After reading a piece by Lewis DVorkin entitled “Inside Forbes: How Long-Form Journalism Is Finding Its Digital Audience,” I got to thinking about an interesting paradox in content marketing.

When considering content development, we’re frequently told to keep a mix. That mix includes timely and evergreen posts, as well as video, images, infographics, podcasts, and anything else that will keep our content dynamic.

And then things start to get a little murky. For example, we’re told that content marketing should be about education, but then we’re told that attention spans are short – keep content concise and to the point.

My issue here, as a former teacher, is that it’s tremendously difficult to get into much of educational value in these “digestible bits.” You’ve barely scratched the surface with 300 words. You can accomplish much more in 500-800 words, which many content strategists consider to be “the sweet spot,” but what about that long content? What about posts that exceed 1000 words?

We’re warned to “use sparingly.”

We’re told that no one has the attention span for long-form content anymore. Make everything easy to skim, scan, and scroll through quickly. People don’t want lots of information. They want the quick-and-dirty details. They want tweets and Facebook statuses to tell them everything they need to know.

And while that’s all excellent advice and those “quick-and-dirty-details” posts are most certainly effective, it seems that we find ourselves in a catch-22: how can we provide content that is detailed enough to be educational if, according to some, those details make it too long to consume?

For content to be truly educational in nature, it needs to have room to do its job, whether that’s 500 words or 1500. You need to be able to develop ideas and flesh them out without worrying about tipping that 1000 word mark. You need to be able to thoroughly explain concepts without skimping on the details. Like a teacher would develop their content for class, you need to be able to provide adequate examples and explanations to help give those ideas and concepts some context.

Sure, there is absolutely a place for short-form content. It works well as reviews, recaps, and for quick lessons and updates. But when we stamp long-form content with “use sparingly,” not only are we encouraging short attention spans, but we’re also depriving ourselves of the ability to thoroughly teach and be taught.

We are, in effect, limiting education.

I’d argue, and I hope that you’ll agree, that it’s not really length that causes readers to bounce off pages and abandon posts halfway through. While posts of several thousand words will definitely intimidate some people, you’ll find that posts falling in the 1000-2000 range can actually do quite well for you if they are interesting, well-written, and providing value.

Look at DVorkin’s Forbes post. It far exceeds the 500-800 word mark, but it’s been shared via Twitter alone over 2000 times. Throw in other major social network shares for another several hundred shares.

Clearly, people don’t shy away from long content as much as we think they do.

So how can you make long-form content work for you on your blog? Here are a few tips:

  • Make good great use of white space. Use short paragraphs and leave a space in between them. The easier it is on readers’ eyes, the better.
  • Break up the text. Beyond just white space, break the text up with the use of images, video, bullet lists, or other “visual breaks.” Mixing content forms like this will help keep the reader engaged.
  • Edit, edit, edit. Make a point and make it well. Don’t include extraneous details or get off topic. Always read through your posts at the end to make sure that you’ve explained all of the relevant information without being repetitive.
  • Maintain a lively voice. If your post lacks personality, readers won’t be as engaged as you’d like them to be. Keep the energy and enthusiasm up by being energetic and enthusiastic in your tone.
  • Encourage the use of Pocket or similar services. A number of services exist that allow you to store content that you find online and come back to it later. Pocket works across all devices, meaning you can start reading a post on your computer, read a little on your iPad, and finish it on your phone. It also doesn’t require an internet connection to work, making it easy to come back to long-form content anytime, anywhere. Consider adding a quick editor’s note to longer posts to let readers know these services exist and encourage their use.
  • Provide value. Above all else, provide value and readers will stick with you.

If we truly want content marketing to be educational, we need to stop shying away from long-form pieces in our content development efforts. After all, they provide some of the biggest educational opportunities.

What do you think? Do you avoid reading and writing long-form content, or does it do well for you? I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic!

photo credit: newfangled