Short vs. Long Content: What's Better for Rankings, Engagements and More [CASE STUDY]

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Julia McCoy CEO, Express Writers

Posted on February 23rd 2014

Short vs. Long Content: What's Better for Rankings, Engagements and More [CASE STUDY]

ImageAt Express Writers, we serve nearly a thousand international clients monthly by providing content pages that are 99% web-based (utilized on blogs, as landing pages, website articles, etc.). This means that we have to keep up on the latest and greatest know-how to provide our clients with the best, highest quality content possible—closely tied in to how well the content will perform on Google and search results.

If you’re an Internet Marketer, you most likely know very well by now that the Internet is ever-changing, and Google’s guidelines for ranking web content have significantly re-formed in the past 12 to 24 months. Big names in algorithm updates were Google Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird.

Since these algorithm updates, we’ve seen some solid trends favoring specific attributes of content that were previously overlooked in rankings. Specific attributes now being favored by the SERPs include:

  • Long content is given preference above shorter content
  • Less focus on keyword-optimization in the content and more of a real-world, researched, and reader-friendly oriented focus
  • Well-formatted and visual-oriented blogs that get shared

Let’s delve into the first attribute. Why and how, exactly, is longer content preferred and given a front row seat by the SERPs versus the previous standard of short, 1-page content?

 

What Is Longer Content?

Before we can successfully make an educated comparison of long versus short content, we need to fully comprehend just what long content is. Copyblogger first put a finger on it by writing a blog, “How to Write the In-Depth Articles that Google Loves,” in mid-2013. They called it “cornerstone content.”

Cornerstone, or longer content, is the kind of content that is both thoughtful and in-depth. It is well researched and presents a battery of proven facts, much like an essay. Long content comes in different styles, strongly dependent on the company or brand creating the content. It is primarily conversational, educational, and informative. Some of the most SEO successful long content pieces range from 2,000 to 2,500 words, which is approximately a 5-page piece of writing. Let’s see what some experts think about long vs. short content.

 

The Conundrum: Long vs. Short

According to the Rank Correlation 2013 Study on ranking factors in 2013, published by SearchMetrics.com, “Content factors correlate almost entirely positively with good rankings and were apparently – when compared with the previous year – partially upgraded.” This fact proves that Google’s updates did indeed change, or upgrade, the system for ranking web content.

A good percentage of ranking factors in 2013 went to quality content. According to SearchMetrics.com, the average number of words in the text was 576, which was up from 2012. The trend of rising word count in content has continued into 2014.

A QuickSprout.com contributor, Neil Patel, decided to test out the new waters favoring long content. He swam to the newly popular deep end of the pool and created a test homepage of 1,292 words versus a second homepage of a mere 488 words. Both pages had a fill out form at the bottom. Although he initially thought the longer content would decrease his conversion rate, the results of his test were intriguing:

  • The long content converted 7.6 percent better than the shorter.
  • The leads resulting from the long content proved to be of better quality.
  • The long content boosted conversions and SERPs.

Patel concluded, through his research and case study, that longer content is indeed better for rankings, engagement and more versus short content. He also concluded that in 2014, content truly is king and if we’re wise, we’ll invest in the creation of well-written, authoritative, and engaging content.

 

The Express Writer’s Long Content Case Study

After identifying the trend to longer content and seeing what the experts had to say, we decided it was our turn to join the deep end of the pool. We put this trend to a wheel-grinding test just before Christmas 2013, by writing 2,000-word, highly researched, niche topic content blogs, and posting them on our blog. The results were phenomenal: Google loved our content and we gained significant keyword rankings that grew steadily.

 

Screenshot of our rankings Dec 2013:

December 2013 rankings

 

Screenshot Jan 2014:

January 2014 rankings


The rankings were closely tied to the actual blogs we posted, for example this blog on how to deliver compelling content, that was ranking for the keyword web content writing tips:


blog rankings

Lastly the Feb 2014 Rankings:

Feb 2014 rankings

 

How Can You Jump Into The Deep End?

Now that the experts have waded into the deep end and shared proven results, the rest of us can jump right in. But how? Where’s the diving board?

One of the most common questions we hear businesses asking is how do I write long content without overdoing it (being wordy, boring, etc.)? If you’ve asked this question, you’ve pinpointed the biggest obstacle to long content: HOW THE HECK do we come up it? Even Internet Marketers are asking this question.

