Data shows: A lot of short, low-quality content performs BETTER than fewer long, high-quality content pieces

Most content marketers agree that writing less and better content is the way to go.

The day of churning out a ton of low-quality content are long gone. This is something that worked in the past, but the algorithms (Google, FB, etc) are getting better at surfacing quality content that provides the best experience to the person spending time on the web.

This kind of summarizes how content marketers think about this topic nowadays.

Which is why I found The Future is More Content: Jeff Bezos, Robots and High Volume Publishing by Steve Rayson a thought-provoking post.

He looks at the Washington Post, and how a strategy seemingly spearheaded by Jeff Bezos led to a 28% increase in traffic between April 2015 & April 2016.

There are a lot of things that played into this growth (like Bandito, that allows editors to publish different versions of the same article, and then automatically optimizes the article to perform best. A kind of multivariate content testing tool), but according to Steve Rayson, the main factor was:

PUBLISH!

MORE!

CONTENT!

Less isn’t always more

He compares Social Media Examiner with Hubspot: moreorlesscontent

* these numbers are rounded and exactly accurate. But close enough to be viable for making the point.

Even thought SME gets A LOT more shares than HS per post… in the end, Hubspot is ahead by roughly about 1 million shares because of sheer volume.

When I looked recently at the most shared content published by marketing and IT sites, the data confirmed that on average long form posts achieved more shares. But when I looked in more detail at the 50 most shared posts, 45 of them were short form and under 1,000 words.

Which is interesting, cause it’s not what is commonly believed in content marketing land.

Steve Rayson also makes a point that you can’t just start churning out a ton of low-quality content. Google would most likely penalize you for that. He believes you first need to build up some authority, and only at some point can you really start pushing the MOAR-CONTENT button.

What’s “valuable” content?

As someone who cares about quality content, I had to really keep an open mind to his arguments, because

I

HATE

CRAPPY

CONTENT.

So here was a point that really made me think:

Maybe the way we’re measuring “quality” is flawed. Maybe in some cases, it’s not about the quality of the writing and the message, but more about timeliness and relevance. He brings up sports reporting as an example. What people care most about are the results.

Ultimately, people aren’t visiting your site because they want to be on your site. They want it to get something out of it. Give it to them as fast as you can, and make it easy for them to get it (with the least amount of effort).

That will make them come back to you for more.

Why this might all be wrong

Ronell Smith wrote in response to Steve’s post that he believes the “more content” theory is wrong.

His advice:

Determine the cadence with which your brand can create uniquely valuable content, which Rand defined and described in a 2015 Whiteboard Friday. The key is to focus the lion’s share of your attention on creating content that’s exclusive and recognized as best-by-far in its class.

He points out that most brands aren’t media companies.

He also mentions that we shouldn’t over-emphasize the importance of shares, and calls them “the cotton candy of content marketing”. (Which I think is on the money!💵)

But shorter content?

He does agree that content marketers have become infatuated with long-form content. It doesn’t have to be long. It has to be valuable. The length of the post should be determined by the needs of your audience.

In a nutshell, what Ronell advises content marketers to do is:

When creating content, we should begin with empathy being top-of-mind. That’s when you can allow your inner journalist to soar:

  • Who benefits most from this information (i.e., who, specifically, am I talking to?)
  • What are their specific needs?
  • Why is my brand uniquely qualified to satisfy those needs?
  • How can I best depict and share the information?
  • When is the optimal time to create, share and promote it?

Notice I never mentioned length. That was intentional.

The length of your content should be determined by your audience, not your brand.

Well said!

How to write high-value, low word-count posts

Ronell Smith also has a great methodology for writing highly-valuable short posts:

570ee0cbdff251.74128542.png

The key element with this approach is that it ensures I have a clear, strong point to make, then can back it up with supporting facts. The real genius of this approach is once I’ve covered my three points, I’m done.

The goal isn’t to write everything there is to write on a topic; the goal is to share sufficient information that leads to learning and/or opens the topic up for further discussion.

If you decide to use this approach/style of post, keep these numbers in mind:

100: Number of words to make your point in the initial paragraph

300: Total number of words for the three supporting points

50: Number of words in the closing paragraph, including the call to action

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