Short-Form vs Long-Form Content: What’s Best For Your Strategy?

Short-form and long-form content strategy illustration

Designing a successful content strategy is all about anticipating the needs of your target audiences, then delivering compelling visual content that fulfills those needs. But getting audiences to click through and read your content is the necessary first step. That’s why a lot of marketers have questions about whether short-form or long-form content is a better choice. After all, long-form content of 1,000 words or longer often ranks higher on SERPs. But is a longer infographic, visual annual report, or illustrated blog post always what your audience needs? 

Let’s take a look at a few of the key considerations when determining whether longer-form content is right for you. 

SEO & Your (Visual) Content Strategy

SEO and visual content strategy illustration with magnifying glass

In recent years, we’ve heard many marketers declare that “SEO is dead.” But this isn’t really the case. What they’re expressing is that SEO used to be a lot more formulaic than it is now. Whereas, years ago, you could pack your content with keywords without regard for its quality and still rank high on SERPs, search engine algorithms have become more and more sophisticated. As a result, the best thing you can do to optimize an article or piece of visual content is to create the most useful, high-quality content possible — and to write it for human beings, not computers. 

This means that putting your audience’s needs first should be your top priority when it comes to SEO. And that’s a good thing! After all, that’s what will encourage audiences to click through to new pages, and come back for repeat visits. 

So what does all of this have to do with content length? The simple answer is that your content should only be as long as it needs to be. If your audience needs a simple answer to a simple question, don’t make them wade through hundreds of words or tons of illustrations. Keep it short and sweet — so long as it’s a minimum of 300 words

But make sure your site has plenty of longer-form content, as well, when it comes time to answer more complex questions, share how-to guides or videos, and explain your industry and your organization’s role in it. Search algorithms do reward longer text, simply because there are more keywords, alt text, and other clues as to what the content is about. 

Finally, a word about alt text. Visual content is already the dominant form of communication on the web, so it must be a part of your marketing strategy. Videos and motion graphics alone drive the vast majority of web traffic. Luckily, you can optimize visual content to rank well on SERPs as well. The most important thing you can do is to assign accurate, descriptive alt text to every visual element you include on your website. The same holds true for visual content you post on external sites such as YouTube. Of course, you’ll want to use keywords in this alt text that are a great fit for the value you’re providing. So long as you pay attention to alt text and other metadata, you’ll be able to optimize the performance of visual content—and, because it’s visual, your audiences will be more engaged. 

Long-Form Content in Bite-Sized Pieces

Content strategy illustration with bite-sized visual content

When your strategy does include longer-form visual and text-based content, how can you make sure it doesn’t lose your audiences’ interest? After all, today’s audiences are only willing to read 20% of a web page that has 600 words or more. 

There are a few answers to this question. First of all, if you’re writing a lot of text — for a blog post like this one, for instance — make sure you include a visual element every 200 words or so. This might consist of an illustration, a data visualization, or an embedded motion graphic. This gives your readers multiple ways to engage with your message, and offers them up regular visual stimulation, which their brains can process 60,000x faster than text. Likewise, break up blog posts into subsections so they can easily find the information they need. 

The same strategy holds true for infographics, visual annual reports, interactive landing pages, and other longer-form visual content. Use subsections and visual cues to break up the content into smaller bits. This makes navigation go more smoothly, and makes it easier for them to spot the content that interests them most.

A bonus for you as a marketer is that, when you have small, discrete sections, you can break these up for use and reuse. For instance, repurpose a single graph from a long-scrolling infographic to post as a mini-infographic on social media. This microcontent isn’t just highly shareable — it can tease the longer infographic and encourage people to click through to learn more. Similarly, you can create an annual report summary that compiles only the most compelling or important points from a longer report. 

As you can see, the answer to whether your content should be long-form or short-form isn’t always a straightforward one. The important thing is that your visual content strategy includes a mixture of both — and that you always make your choice based on the kind of value it’s delivering for your audiences.

Erin McCoy

Author Erin McCoy

Erin McCoy is director of content marketing and public relations at Killer Visual Strategies. She earned her BA in Spanish with minors in French and Russian, and holds 2 master’s degrees from the University of Washington: an MFA in creative writing and an MA in Hispanic literature. She has won nearly 2 dozen awards in photojournalism, and has dedicated those skills to boosting Killer’s brand recognition and thought leadership in visual communication. Since Erin took on her marketing/PR role, Killer has been named a member of the Inc. 5000 for 4 years in a row; has been featured in such publications as Inc., Forbes, Mashable, and the Huffington Post; and has been invited to present at such conferences as SXSW and SMX Advanced.

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