Long-Form vs. No-Read: Which Holds the Future of Content Marketing?

Feb 2017

Long-Form vs. No-Read: Which Holds the Future of Content Marketing?

Let’s Take a Walk

It’s a tale of two cities, 2017-style.

As we stroll through the byways of our first stop, we can barely hear our own conversation over the clacking of keyboards that fills the air. I can just make out the familiar interface of the Scrivener app as we pass desk after cluttered desk. The writers, leaning forward to squint at their screens as they assess the results of their research queries, don’t even seem to notice us. Entire pots of coffee — or are those bottles of Mountain Dew? — sit at their sides to fuel the long trek between the first word and the final proofing. And every once in a while, we can barely make out the sound of a satisfied sigh as another mouse clicks the elusive “Publish” button.

Welcome to LongFormVille.

Just down the road, we encounter a very different scene. The tap-tap-tap of keyboards is supplanted by a concerto of human voices. Instead of laptops and keyboards, a sea of smartphones, tablets, webcams, and, in the fancier setups, video cameras, studio lights, and microphones greets our curious gaze. It’s only in one quiet corner, labeled “Post-Production,” that any typing is taking place at all.

This is NoReadVille.

As the next iteration of Web 2.0 — or whatever the hell version we’re on — begins to take shape, two schools of thought are vying for the loyalty of frustrated marketers struggling to rise above the noise. One side tells us the secret to visibility and relevance is creating long-form content, that publishing anything shorter than 1,200 words amounts to a waste of time and energy. On the other side, we hear that we might as well toss our keyboards in the nearest dumpster, because the future belongs to video.

Which one is right?


The Case for Long-Form Content

Neil Patel doesn’t realize it, but he and I are besties. We sit across a corner table at Starbucks for hours on end, pondering aloud the future of content creation and what it all means for those of us who are trying to make it work in the trenches. Every once in a while, Neil says something funny and I toss a crumpled napkin at him.

Okay, not really.

But I do respect Neil a lot, and whenever he lets loose with a new piece of brilliance, I’m usually among the first in line to consume it. For several years now, Neil has been beating the long-form content drum, exhorting us to ditch the “standard” 500-word post for more in-depth, meatier articles that require 1,200 words or more. As you might imagine, this writing nerd absorbed his words with the enthusiasm of a desert traveler encountering a lush oasis. In fact, this year I’ve rearranged my blogging schedule to allow for longer blog posts like this one. (And yes, I announced my new approach in a podcast. The irony is not lost.)

So, why put the time and effort into long-form content?

Search. Google is notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to the most effective approaches for attracting search traffic, and the question of long-form versus short-form content is no exception. That said, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence out there that indicates long-form content performs better. Back in 2012, serpIQ conducted a study tracking the top 10 search results for more than 20,000 keywords. The average number of words in the top spot was 2,416. For the #10 spot, average word count was 2,032:


Long-Form vs. No-Read: Which Holds the Future of Content Marketing?

Scarcity. Most blog posts published today are 500 words or shorter. By putting in the extra effort to create a long-form post, you set yourself apart from the competition. If you’ve read Robert Cialdini’s classic Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, you’ll recall that scarcity is one of the key principles in building influence. Why? Because the more scarce something is, Cialdini tells us, the more people want it.

Authority. Yes, we know that a longer post doesn’t always equal good content. In fact, I’ve read more than my share of downright lousy 2,000-word blog posts. But when people visit your post and see a hefty word count, they perceive it as having higher value than a 500-worder. Because, after all, experts don’t become experts by writing tweets. They become experts by diving deep into topics, doing their research, and crafting well-thought-out resources. To do that, you need words. Lots of ‘em.

Social Shares. If people perceive greater value in your posts, they’ll be more likely to share them. In Patel’s own study, posts longer than 1,500 words received 68 percent more tweets and 22 percent more Facebook likes than the articles with fewer than 1,500 words.


The Case for No-Read Content

Back when I worked for a large Houston advertising agency, those of us on the copywriting team had a standard response when a colleague would start stressing over a sticky writing assignment: “NRTSA” (if memory serves, we pronounced it “nert-sah”).

NRTSA stands for “Nobody Reads This [Stuff] Anyway.”

And if you look at the habits of content consumers in 2017, the NRTSA assertion may be gaining validity.

As Jay Baer recently commented in an excellent post on how video is the new blogging, “As an author, it breaks my heart, but we are entering the ‘no-read’ area.”

While video was once a side dish for savvy content marketers — a Robin to the Batman that was their tried-and-true written content — Jay goes on to assert that video content has graduated to main-course status. “For many companies,” he writes, “video is the new blogging.”

