return Home

Forget attention span. Why websites have to make long-form integral part of their content mix.

Long-form content should be considered an essential part of your content mix on your website. What data tells us is, that investing into producing longer hiqh-quality, word-rich articles pays off. Long form contributes to both, more social shares and higher ranking in search results, leading to more traffic on your site, and more eyeballs, which you can monetise. But now the facts.

First thing's first. What is long-form content? Columnist John Lincoln would call pieces of more than 1,500 words long-form content and 1,200 the absolute minimum. Even 1,500 is still far less than the 5,000-words-on-average long-form pieces, David Remnick referred to during Long-Form Storytelling in a Short-Attention-Span World, a panel in March, 2011. Of course media differs due to distinct needs, so that I'm only looking at articles not at radio, TV, or mobile devices, all which require their own approaches to meet audience expectations.

Let's take Quartz, for example. Its Kevin Delaney mentioned that its more in-depth and analytical features usually consist of at least 1,200 words, and articles less than 500, while newspaper reportage usually falls in the 500-800 words length. He continued to describe the publication's way to handle story length as u-shaped curve, which basically says, that social media success is more likely for really long stories or really short ones. Does that make sense?

QZ article length ()

Above: Quartz U-shaped curve

Source: Newswhip

Let's try to make sense of Quartz's findings looking closer at the relationship between long-form articles and social engagement, starting with search traffic first. The positive relationship between content length and ranking in search results are no longer disputed. It's been well known for years now. SerpIQ conducted a study in 2011 and was able to show, that on average the top ten search engine results were all long-form, and the top five even above 2,300 words. They also discovered that content length decreased the lower the rank was on the search result pages.

SerpIQ average content length ()

Above: Chart by serpIQ, 2010

Source: SerpIQ

That's not a surprise. It's a matter of fact, that longer pieces, if of high quality, usually invite more people to refer to them as a reference source. Since Google has been rewarding external links as kind of a indicator for content quality right from the beginning of its history of indexing, each link also counts towards the ranking of an article, finally leading to a higher position on search engine result pages, or SERP.  

Evergreen content seems to be one of the content formats more likely to profit from Google's ranking criteria. Evergreen content is a content format, which is "considered sustainable and lasting," also content, which "continues to be relevant long past its publication." Not only that this kind of content gets written once, and can be consumed by more readers over time, it can also be re-run and should be kept up-to-date as Sujan Patel argued in an article on searchenginejournal.com

But not only evergreen content, also video content seem to work pretty well, if it's longer than 10 minutes. As Ooyala found out, smaller screens are no inhibitor of longer videos. Still 49 per cent watch videos longer than 10 minutes and 33 per cent videos below three minutes. Looks like a further proof of the u-shaped social success curve Quartz was referring to.

Screen size content consumption ()

Source: Statista, Ooyala

So how does long-form content of other well-known publishers perform on social? From a study of SimilarWeb we have already some insights about how social drives sites' overall traffic. We also know how much Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Stumbleupon and others are contributing to traffic gains of leading news sites in the US.

Social media traffic of news sites ()

What hasn't been answered so far is the impact of content length on social shares. That's why based on own data on how people share content, we analysed content from ZEIT Online, New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal to evaluate the relationship between content length and social engagement (see the charts below). In short: we were able to identify the same pattern in all cases. Long-form content contributed significantly to total shares of the sites.

My recommendation: invest in long-form content and take a look if evergreen content fits to your brand and in case of video try both: longer video formats as much as short clips.

Zeit Online average shares ()
The Guardian average shares ()
New York Times average shares ()
Wall Street Journal average shares ()

More like this

Why the shortform vs. longform debate is no longer necessary

10 key learnings from the FIPP World Congress - from longform to the future of print

Chart of the week: Long form readers value trusted media sources

  • [Video] ALT.dk on the value of SEO in publishing

    Search engine optimisation has increasingly been left behind by publishers in recent years, in favour of more glamorous social strategies. But as Sara Wilkins, digital editor of ALT.dk at Egmont Publishing explains in this exclusive video interview for FIPP, there's still value in SEO. 

    12th Jul 2018 Features
  • Can slow journalism march on… slowly?

    As news cycles speed up, 'slow' journalism seems to be slowing down. These days, to don the robe of a slow journalist, deadlines - and even scoops - are negated in seeking out accuracy, proportionality, fairness and, it seems Pulitzer prizes. An employer that can afford to pay a journalist an annual salary to tell one in-depth story  a year may come in handy too.

    9th Jul 2018 Features
  • Behind The Economist's first graphic novel on Instagram

    A couple of weeks ago, The Economist published a graphic novel on Instagram, called "Data Detectives". The production of the piece was a group effort involving Oliver Morton, senior editor and briefings editor; Jon Fasman, Washington DC correspondent; Rob Gifford, Britain correspondent, Stephen Petch, art director, Ria Jones, digital and social media picture editor, Ben Shmulevitch, editorial designer; Matt Withers, graphic designer and Simon Myers, freelance graphic designer and illustrator. 

    9th Jul 2018 Features
  • The Mr. Magazine™ interview: "We have to find new ways to tap into the consumers", Time Inc. Retail president

    “You ask me why I’m bullish. I believe in the power of print in this digital age for several reasons. First and foremost, we at Meredith, and you know this already, have incredible, leading, iconic, trusted, powerful brands. And in this day and age of fake news that matters to our consumers. We see it. That’s part of the reason I’m so bullish on the SIP’s (special interest publications), and we see that when we hit the mark, such as The Royal Wedding for People or Magnolia Journal and other titles. I won’t beleaguer the phenomenal special editions or bookazines’ growth.” Drew Wintemberg, president, Time Inc. Retail

    5th Jul 2018 Features
  • Behind The Economist's first graphic novel on Instagram

    A couple of weeks ago, The Economist published a graphic novel on Instagram, called "Data Detectives". The production of the piece was a group effort involving Oliver Morton, senior editor and briefings editor; Jon Fasman, Washington DC correspondent; Rob Gifford, Britain correspondent, Stephen Petch, art director, Ria Jones, digital and social media picture editor, Ben Shmulevitch, editorial designer; Matt Withers, graphic designer and Simon Myers, freelance graphic designer and illustrator. 

    9th Jul 2018 Features
  • Can slow journalism march on… slowly?

    As news cycles speed up, 'slow' journalism seems to be slowing down. These days, to don the robe of a slow journalist, deadlines - and even scoops - are negated in seeking out accuracy, proportionality, fairness and, it seems Pulitzer prizes. An employer that can afford to pay a journalist an annual salary to tell one in-depth story  a year may come in handy too.

    9th Jul 2018 Features
  • Hearst UK launches new digital metric to demonstrate content engagement quality for commercial partners

    Hearst UK has launched a new metric to demonstrate the engagement quality of digital branded content for its commercial partners.

    9th Jul 2018 Insight News
  • Gruner + Jahr launches Gala in Greece

    Gala is now available, through a license agreement, as a weekly supplement to the Sunday edition of Greek newspaper Proto Thema. The editor-in-chief is Jenny Agiandriti, who previously served as editor-in-chief of the Greek editions of Thema People and Grazia. 

    9th Jul 2018 Launches
  • Take part in the Distripress Circulation Monitor 2018 survey

    The Distripress Circulation Monitor (DCM) is in its fifth year. The report is commissioned by Distripress, the international press distribution organisation, to provide companies involved in the cross-border sales of newspapers and magazines, with quality insight in to the performance of the global market for press distribution and the factors affecting trading. 

    9th Jul 2018 Insight News
Go to Full Site