Choosing the right length for your articles: The long and the short of it
I’m just barely 5 ft (1.5 meters) tall. So you would think that I would say that short is always better. But um…no.
I often get excited about clients’ stories and will pitch them on the reasons to give the story the space it deserves. There’s just so much good stuff!
What to cut?
There are strategic considerations for how long an article, post or web page should be.
Often, shorter is better. But at other times a longer, more indepth story is the way to go.
Slate.com shared that only about 50% of readers would actually read through one of their articles. However readership was much higher for content in a photo or video. This underlines the importance of making content, in any form, as engaging as possible.
With that in mind, let’s talk about what you need to do to engage those readers. I see this as the true driver of how long or short your content should be. If you can achieve this in 300 words or less, good for you and that’s the perfect length for your message. But if it takes longer, do everything you can to make it engaging, entertaining and valuable every word of the way.
Use clear, descriptive words in your subject lines, headlines and lead-ins. Engage your readers but don’t make them think too hard. While clever headlines will show how creative you are, they don’t search well and will not be as reader-friendly.
Know your audience and speak to what matters to them. Every message you write can’t possibly be for everyone in the world. Narrow it down by using your platform to respond to a concern or problem your readers or customers have told you about. Use the insights you’ve gained through your interactions with them on social media or other platforms to respond to what’s important to them.
Are you still along for the ride? Great! Let’s keep going.
Tell a good story. But not just any story. Tell the story that will mean something to your audience. Draw on your experiences to teach something new or solve a problem. Help readers see where they belong in your story. “Happily Ever After” isn’t just for fairy tales. It’s for all great stories especially in the world of business and sales.
Build trust. Research around current buying habits shows that shoppers, specifically millennials, are more likely to buy from brands they trust. Make sure the stories you share deliver consistent, quality solutions for your audience so that they will keep coming back or watch for and engage in your posts because they trust you to deliver something of value.
Be a good distraction. Yes people are busy and studies show more distracted than ever before. However research also shows that digital users welcome distractions that can help relieve some of the stress in their lives by offering real solutions to real problems. Be that distraction.
Use data to back up what you’re saying. Good for you if you have your own data through user engagement, buyer experiences, comments, likes, etc. to back up what you’re saying. Otherwise take the time to do the research and gather it from reliable sources. Make sure to cite your sources.
Tell readers what you want them to do next. You’ve identified the audience and given them a story about a problem they might share along with some data to support the solution you’re offering. Now it’s up to them…but they still might need a push to take the next step. Tell them what to do and why this matters.
Deliver what you promised. At the beginning of this article I highlighted the main point – the problem I hope to help you solve: There are strategic considerations for how long an article, post or web page should be. The steps I’ve laid out provide the groundwork to determine what your messages should include. How many words are needed to deliver each step? That varies:
- If you’re already an authority on the solution you’re offering, then building trust may not need to take as much space.
- If no one has heard from you for awhile – or ever – you’ll need to share more about who you are and why they should trust you. Be aware of any online privacy guidelines (like CASL) that limit what you can do online.
- If everybody knows your story, then less description may be required.
- A follow-up post on something you’ve written in detail can also be shorter.The data might be one short sentence of a new finding and then a call to action about why this is important and what your readers need to do.
- Social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter demand brevity. This is another reason to make your headlines as descriptive and clear as possible so readers want to link to your longer content.
The long and the short if it? The length of your message will be driven by what you already have in place and how much work you have yet to do in building your audiences, gaining their trust and ultimately, establishing your authority.