August 12, 2022

Goldfish don’t read long-form content, but people do

By Lewis Kavanagh

You’ve likely heard that the average human attention span is now less than that of a goldfish — and apparently it’s getting shorter. More short-form articles, blog posts, and social media updates are being churned out than ever. According to recent data, over 85% of all content published online is significantly less than 1,000 words.

So obviously you might think to focus exclusively on short-form content and ignore long-form content completely. In a fast-paced world, we want everything now, and we don’t have the time or patience for anything that takes too long.

The attention span myth

Like so much information today, the humans-have-attention-spans-of-goldfish claim completely lacks context. We’re not just a bunch of flighty creatures wandering from one shiny object to the next every few seconds. I think many are focused on exclusively producing short-form content based on this myth, but it’s a short-sighted approach.

If something is important to us, or if a topic catches our attention and speaks to something in our lives, we’ll stop to read it without hesitation. Additionally, if we’re interested in the topic, we’ll probably follow a link to explore it even further.

In fact, many readers appreciate longer, more in-depth articles that go beyond the basics. In a world where we are constantly inundated with snippets of information — often lacking substance or nuance — taking the time to read a long-form piece can be a refreshing change of pace.

While it’s true that many people are more likely to skim blog posts than read them word-for-word, from start to finish, longer content still has the power to thoroughly engage and inform readers. Back when we used to read newspapers (or maybe you still do!) I’m willing to bet you didn’t read it cover to cover. Instead you skimmed the headlines and read the pieces that interested you. The same is true of online articles today. The stats show that people are willing to take the time to read long-form content if it’s compelling, well-written and relevant to their interests.

Have a take and don’t suck

So what does this mean for content creators who want to stand out from the crowd? This is your opportunity to offer new perspectives and insights. What’s your take on an issue in your industry? What do people need to know that others aren’t telling them? If you have something valuable to say, then say it. Give your readers a reason to stick around by giving them something distinctive that they can’t find anywhere else.

Too many writers are worried about alienating readers by writing content that someone might disagree with. The problem with trying to appeal to everybody is that you’ll end up writing something that appeals to nobody. You’ll end up with a piece that’s the equivalent of a bowl of cold oatmeal — sure you can eat it, but it isn’t very exciting or all that appetizing.

It’s neutral. It’s boring. You’re not sharing anything of value, so just don’t bother.

Long-form content should share your unique perspective or take on an issue. It’s usually better researched and more comprehensive than short-form content. If you’re looking for in-depth information on a topic, you’re much more likely to find it in a long-form article than in a short one.

Longer content gives your readers the opportunity to dive deeper into a topic and really understand different perspectives of an issue. They may not agree with everything you have to say, but reading a well-argued piece of long-form content can help others see an alternative side of an issue and make up their own mind about what to believe. Whether people agree or disagree with your take, your content will still be more credible than the average short-form content.

Build trust and establish your authority

Well-researched and well-written long-form content helps build your profile as an authority in your field. It can help your readers to slow down, take stock of their opinions, and think more critically about the topics that matter to them. It demonstrates that you have the knowledge and expertise to provide in-depth analysis and turn complex topics into easy-to-understand concepts.

But good content is the key. Make sure your content is well-researched, well-written and offers value to your readers. There’s no point in writing a 2000-word article if it’s full of fluff and doesn’t say anything new or interesting. If it’s good content, it’s more likely to be shared by your readers. If it’s fluff, then it won’t. An analysis by Hubspot showed that articles over 2,250 words earned the most organic traffic, and articles over 2,500 words had the most social media shares.

Good content is also key for Google’s web crawler, Googlebot. It looks at every piece of content on your site – from the titles and headlines to the metadata and alt tags on images. The more content you have, the more of it gets indexed. And the more that gets indexed, the better your site will perform in searches and results. It’s also pretty sophisticated when it comes to identifying quality long-form content. Giving Googlebot plenty of good material to work with gives your content marketing efforts a better chance of paying off.

More than words

I once had a client tell me that he didn’t need much written content for a new website because he didn’t like to read and would rather watch video. The thing is, your website isn’t for you, it’s for your visitors.

And guess what, some of them like to read.

I’m not saying don’t use video — I encourage it! Use video, animations, infographics and anything else that will help tell your story. This isn’t an either/or situation where just because you use one medium doesn’t mean you can’t use another. Use different mediums in a complimentary way that helps tell your story.

Part of the success of your long-form content — be it a webpage, an annual report or a blog post — comes from leaning on the talent of a creative team. They’re the ones who can take a plain document and turn it into an engaging interactive story that will help capture attention and captivate your readers. Visually, the report can be bright and engaging, with easy-to-understand infographics that can present content and data in a concise way. Use images, videos, animations and other forms of multimedia

With a little creativity, the sky’s the limit when it comes to long-form content. If you’ve got something to say, don’t hold yourself back because of some myth about attention spans, or you fear the disapproval of others.

Because those people who disagree with you — they’re reading your content!