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The Case for Short vs Long Form Content

Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.

The conference call was almost finished when my affiliate coach dropped a bombshell. “You’ve got more short vs. long-form content for this particular website,” he said, referring to my most lucrative niche blog. “You should start writing as many 2,000–3,000-word posts as you can.”

I cringed. My preference is to write short, particularly online. And it’s not because writing long-form content takes more time. I’ve got 9 books in print and I own 3 active websites — proof that I like churning out words.

Rather, there are at least three specific reasons that I prefer writing short vs long-form content, particularly when I write for the web.

3 reasons to write short-form content with Word Wise at Nonprofit COpywriter #COntentWriting #COntentMarketing #WritingTips #WebContentWriting

3 reasons to choose short vs long form content

1. Short-form content is specific

  • “Where can I catch tadpoles in the spring?”
  • “How long can I keep tadpoles in a jar?”
  • “What do I feed tadpoles?”

You’ve typed specific questions like these into your search bar. They’re called long-tail keywords — search terms that are four words or more and seek specific information. Long-tail keywords account for 70% of all searches, according to SEO tool provider A Hrefs. That’s nearly three-quarters of all googling. Short-form content — 1,200 words or less — allows you to answer long-tail keyword questions thoroughly. Your readers don’t need 2,778 words on a tadpole’s diet when 1,027 will do.

Plus, search engines don’t like extra words. When considering page rankings, they look for relevance and a good user experience.

Note: I did not say that search engines prefer short-form content. Ask any online marketer and they’ll tell you to write long. Search engines reward long-form writers with higher page results rankings … justifiably. Longer posts have more real estate in which to insert keywords.

Plus, a recent joint study between Backlinko and BuzzSumo showed that posts longer than 3,000 words get 77.2% more backlinks — that is, a link to another website or from another website. No question about it: long-form content’s biggest benefit is online visibility. High-quality long-form content pages return better page rankings and more inbound links.

But readers want quick and dirty answers to their specific questions. Don’t you? Find a long-tail keyword with high demand but low supply. Write about it and you become a hero.

Use this fillable, reusable Content Writing Guide
to create your own content strategy.

2. Short-form content spotlights substance

Short content is not the same as thin content.

Like people, content can be short but solid. Thin content leaves users hungry for an answer to their questions or still in need of information. Worse, thin content is simply a pasted superficial flyover generated by AI, lacking personalization.

Quality content, on the other hand, provides relevant or useful information for the reader — no matter what length the content is. Users go away satisfied, either in part or in full. Think authoritative substance over opinion. Provide that over and over and readers grow to know, like, and trust you. This guy knows what he’s talking about, they think. He’s proven himself to me. I’m going to engage with him.

Substance wins fans.

Readers like content that demonstrates knowledge. But they don’t like know-it-alls. This leads me to the best reason to write short content …

Your content strategy guide with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter #ContentWriting

3. Short-form content doesn’t claim omnipotence

  • “The Ultimate Guide to Catching Tadpoles”
  • “The Only Blueprint You’ll Ever Need for Raising Tadpoles”
  • “Everything You Need to Know About Raising Tadpoles to Frogs”

You’ve seen long-form content posts like these. They’ve got anchor links above the fold that work like a table of contents. Click on one of those links and you’ll jump to a particular section on the page. Readers choose long-form content like this when they’re looking for a comprehensive manual.

But long-form content titles can mislead, almost in a clickbait-type fashion. As a writer, I shy away from using headlines that claim an all-knowing completeness. I don’t want to lead my readers astray into thinking that my post provides the only information they will ever need about said topic. Very few people can claim to be the top expert in a particular niche. Why should posts declare this piece of content is the end-all and be-all?

Yes, I have created long pages of content broken up by subheads.

Yes, those posts have numbered in the thousands of words. But I sprinkle long-form content liberally with contextual links to other authoritative sources (as well as other pages on my site) so readers get the additional information they need. Long-form pillar pages have tremendous value.

But short vs. long-form content allows me to unpack one angle or slant to a topic (rather than claiming to offer the entire enchilada) using titles like …

  • “A Quick Guide to Keeping Tadpoles as Pets”
  • “What Beginners Need to Know about the Tadpole Life Cycle”
  • “3 Tips for Helping Toddlers Enjoy Tadpoles”

The case for short vs. long-form content

I started my freelance writing journey just as the average reader began using the internet. Most of my first clients were print publications, where space is limited. So I learned to write to a word count. Could I tighten here or eliminate there and still communicate my main idea with authority? The answer is nearly always a resounding yes.

“The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components,” said William Zinsser in On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Nonfiction. “Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills, and meaningless jargon.”

His point, first made in 1976, applies to our online content today.

Unlimited space for the writer is not always best for the reader. By all means, use long-form pillar posts to examine a topic thoroughly and offer links to other pages on your site. But if you write more than necessary to answer a specific question? It’s called padding your content. It earns you a big thumbs-down from the search engines.

Do you know how you feel when you read content that’s concise but authoritative? Yep, I feel the same. I have respect for that writer.

So embrace writing short. Self-discipline forces you to be specific, rather than simply accrue a higher word count. And it earns you readers and followers, too.

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