I love big blogs and I cannot lie.

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big blogs

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:

  1. Content Shock (2,188 words)
  2. The best social media platforms for your business (2,257 words)
  3. 20 ways to super-charge your social media network (1,471 words)
  4. Podcasts and advertising: Meet social media’s new super-power (712 words)
  5. 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).

My friend Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media Studios shows in a new research report that bloggers are reporting their best results from longer posts:

big blogs

And naturally, if it’s working, bloggers are going to respond to that feedback by producing a higher-number of longer posts …

big blogs

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:

big blogs

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.

sxsw-2016-3Mark 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

 

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  • I’m an advocate of “good things are twice as good when short,” but am 100% with you. The “6-second attention span” stuff is Internet hogwash. A study by NIH, purportedly proving attention spans are short, is cited daily (by Fortune 100 firms, no less). That study never took place. A post should be as long as it needs to be. Write until it gets dull. The right length of any post has nothing to do with social media experts’ notions of “the perfect length” and everything to do with readers’ delight and speed of apprehension. Don’t hit publish until any post is clear, fun, and up to par. And never, ever be boring. Craft posts to teach, engage and stick—no matter their length.

  • Amen. Nothing more to add except thank you!

  • Claudia Licher

    Agreed. However I would recommend giving readers some indication of whether ‘the end is near’ in really long posts that are not actually a how-to post. Recently I read a very interesting article somewhere but at some point I was actually expecting to come to the end… but it just kept going – still interesting – but I did pause to go and share the thing before reading on. And it really was a lot longer still… should’ve shared it as a #reallylongread.

  • Couldn’t agree more Mark! The “hype train” is alive and well but often not founded in reality, only the reality of someone trying to prove a point or sell something.

    Bob James, I really loved your perspective and it highlights yet one more crazy part of our online lives about how misinformation is so easily spread and believed. I would really love to see any information about that supposed NIH study. It would be a really good case study to prove this point.

  • Jeff Reed

    I agree. I tend to think “brevity is the soul of wit” doesn’t apply in a true learning environment. Some of us want the meater part of a topic. Most mere mortals can’t or don’t add value in a few seconds. Seth Godin is the exception. Thanks

  • Mark

    Once again, thanks for looking at an important topic from a different way.

    No doubt, the younger want short posts that are entertaining and quickly shareable. However, they also want longer posts that truly have the potential to educate, worth saving, worth sharing, and are evergreen. Google likes these longer posts, too.

    As you said, it depends. There is a need for both types of posts.

    Denny

  • That’s a great point and something I’ve thought about Claudia. Even my long reads are seldom over 7-8 minutes so normally it’s not too big of a deal for me but it has been on my mind. Thanks for the very thought-provoking comment!

  • Thanks Steve.

  • Ha! Love that comment Jeff. Good to hear from you!

  • Yes i suppose I do look at things in a different way. Maybe my new tagline should be Mark Schaefer, the upside-down blogger. Or, maybe not : )

  • or, the cockeyed marketer

  • There are so many ways that could go wrong!

  • Mark,

    I think you are onto it here… It’s really about how well your content resonates with the audience and is relevant to their problems, needs wants or desires.

    My articles on average are over 2,000 – 2,500 words and I don’t have much of a drop off from the start to the end according to Sumome. The bottom of the article is at 83%.

    If we focus on creating content that is for one person, who has one problem, need want or desire… that equals value by my definition of the term.

    People will consume the content if it’s worthy of their consumption.

    ~ Don Purdum

  • I decided to enter the political fray on Facebook and I wrote a number of very long articles. They were shared MANY times over the shorter ones. Long live long posts!

  • Thanks Don.

  • I’ll bet that was an interesting experience!

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  • Awesome well said

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  • Awesome post. thanks for share this post.

  • Very nice post. this post is very useful for me thanks for share.

  • the image and video is important one and thanks for the post..

  • Honesty is the key to success and i hope people are life you of your believed. So i hope you will be continue your work for help the people providing more information.

  • SEO

    Nice Post

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