Check out these key takeaways from Vidyard’s “2017 Video in Business Benchmark Report“:

  • Businesses are creating an average of 18 new videos per month. Their blogs could only keep up with that pace if they published every weekday.
  • The average business is now doubling the size of its video library within 16 months.
  • 85% of businesses now have internal staff and resources producing videos in-house.

Sure, businesses are churning out tons of video, but are consumers biting? Apparently so.

  • 100 million hours of video per day are watched on Facebook. (source)
  • Marketers who use video grow revenue 49 percent faster than non-video users. (source)
  • Social video generates 1200% more shares than text and images combined. (source)

And it’s not just video that’s getting all the glory in the no-read camp — podcasting is also on the rise. Edison Research reports that 21 percent of Americans age 12 and up have listened to a podcast in the past month, and monthly podcast listenership has increased 75 percent since 2013.

Now, as producer of both a weekly video and a weekly podcast, I would be loath to downplay the importance of either audio or video. But has their popularity escalated to point where nobody reads anymore? Are we really, as Jay Baer asserts, entering the “no read” zone?


Mapping the Future

What’s a marketer to do? One camp is telling us to write more words, and the other seems to advocate ditching the writing thing altogether and go all-in on video. As we look to the future of our own content marketing practices, which camp holds the greatest potential for success?

Oh, how I wish it were that simple. If it were, we’d all be gurus.

Back in the early days of content marketing, we got used to being told “do A” … “no, wait, forget A, do B” … “oh, hang on, user habits have changed again — now we all need to do C …” But our craft has evolved, and the long-form-versus-no-read thing is the latest testimony to its current level of maturity.

Is the written word valuable? Until Google figures out a way to analyze audio and video content, yes … and even then, the written word will still — and always — have its place. I haven’t seen any head-to-head studies pitting long-form blog posts against video content in Google search results, but I’d be willing to bet that text could hold its own in that smackdown. Text-based content offers the opportunity to dive deep into meaty topics and share real knowledge — something you just can’t do with a 90-second clip. To chuck it all in the name of chasing some holy grail of video-fueled domination would be insanity.

Does video deserve our attention? Yes, absolutely. People want a more personal experience and, to paraphrase the old Bell Telephone ads, video is the next best thing to being there. Smartphones have made video more accessible than ever before, and platforms like Snapchat, Instagram Stories, and Facebook give us more opportunities to get our video messages in front of more people than ever before.

As marketers, we can ill afford to ignore either one of these approaches. We need the search mojo and the thought-leadership growth potential that long-form posts offer, and we need to tap into our audiences’ growing appetite for video and audio content. So where’s the sweet spot? You’re gonna want to smack me when you hear this, but here goes: it depends. It depends on our brands, on our cultures, on the bandwidth of our marketing teams (always an important consideration), and most importantly, on our audiences.

First, we need to do our homework. We need to ask our audiences what they want and to analyze the results coming in from what we’re doing right now.

Then we need to jump in and experiment. Try stuff out and see what happens. I’ve got my own experiment going in which I reduced my blog frequency to twice a month so that I have the space to create longer posts. Will it give me better results than what I’ve been doing? Hell if I know. But you can be certain I’ll be keeping close tabs on the results.

How is your company leveraging the trends around long-form and “no-read” content? Have you found a formula that works, or are you still experimenting? Tell us about it in the comments!


Content Marketing Coach

Find out why New York Times-bestselling author Jay Baer had this to say about The Content Marketing Coach: Everything You Need to Get in the Game … and WIN:

“Practical, accurate content marketing advice from a real pro, plus a football theme? I love this book!”


About the Author

Rachel Parker, Founder & CEO of Resonance Content Marketing

A self-described geek who can recite entire episodes of South Park by heart, Rachel Parker has had a passion for content ever since she was old enough to hold a crayon (purple, please).

As Founder and CEO of Resonance, Rachel helps businesses publish content that connects with their audience … and converts those followers into customers. She’s also the host of the Content Marketing Podcast and author of the book The Content Marketing Coach: Everything You Need to Get in the Game … and WIN!
content_marketing_50 BizSugar Featured Author on Business 2 Community

Our Clients Are Saying

  • Professionalism and Sincere Desire to Help

    I just didn’t seem to be able to find the time or the right words to explain what I offer and how my company helps people accomplish their goals. Rachel was able to ask me some questions, do some research and capture my voice while writing my website copy exactly as I needed it to be written.  Now, the copy on my website is much more professional than what I would have created and having this task handled by Rachel and Resonance freed up my time to complete other tasks I am better suited to do.

