By Mark Schaefer
I recently attended a conference where the presenter claimed that people have an average attention span of eight seconds. He strongly urged people to create content that could capture somebody’s attention in that amount of time (and he was selling a product to do it, too!).
I don’t buy into this. In fact, I have an alternate theory.
Perhaps people don’t have a short attention span. Maybe your content has a short interesting span.
Let me pose a few data points to support my theory.
- Millennials love books. In fact, they read more books than older generations. This would not suggest that this generation has a short attention span.
- One of the most interesting new content forms is long-form movie-like ads being produced by brands like BMW, Prada, and Burberry. They may extend for 15 minutes or more.
- Live-streaming is turning into long-content viewing. The average Facebook Live post is now over 10 minutes long and some of the most popular posts are over an hour long.
Finally, here is a list of my five most popular blog posts from the past two years and the word count:
- Content Shock (2,188 words)
- The best social media platforms for your business (2,257 words)
- 20 ways to super-charge your social media network (1,471 words)
- Podcasts and advertising: Meet social media’s new super-power (712 words)
- Your social media strategy plan: Where do you start? (1,082 words)
So only one out of my top five most-read posts was under 1,000 words … and that was a podcast episode!
Conclusion: People are consuming long-form content like crazy. Why are you worried about people’s attention spans? If the content is relevant, interesting, timely, and entertaining (the RITE model), I believe it has the same chance of being consumed today as it did 10 or 20 years ago.
The research is in. We like big blogs
Study after study shows that long-form content out-performs short-form content in terms of the all-important metric of social sharing. Long-form content has also been shown to provide more backlinks and significant SEO benefits. I have seen it reported that Facebook is giving newsfeed preference to longer Live videos, but I have been unable to find anything official on that (makes sense though).
And naturally, if it’s working, bloggers are going to respond to that feedback by producing a higher-number of longer posts …
One of the things we have to consider in this data is the definition of “strong results.” For a blogger, the easiest measure may be the number of shares and comments. But did people actually read the thing? Obviously people begin to drop off the longer they have to plow through your content.
This chart from Wistia illustrates this concept in the world of video:
We can conclude from this research that:
- The ideal length of a video (in most cases) is two minutes. After that, people drop off. Beyond two minutes, every second counts because the drop-off is steep.
- There is a “sweet spot” between six and 12 minutes where engagement with the video is stable.
- Proceed with caution for anything over 12 minutes!
We see the enigma of content length. People may share content more often when it’s long (“Hey look! I finished a long blog post!”) but they may not finish the entire piece of content, the longer it gets.
The weird economics of blogging
The Orbit research also showed that the amount of time bloggers are spending to create their posts is rising dramatically. The average blog post now takes 3 hours 16 minutes to write. That’s a 26% increase from last year. And twice as many bloggers now spend six hours or more creating a single blog post.
The implication is that we’re probably spending more time (and money) to get people to read less of our content. Kind of weird economics.
Another implication might be that now that content length is a shiny red ball for everyone to chase, longer posts are no longer a point of differentiation. Maybe the way to stand out now is to create short content!
It’s time to throw all these posts about the “ideal content length for XYZ” out the door. Here is the only information you need to know about ideal content length: It depends.
People will follow a good story whether it’s long or short. People still love books, movies, and TED talks. Don’t be afraid to tell a story if it’s a good one. Deliver excellence and give the story what it’s worth … not a word less or more.
Which is the reason why this post is over now.
Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant. The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.
Illustration courtesy of Flickr CC and Pedro