Long-form content is still more effective! Contrary to the general misconception amongst marketers, long-form content outperforms short-form content most of the time.

At conferences and seminars, attendees are often in disbelief when people like me declare that long-form content usually outperforms short-form content.  This was long the case for print advertising and is almost always the case for landing pages aiming at getting people to take action.

Recently I came across the research shared below. It confirms that long-form content keeps audiences engaged for longer. No surprise that. But what is surprising is how video fails to keep audiences engaged. I would have thought that good video content would increase time spent engaging with a given page. But not so, according to the research.

So let’s deal with some common misconceptions related to long-form content vs. short-form content and related areas.

Long-form content gets visitors engaged – video not so much

long-form content comparison with short-form contentThe graph shows that long-form content is more effective at engaging an audience than short-form content, video posts and slideshows.

To some people that is a surprise.

Not to me. Because I have seen time-and-time again how long-form content nearly always outperforms other formats. It has a lot to do with relevance. If something is of interest to your audience, your audience generally will spend more time diving into your content or your offer.

Relating this to purchase behavior, we know that people want all or most of their questions answered just before making a purchase decision. Something that is hard to do with short-form content.

But I was surprised to see how little engagement video gets. Especially when comparing to slideshows, which seemingly is a very good format for keeping people engaged. Keep in mind that this study is not about YouTube or other video portals, but deals with video engagement on a website or news site.

>> Get a copy of the research paper directly from Parse.ly here <<

Mobile users engagement with long-form content outperforms engagement with short-form content

Many brands, blogs and businesses are experiencing an increasing number of visitors from mobility devices – smartphones and tablets. This, of course, begs the questions: should we change the length of our content in order to accommodate small-screen visitors? According to this study, the answer is: “no, on the contrary, we should create more long-form content

Long form content engagement for mobile users

Despite the small screen space and multitasking often associated with smartphones, consumers do spend more time on average with long-form articles than with short-form. 

In this research (done by Pew Research Center) in the USA, long-form content clearly outperforms short-form content when measuring the length of the engagement of an average reader. Now, this is not to say that long-form content is more effective at selling or acquiring leads. But it merely serves as proof of how long-form content does in fact not scare your audience away.

RESEARCHED FACT: The total engaged time with articles 1,000 words or longer averages about twice that of the engaged time with short-form stories: 123 seconds compared with 57.1

This gap between short- and long-form content in engaged time remains consistent across time of day and the pathway taken to get to the story. However, when looking solely within either short- or long-form content, engaged time varies significantly depending on how the reader got to the article, whether it is midday or evening, and even what topic the article covers, according to the study.

More findings from the study: 

1 – Facebook drives more traffic, but visitors coming from Twitter are more engaged

Long-form content engagement social mediaWhile Facebook drives more traffic, Twitter tends to bring in people who spend more time with content.
For long-form content, users that arrive from Facebook spend an average of 107 seconds, compared with 133 seconds when they come from Twitter.

The same pattern emerges with shorter content: Those arriving from Twitter spend more time with that content (58 seconds) compared with those coming from Facebook (51 seconds).

Yet, for both short- and long-form content, Facebook referrals drive about eight-in-ten initial visits from social media sources, while Twitter drives about 15%. (Keep in mind that these numbers are solely based on traffic and news-sites based in the USA).

Something to think about: Google no longer dominates. More and more people search for stuff on Facebook as opposed to – or in combination with – Google. It is true that Google does dominate the tech-space, for example, but not lifestyle where Facebook now rules search.

2 – Very few mobile visitors return to your story. Those that do, are very engaged

long-form content engagement ratesJust a small fraction of users who access either a short- (3%) or long-form (4%) story on their phone return to it on that phone, but those who do tend to spend more time with it than users overall.

Return visitors to long-form articles spent 277 seconds with the article compared with 123 seconds for users overall. For short-form content, return visitors spent an average of 110 seconds of engaged time with the article compared with 57 seconds for users overall.

Something to think about: which triggers will you implement to make it easy for a (mobile) visitor to come back to an interesting content piece? How about adding a “download this article for later reading” button, or incorporate an email alert? There are many options, but know that keeping visitors from mobile devices satisfied and coming back for more is hard work requiring a solid effort.


3 – Your audience is more engaged at night and in the early morning

Across all five distinct parts of the day, readers spend about twice the time with long-form news content on their cellphones as with short-form.

For both story lengths, they spend the longest average engaged time in the late night and morning hours: 128 seconds late at night for stories 1,000 words or longer and 60 seconds for stories shorter than 1,000 words. In the morning, the figures are 126 seconds and 59 seconds, respectively.

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