By Peter Panepento
We’ve been hearing for years that today’s audiences want shorter content.
It makes sense, right? In a world where more of us are reading and watching videos on tiny screens while on the go, we’re more likely to prefer information in shorter, bite-sized chunks.
Short is what made Twitter Twitter.
Short is why Vine’s 6-second videos were so popular for a time.
But what if I told you that shorter content isn’t always better? And that by deliberately going in the other direction can give you a competitive advantage as you’re looking to win the attention (not to mention the hearts and minds) of your key audiences online?
Among the findings:
- Long articles (those with more than 3,000 words) get three times more traffic and four times more shares than average-length pieces (defined as between 901-1,200 words).
- Short articles (between 300-900 words) are 4.5 times more likely to get zero shares online than long pieces with more than 3,000 words.
- Long headlines (with 14 or more words) get twice as much traffic and twice as many shares than articles with short headlines (between 7-10 words).
While these results offer a compelling reason to start producing more long-form content, the takeaway isn’t that you should necessarily mean that you should go longer with all of your content.
It does, however, suggest that you can build the case for including long-form pieces as part of your nonprofit’s content strategy.
The key is figuring out when you should aim to go long — and when to keep it short and sweet.
Here are a few questions to answer as you decide which pieces deserve the longer word count:
Is there enough reader interest to justify a longer story?
A lot of the stories we tell don’t deserve a long treatment. It’s not because they are less important. Rather, it is because the topic is unlikely to hold reader interest for more than 500-1,000 words.
The topic of this blog post offers a fine example. I like to think this piece is helpful and of interest to nonprofit communicators. But I can’t imagine you would want to read 3,000 words or more of advice on this topic. After awhile, I’ll be beating a dead horse — and boring you.
Think about your audience first — and whether it has an appetite for a deep dive.
Do you have enough compelling material?
Your audience might have a strong interest in your organization’s work around a key issue area. For instance, they might be genuinely interested in learning more about the need for more affordable health care in your community or your work in combatting childhood obesity.
But don’t assume that interest alone is enough to justify a long-form piece.
When you decide to cover these topics, make sure you have enough new information to share or personal stories to tell to justify the length of your piece. Your audience will tune out if they feel as though you’re padding. So make sure you have the goods to justify the length. If you find that you can tell a complete, compelling story in 1,500 words, stop there (or get more good stuff).
Do you have supporting visuals?
When you decide to go long, make sure you have enough strong photos or compelling infographics to illustrate the piece. The longer your story, the more you need to give your readers a visual break as they’re navigating your copy.
Do you have a good editor?
Every story should be well written and clean. Sloppy copy, jargon, and unclear language can doom your credibility. It can also cause confusion or lead your audience to tune out. This is true with all content, but when the pieces are longer, there’s more room for error and more opportunities for your reader to go elsewhere without reading the full piece.
Make sure you have a strong writer and, perhaps more importantly, an eagle-eyed editor before you embark on a long-form piece.
If, answering all of these questions, you decide to embark on a long-form piece, consider the following to help ensure your reader will read your piece until the end and walk away satisfied:
- Use subheads throughout — Help your reader better navigate your copy by breaking it up with thoughtful subheads.
- Stick with short paragraphs — I’m continually surprised by how many organizations insist on using long paragraphs for online content. Keep your paragraphs short (I typically use only 1-2 sentences for any paragraph I write online). It will help you avoid having huge, cumbersome copy blocks that will turn off your readers.
- Bullets and numbered lists are your friend — Whenever possible, find ways to break up your copy with bulleted or numbered lists to help emphasize key points and make it easier for your reader to navigate through your copy.
Even when you decide to write long, make sure you employ tactics that help your readers retain information and stick with you until the end. Without such tactics, you might lose them halfway through your piece — and waste a lot of words in the process.