Marketing has developed a massive amount in just the past ten years.
We’ve gone from intuiting audience intentions to pursuing data-driven decision making. We’ve moved from cramming marketing material full of sales propositions to delighting visitors and providing meaningful information and experiences. We’ve grown from distant brands to present partners who are willing to engage prospects and customers alike in conversation.
So why then do we accept best practices on content length from a decade ago?
For most (if not all) of the established history of digital marketing, content teams have primarily focused on bite-size content—thirty-second videos, 500-word blog posts, the occasional infographic. While there is nothing wrong with any of this material in its own right, it begs the question of why we’re still dedicated to creating content in this way. Is it actually best for our brands? How long should content actually be?
There are excellent reasons why, to date, marketers have largely focused on producing shorter content. We know that the first ten to thirty seconds of video content retain the largest audience. We know that readers often scroll through our blog posts first to determine if they want to make a time commitment.
But this approach reduces the purpose of content to getting views. It’s a distinctly advertising-born system of thought that misses out on some of the best advantages that content marketing has to offer. And this over-saturation of snackable content seems to be making our brands and audiences quite sick.
An interesting thing has happened, however. As some brands have begun branching out and taking risks with varying lengths of content, new audience behaviors and interests have started to arise. A handful of brands are embracing short- and long-form content that looks more like entertainment than marketing—and it’s working well enough that branded entertainment is growing twice as fast as advertising spend.
The key shift isn’t whether long or short content is best. It’s understanding that there are different places and purposes where short and long content can serve your brand.
Image attribution: Jakob Owens
By moving away from the idea that content is simply supposed to drive views and visits, we can open up a huge playing field of content marketing opportunities. The goal is to understand what various segments of your audience want at different times in their lifecycle with your brand—and then to meet that need with the right length of content experience.
Blogs, articles, and the like are a great place to start when considering content length optimization, because it’s one of the longest-running and most comfortable formats for marketing teams.
A survey of the written content being published today shows that there isn’t much middle ground; you’ll see either very short (shorter than 500 words, or about a two-minute read) or comparatively long (800 words and up). But each of these styles serves different needs.
When creating a new blog post or article, consider some of these factors to decide what length of content is best suited to your needs:
Video is a media space that may require more investment and risk from your brand, but at the same time it offers perhaps the most leeway in terms of experimenting with content length. In fact, at the same time that we’ve been seeing some brands move towards long-form brand entertainment content, we’re seeing the entertainment industry begin to experiment with shorter formats.
As you consider what length you want your video content to be, consider these factors:
Podcasting continues to grow in prevalence, both as a common form of entertainment media and as a powerful channel for content marketing. But the demands of keeping up show cadence, finding engaging material, and then putting it all together in production can be very daunting.
You don’t have to jump headlong into releasing three-hour episodes twice a week. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind that can help you dial in the right length for your audio content:
Image attribution: William Stitt
The question of how long should content be isn’t ultimately up to us as marketers—it’s a demand that comes from our audiences that we need to be sensitive to. Rather than setting out stylistic dictums that govern all of your material, try to build out systems for consideration and measurement that will support all of your content, regardless of the length that turns out to be the best fit. This is a strategy that will not only better engage your audiences, but will also remain future-proof as norms and expectations shift over time.
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Featured image attribution: Dai KE