    It was a joy to work with Rachel. Her professionalism and sincere desire to help was apparent from the first communication until the final delivery. I will definitely use Resonance again and highly recommend their services.

  • Produced ROI Result

    Form.io needed someone who could grasp the complexities of our product, capture the subtlety of our differentiating value propositions, and convey them in the right voice for an exacting customer audience…. Resonance delivered, by crafting a multi-faceted online content marketing strategy that drove traffic and conversion, producing the ROI result we were looking for….

  • Event Sold Out Two Years In A Row!

    Rachel worked with me on creating a content marketing calendar and content for the Big Social Media Summit (Big SMS) three years in a row. She is very organized and knows just the right amount of posts on social, email newsletters and content to send.  Her content marketing efforts helping us sell out our event three years in a row!  I am expecting the same for October 2014.

    Rachel was hired to write content for our email newsletter and content for our social platforms. In addition, she had a budget to do advertising on social media. She participated in the event live and after the fact to assure buzz was created before, during and after the event. As a result, our event sold out.

    When I work with Rachel, I have total peace of mind.  I know that she is on target, on time, reliable and delivers over and above the results I expect.

    I trust Rachel totally with her ideas on strategy, marketing and the content used to not only promote our events, but also post on my behalf on social networks. I have been doing social media for 8 years, and I hire Resonance to post on some of my social sites as it saves me time, and keeps my social sites relevant and current. They always post great, engaging content that gets my social properties likes, comments and shares.


  • One of the best “vendor” relationships I’ve ever had.

    My company had little or no time to spend on social media. Our needs were to ensure a steady stream of posts across three platforms (Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter) by harvesting and re-purposing content from our own site and news streams. So I contacted Rachel Parker of Resonance Content Marketing.

    The result was two-fold. Not only did our ranks of followers grew steadily, the steady drip, drip, drip of content helped us train our personnel and direct their own individual social media efforts.

    Rachel and her team are extremely organized and open to discussion and new ideas. They deliver a rapid response to new opportunities — and an overall feeling of being on the same team. One of the best “vendor” relationships I’ve ever had.

  • Added 5 figures to my business in less than 4 weeks

    Rachel took the overwhelm and stress out of writing content for my marketing campaign! When I approached Rachel, I was really concerned that I wouldn’t have the time to focus on writing copy for a lengthy marketing campaign that included sales pages, solo emails, newsletters and social media updates. Well, let’s just say I’m glad I hired Rachel because I couldn’t have done it without her support and expertise. I loved how she used my voice and words to craft content that helped me reach and attract my ideal client. As a result of working with Rachel, I added 5 figures to my business in less than 4 weeks, hundreds of new social media followers and exceeded my sales and list building goals! You know your marketing copy is working when you hear someone say, “I see you everywhere”. Thank you Rachel for helping me not only get seen by my ideal clients but get paid!

  • Increased website traffic, New Lead Generation

    We were experiencing a lack of internal resources to consistently maintain the Ustream blog. So we turned to Resonance Content Marketing to write blog posts on current industry topics while maintaining a consistent tone with the brand. The result is increased website traffic, new lead generation from gated assets on blog, and better educated/qualified leads. And I now have more time to spend on marketing strategy with the confidence that the content we push out is extremely well written and engaging.

    Rachel is an amazing writer and has really managed to create engaging and relevant blog material on topics that aren’t always super interesting. On many occasions, she has been able to quickly turn around one-off requests and the results are always top-notch. She has also helped guide our content strategy based on her expertise in content marketing, which has been a huge asset to our team.

  • Increased our likes and interaction rates

    Working with Rachel was a delight. Not only does she communicate very well, but she provided valuable insight about our social media platforms and followers. We have much better engagement with our fans and followers, which increased our likes and interaction rates.


  • Social Media Ranking Better Than Ever!

    We are so happy to have hired Resonance for our social media needs. We spend most of our time serving our clients and studying our field so we can provide the highest quality possible. We no longer worry about our social media, as we have total confidence in the wonderful work Rachel and her team have accomplished.

    Our social media is active, promoted, and is ranking better than ever! People often comment about what they see on our Facebook page. Resonance has added a creative, and artistic twist to our social media that is appealing and captivating to our audience. This has allowed me more time to work with my team and clients, so I can focus on service towards the people that help our business grow.

    I know there will be wonderful content on Facebook, and that Rachel will answer to posts, comments and questions as soon as a comment arrives. I am often impressed at how quickly she responds! Thank you Resonance! I highly endorse Resonance and encourage companies who need social media strategies to work with Resonance! You won’t regret it! 

Free Tips
learn more...