaries — the birds that were used to detect poisonous gas in the mine. These are your little bets that could turn into something bigger. Micro articles are fast and easy to produce. If you’re outsourcing content development, shorter articles are cheaper too.
Diversify. Produce a mix of content of various length for the best result. Since short content requires low investment, churn out short content at a high quantity and high speed. Use short articles to cover the latest news that is time-sensitive, and to gather data. For topics that work but do not get ranked well enough, expand and grow them into a long article.
While long articles are said to be more effective at ranking for Google and getting user engagement, they require high investment, so unless you have plenty of resources, use it sparingly. Consider expanding short articles that are favored by Google into long articles instead.
This article’s word count is about 1900 according to the WordPress editor.
While I didn’t directly make use of information from the following articles, they provided ideas and inspiration that I needed during the writing of this article.
- The Benefits of Long-form Content, and Why Short-form Is Still Necessary by Sachin Kamdar @ Forbes.com
- One big article or multiple small ones? sempix et al. Reddit /r/SEO
- Why 3000+ Word Blog Posts Get More Traffic (A Data Driven Answer) by Neil Patel @ neilpatel.com
- Long Form Content In A Short Form World by bob @ lefsetz.com
- 8 Reasons You Should be Creating More Long Form Content by Amie Marse @ smallbiztrends.com