As CEO of a global advertising platform that works closely with publishers, brands and marketers, I know that when it comes to defining the ideal length of content, the debate is ongoing. News about our ever-shortening attention spans adds urgency to the matter: How can publishers keep their audiences hooked when the next distraction is just around the corner? It would be easy to assume that shorter content is a safer bet—however, data suggests otherwise.
Recently, I read research from Chartbeat, which found that the sweet spot for engaged readers is around the 2,000-word mark. It’s not just any content that will keep users engaged, however. Mastering long-form content and keeping readers captivated is a matter of strategy. Working alongside a number of the world’s top-tier publishers at one point or another over the years, to help them balance the needs of the audience with the commercial needs of the business, has afforded me a sound understanding of specific tactics proven to enhance the reading experience.
What Is Long-Form Content?
First, it’s important to acknowledge the many shapes and forms long-form content can take. Text is, of course, one format, but 30-minute or more podcast episodes, webinars, YouTube videos (explainers, tutorials or even video essays) and blog posts all qualify.
This is significant because it’s a reminder that long-form content is far from uniform. It also tells us two things: Firstly, the popularity of long-form content in its many guises hints the genre might not be dying out completely and there is a much larger scope for creativity than originally expected. Secondly, experimenting with different media elements, such as images, moving images and videos, can breathe life into what can be long, plain amounts of written text.
Understanding The Finer Details Of Length And Engagement
While the ideal length of long-form content varies according to sources (generally from 1,500 to 2,000), it’s only quality content that will succeed in drawing users in and keeping them listening or on the page. Unimaginative or unoriginal content might induce a click but no tangible and lasting interest.
A further look at the data reveals that while 500-word articles draw in roughly 40 seconds of engagement, a 2,000-word piece only delivers 30 additional seconds. So whereas one can assume that 40 seconds of engagement implies a reader has read to the end of a 500-word article, 70 seconds for 2,000 words does not.
When writing a long-form article, the topic needs to be covered in a way that remains convincing and absorbing even when skim-read, but without omitting any critical information that might lead to questions when pored over.
This means advertisers and publishers need to plan the placement of ads within the text accordingly to get the most out of user attention, which is where attention-based algorithms can help. Machine learning can pinpoint which sections and elements drive the highest engagement—and potential revenue—and target readers when they are at their most attentive.
Know Your User And Format
There are three parameters to maximizing content engagement: user, medium and format. Understanding the user as well as user intention is crucial to developing valuable content. Publishers have to know their customers so they can best meet their needs—without reverting to stereotypes. With third-party cookies and behavioral data falling out of favor, the fear is that intent might be hard to gauge, but research shows that contextual targeting is a privacy-safe and effective alternative.
The medium also influences and, in some ways, largely defines the length of content. For an informative, detailed blog post exploring a topic from multiple angles and perspectives, 500 words don’t quite cut it; anything from 1,500 to 2,500 words is more realistic. A white paper, on the other hand, can range anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 words, and a book might dedicate an entire chapter or hundreds of pages to a topic. Knowing the strengths of each medium is key.
Beyond word count, ensuring sentences and paragraphs aren’t too long, leaving ample white space and using bold text to highlight certain elements and capture attention, can build and maintain a positive reading experience. Breaking up bulky text with interactive quizzes, images and augmented reality content—all relatively easy to integrate with the right ad partner—can also increase engagement and keep readers hooked.
Quality Over Quantity
What is the goal of content? The answer to this will differ depending on who you ask, but it could be to entertain, convince, educate or inform the reader, and in some cases, provide guidance on the next steps to take.
Quality matters, but defining quality isn’t that straightforward. Easily confused with style, devolving into a matter of opinion, quality depends on the narrative structure that underpins it. Style will vary according to the creator, brand and channel, but a story needs a beginning, middle and end—a strong narrative that pulls the reader along.
This requires an in-depth understanding of readers themselves and where they are in their journey. Only then is it possible to provide fresh ideas and new perspectives or clarify challenging concepts.
The Long And Short Of It
Quality long-form content has the benefit of versatility. When working from a strong foundation, it can be repurposed into Twitter threads, interactive carousels, videos or social media posts, and blog posts can be adapted for LinkedIn or other social platforms.
Ultimately, publishers must ensure that all forms of content are used strategically and effectively, benefiting both the user and the advertiser. With an understanding of the latest data and research, a knowledge of available media elements to incorporate, an awareness of reader and format, and an eye on quality, publishers are on track for premium quality content that attracts the best advertisers.