SearchEngineLand.com published eight means of creating what they refer to as long tail content for SEO. The article drives home the point that while SEO isn’t dying, it is evolving. You cannot create content merely for the sake of keyword searches and traffic. You have to “shift toward a more user-content-centric view of the world.” You can accomplish this feat and generate great long content by:

  • Gathering your best people and brainstorming. You know whom we’re talking about. Those elite few within your fold who have a talent for brainstorming fresh, cutting-edge ideas. Pull these folks together and start brainstorming content ideas. Let creativity get a foothold, and then move to the research phase.
  • Become familiar with the needs of your audience. Pinpoint the top 5 to 10 needs of your audience. Then, brainstorm topic ideas that allow you to cover each need and the solutions you offer in a lengthy, well-researched piece of content. When you delve deeply into the needs of your audience, you’d be amazed at how quickly you’ll compile pieces that exceed 2,000 or so words and need to be trimmed back or split into two distinct pieces of content.
  • Give your audience more than just your solution. Once you’ve pinpointed the needs of your audience and derived how you can provide a solution, research complementary products and services. At first, this might seem counterproductive. But remember that content needs to be “user-content-centric.” By introducing them to the part you solve, and pointing them toward complimentary avenues of solving an aspect to the problem you don’t, you build credibility and authority. The user will be impressed and see you as a business looking out for their needs over your profit margin. As a result, you’ll begin building trust and loyalty alongside sales conversion.
  • Check out the competition. It’s a good idea to research your competition. Your goal is to do better than they do. Avoid copying their content strategies. Instead, plan your own geared toward excellence.
  • Test the waters. Once you’ve brainstormed, researched, and planned, it’s time to test the water. Create a few pieces of content and an initial design. Test them with your audience. Use the feedback to improve before initiating your final content strategies.

 

Is Short Content Still Valuable?

We hear this question a lot; it isn’t, is short content still valuable, it’s where is short content still valuable? No lie—it still has its value. Not only will you still find short content all over the World Wide Web, but you’ll still be creating it in 2014. Here are some examples of where shorter is still better:

  1. Specific marketing content, such as e-mails
  2. Product descriptions
  3. Social media posts
  4. Video presentations
  5. Podcasts
  6. Webinars
  7. Infographics

Today’s audience is pressed for time, which is why short content is still very much valuable. Yet, our audience also knows when to spend a little extra time reading content that presents value. And that is really what the long versus short content conundrum is all about. For years, we’ve stuck to publishing short articles and content, thinking it was the best way to blast a message to our audience and see results. It worked, for a time. However, today our audience is demanding more.

Case study after case study is proving that our time-strapped audience will not only take the time to read lengthy, well-written content, but they also demand it. As a result, Google is pushing the primary use of long content in 2014. There’s no doubt that we will continue to see the evolution of search engine optimization and content as the year progresses and the next 2 to 3 unfold.

Yet, based on the information we’ve just covered, we can state one thing with certainty: the ultimate trick to staying ahead is to always keep your audience at the center of every piece of content you create and publish. If you’ve done this from day one, adapting to the trending change of long tail, cornerstone content will be as simple as expanding word counts to offer even more user value. Continue to keep your audience as your true focal point, and you’ll easily transition as the Internet world keeps on evolving.

expresswriters

Julia McCoy

CEO, Express Writers

Julia McCoy is the manager/CEO of Express Writers, http://expresswriters.com. Since launching in May 2011, Express Writers has served over 2,000 clients and provided quality content for all industries, from tax lawyers to appliance repair contractors. Julia has 10 years of experience writing, a track record of academic achievements in writing, and is located in Springfield, Missouri. 

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Comments

I can attest that across around 11 blogs that I work on short content is not working any more, you have to have double the content you used to have to even be considered a real contributor.

Great article - I really liked your chain of thought and presentation. 

I think this paragraph here sums it up really well: "Today’s audience is pressed for time, which is why short content is still very much valuable. Yet, our audience also knows when to spend a little extra time reading content that presents value. And that is really what the long versus short content conundrum is all about. For years, we’ve stuck to publishing short articles and content, thinking it was the best way to blast a message to our audience and see results. It worked, for a time. However, today our audience is demanding more."

A time strapped audience doesn't have the time to flit from article to article. They'd much rather go to ONE resource - get everything they need, and get the hell out of there.