How Long Should Your Content Marketing Articles Be?

How long your content marketing articles are is critical to their success, but there is no one right length. How long any particular article should be depends on what that article’s purpose is, who you’re trying to reach, and where they are in the buying process.

If you’re like most marketers, you’ve got two very different voices whispering in your ears about length for your content marketing materials. They may not be devil and angel exactly, but they are most certainly not in agreement.

On the one hand, er, shoulder, you’ve got a voice telling you that nobody reads anymore, everyone scans, so don’t bother making long-form content. Keep it short and digestible.

On the other shoulder, there is a voice (perhaps in the form of your SEO expert) telling you that every article needs to break at least 300 words — ideally, 500 — to effectively rank well.

As you try to decide which voice to heed, here are a few things to consider.

What Data Tells Us About Content Length

A quick Google search will give you all sorts of information about how long your content marketing pages should be.

Plenty of sources will site the 300- to 500-word minimum mentioned above.

Neil Patel says that he focuses on content in the 2,000- to 3,000-word range. (While, at the same time, advising us to not write content that is too in-depth!)

Seth Godin seems to be doing quite well for himself with much shorter content.

So who’s right? Everyone and no one. Patel is doing what works for him. Godin has found a different path. You could — and should — argue that those aren’t really fair comparisons, as both of those marketers are “stars” on some level, and have much larger followings than you might.

That’s the point, though; there are always mitigating circumstances. And what’s right for you won’t necessarily work for someone else. Which means what the data should tell you is that you need to gather your own data.

Start with whatever you’re comfortable doing. If more frequent, shorter pieces feel right, dive right in. If you feel that longer-form articles are more your speed, that’s great. In either case, track what you’re doing, monitor the results, and experiment with content at other lengths. (And in other formats, for that matter.)

That’s the only way to find out what your audience wants from you.

What Is Your Article Designed to Do?

The next question you should be asking is, “What is my goal for this content?” Presumably, you’ll publish content of different types and with different goals in mind. Long-form content may be just the ticket for prospects who are close to making a buying decision, while shorter pieces that link to a lead magnet of some kind are the right way to gain trust with prospects who are just discovering you.

Similar differences might exist for different audience segments or for different product/service lines you may be marketing. Be sure you match the length and format of your content to its intended purpose and audience.

How to Use Varying Content Lengths to Your Advantage

Once we come to understand that different content lengths will work for us in different ways, we can layer on the ways in which our content elements should relate to one another. One popular way of thinking about this is the solar system model.

As you’d imagine, the idea here is to have a variety of “smaller” content elements orbiting around a bigger piece of cornerstone content. Not all of those orbiting pieces will necessarily be shorter, but there will be a general progression of large to small as you move away from the center.

For example, a how-to guide in the form of an eBook might be your cornerstone content. Each chapter of that book could perhaps be developed into a presentation (and slide deck) of its own. Many of the slides in that deck might work well as individual short videos.

Don’t Forget the Common Sense

What’s important to keep in mind is that while copy length does matter for your content marketing, there is no ideal length for all content marketing articles. There are many ideal lengths.

If you’re just starting out — or are wiping the decks and making a fresh start — and aren’t sure what lengths will work, it may be helpful to think about the conversations your sales, marketing, and customer service teams have with your prospects and clients. There will be an arc to those conversations that should guide the depth of your content for prospects at various places in the buying process. Your content length should match that arc.

When you’ve got it right, your data will let you know, and you would be wise to match your ongoing work to your data — while still experimenting to find the next great sweet spot for your content marketing.

It’s Not Too Long, You’re Just Boring: How to Find the Right Length for Your Content Marketing

People always tell you to “keep it short.” They may chalk it up to people being busier, shorter digital media attention spans, or just those darn Millennials! But the conventional wisdom is to get engagement, your content marketing must be short. “Not true,” says Andrew Davis.

