“Use short sentences and shorter paragraphs.”
“Web users have short attention spans, so get to the point.”
Heard these lines before? Advice for creating digital content typically focuses on keeping things short and sweet. But there’s a growing body of evidence that content consumers are more than willing to engage with long-form content—given the right content, of course.
In 2012, for instance, The New York Times made a major digital splash with its web feature, Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek. In 2013, almost a third of U.S. adults read an eBook. And YouTube viewers spend more than a third of their time watching videos that are at least 20 minutes long.
Brands are also increasingly producing long-form digital content. On its Stories site, Microsoft publishes extended riffs on topical issues as well as profiles of employees and Microsoft users. On The Cleanest Line, Patagonia eschews the standard 600-words-or-less guideline for blog posts to publish pieces like “Small Waves.” Cisco recently produced a multi-part documentary film, The Network Effect, which both educates and entertains. And Warby Parker’s annual report goes beyond financials and PR boilerplate to really bring the brand to life.
For marketers, the benefits of long-form content include:
- An opportunity to tell your whole story. Shorter content is great if your goal is to hammer home a key message in a target market. But chances are there’s more to your brand than just that key message. There are nuances to your brand, an origin story that illuminates what your brand stands for, different problems you can solve for different target markets, and so on. Long-form content provides a platform that lets you expand on all of it.
- Space to explain how your company’s products and services can really help your prospects. Lead gen content can be short and sweet, but for prospects further down the sales funnel, long-form content can provide the more detailed product, industry, and/or competitive information they need to make a buying decision—or at least pick up the phone to telesales.
- A chance to deepen brand engagement. It just makes sense: If people spend significant time with your content, they are likely to connect more deeply with your brand than they might otherwise. The key to engaging your audience is to create compelling long-form content that delivers the specific information buyers need as they move through the sales funnel.
- A way to create bigger buzz. Deeper engagement means increased “virality.” After all, who is more likely to share your content than someone who has invested their time consuming it (and hopefully, enjoying it)? Indeed, the evidence shows that longer articles are shared more often than shorter ones.