I’ve been hearing that people don’t read long-form content for decades now. “Nobody has the time,” they say. “People only skim content nowadays,” they say. “People have a shorter attention span than a goldfish,” they say.
Are “they” correct? Should marketers devote more resources to short, pithy content pieces? Or is it still worthwhile to invest in longer, more deep-dive content?
First, let’s step back and define what we mean by long-form content. Although there’s no specific criteria, loosely speaking I’m talking about content with more than 2,000 words.
Considering that in 2018 the average blog post was about 1,100 words, that’s about 54% longer than average.
This includes in-depth articles and blog posts. It also certainly includes ebooks, white papers, pillar pages, and anything written using the “skyscraper” technique.
I was curious what the data says on this issue – and interestingly, the data is all over the place.
Statistics that say no, people don’t read long-form content:
- People spend 74% of their viewing time on just the first two screenfuls of content. Only 14% of viewing time is spent past three screens. (Nielsen)
- More than half of readers spend less than 15 seconds on a page. (Chartbeat)
- In a recent heat map analysis, CoSchedule found that only 10-20% of readers were actually making it to the bottom of their posts. (CoSchedule, plus hat tip to Uberflip)
Statistics that say yes, people do read long-form content:
- Articles with word counts between 2,250 and 2,500 earn the most organic traffic. (HubSpot)
- Readers spend more than twice as much time with articles over 1,000 words than they do with short articles – even though both types of articles get about the same number of visitors. (Pew)
- Google tends to reward long-form content: Articles on the first page of Google results pages on average contain 1,890 words. (Brian Dean)
Hmmm. Next, I looked at our own experience. On the Clariant Creative blog, our most-read articles average about 1,770 words. But when I looked across all our clients for whom we manage their blogs, the average word count for most-read articles dropped to about 1,200.
Related Content: How Long Should a Blog Post Be?
It’s therefore fair to say the data on the best length for online content is inconclusive.
Here’s what I say:
People won’t read all long-form content. But they will read long pieces of content that interest them.
Consider how I read the newspaper. Yes, I still receive the Chicago Tribune every morning. And it’s chock-full of long articles.
I can’t say I have ever read the entire newspaper front to end. Not once.
Instead, this is how I read the newspaper:
First, I skim the headlines. This gives me a sense of the highlights in today’s paper.
When I find an article that interests me, I stop and read the entire article.
I almost never read the Automotive section or the Real Estate section. Those topics aren’t relevant to me.
But on Wednesdays, I make a beeline for the Health & Family section. Specifically, I find Christopher Erskine’s column and the People’s Pharmacy Q&A. And I read every word of them, because they write about things that interest me.
That’s not to say the Automotive or Real Estate sections aren’t well-written. They’re just not my thing.
And there’s the moral of our story: Your readers won’t read every single word you publish. Not every topic will resonate with every person. That’s okay.
It’s your job to figure out which people you really want to connect with – and then write things you know will interest them.
If you know your readers, if you know how to interest your readers, and if you create content that delivers on this promise, trust me: It won’t matter if your content is short or long. They’ll read every word you write.