People always tell you to “keep it short.” They may chalk it up to people being busier, shorter digital media attention spans, or just those darn Millennials! But the conventional wisdom is to get engagement, your content marketing must be short. “Not true,” says Andrew Davis.

After all, as the great copywriters know, shorter isn’t always better.

The Cult of ‘Short’

“Our audience makes time to consume content that maintains their interest,” says Davis, who is the author of the best-selling book “Brandscaping,” a presidential advisor, and the keynote speaker at last week’s Content Marketing World (where I saw him).

And he’s right. All of the people you’re trying to reach take the time to indulge deeply in content that keeps their interest. How many of them will sit down at some point in the week and binge watch “Stranger Things,” “House of Cards” or even just YouTube?

If they make time to binge watch two seasons of stranger things, says Davis. Then maybe we need to think more like stranger things.

But by not thinking like that, and by always trying to say things as curtly as possible, we’re conceding the battle for interest. We’re telling audiences that our content isn’t worth their time. Worse, according to Davis, “In the effort to make our content shorter and shorter and shorter, we’ve eliminated everything that makes it interesting.”

Short can be a virtue for content marketing. But too often in our quest to force content to fit our purposes, short becomes the only virtue that matters. We glorify short — fetishize it, even.  And in doing that, we sacrifice engagement.

Watch the Gap … We Can’t Help Ourselves

The key to maintaining interest, according to Davis, is the curiosity gap.

“What you know” ___________________________ “What you want to know”

That line is the “curiosity gap,” says Davis. It’s “the key ingredient to grabbing and holding your audiences attention is creating those curiosity gaps.” These are the delays between creating the desire for information, and actually delivering that information.

We have a deep, psychological need for closure. Once a question is opened in our minds, we are compelled to answer it. “Your needs for closure is a deep desire for a firm answer to a question,” says Davis, “and a natural aversion to ambiguity.”

You can think of interest as new questions. “When someone says ‘your content is too long,’ what they’re actually saying is ‘I have no more questions,'” says Davis. “When we eliminate our audiences desire to answer one more question, we eliminate our content.”

So the trick to content that truly drives engagement is to make your audience crave answers, and delay paying off on those answers. But once you do pay off on them, the payoff has to be satisfying. That pleasing sense of closure,  once all the questions are answered is what will bring them back for more content in the future.

He has an actual equation for measuring that engagement: Attention = (tension/time) x payoff

The problem with a lot of content marketing today, is it doesn’t do any of that. In fact, you probably lead with the answers most of the time. Your titles may even answer all the questions. “We’re creating tons of case studies and testimonials, and none of them have any curiosity gaps,” says Davis. “None of them create any tension.”

The Reality TV Director Formula

So how can you use these insights i your own content? “Think like a reality TV editor.”

If you’ve ever watched reality TV, especially the kind of shows that court disaster, like “Ice Road Truckers,” you’ll recognize some of their tricks. They don’t just show you what happened. They draw it out.

First they tell you what you want to happen, what the characters are trying to do.

Then they tell you how it could go wrong. In great detail. … With ominous quotes from your favorite characters set to horror movie music.

Then they show you the journey, and how the character progresses, and every worrisome hint that they won’t do what you want them to do … and might die in the process.

Then the situation gets even worse! Some aspect of it blows up into a huge obstacle! All MIGHT be lost!

Then they show you how the character solves that problem, in detail, with post-crisis interviews about how they overcame it.

And finally, they show the characters achieving the goals, dropping off the load, and getting home safe.

Taking that outside of the realm of reality TV, Davis offers this six-step formula to create questions and tension in your won content marketing.

  1. Show something the audience or character desires
  2. Threaten it for as long as possible
  3. Raise the stakes “one rubber band at a time,” slowly
  4. Delay the reveal
  5. Payoff

Keep sparking questions in your audience’s minds, and you can keep them engaged — and delighted — for a lot longer than you think.