Is your long-form content killing readers?

By Renae Gregoire | Blogging

Aug 23
How bloated long-form content kills readers

It seems that everyone loves long-form content

You know what? I get that long-form content is great for driving traffic.

Neil Patel says so.

Kissmetrics says so.

Search Enging Land says so.

Content Marketing Institute says so.

I'm not here to argue about the effectiveness of long-form content. Having a supply of long-form content on your site is a good thing. Google likes it, therefore we should like it.

Long-form content shouldn't mean fat content

But can I make a complaint here? Or maybe a call? It's a call to the authors of long-form content to stop trying to cram Every. Single. Fact. and Every. Single. Statistic. and Every. Single. Example. into a single piece of content. 

Such pieces, typically running in the 3,500+ word count range, and covering vast, broad, subjects, are, in my experienced opinion, too f*ing long. When articles are crammed with soooo much information, they become useless.

People like to create overly fat infographics, too. I voiced a similar complaint about those bloated, unhelpful pieces. 

It's just too much information! Overload! One would have to read through such an article or infographic again and again, piece by piece, to be able to implement ALL THE THINGS in it.

all the things

An example of long-form content
(i.e., the perpetrator that inspired this blog post) 

Here's an example. Check out this post on Content Marketing Institute's site called "How to build your email ​list: The (better than) ultimate guide."

​Instead of "better than," I think the author meant "longer than."

Right here, right now, I'm going to bullet out all the information in that blog post, and my questions about the information, so you can see -- and avoid -- the curse of bloated, long-form content. 

I'll use a bulleted list for readability purposes.

Here goes. As I dig in, I learn that:

  • Email is 40x more effective (than what?) at acquiring customers
  • 91% of all US consumers still use email daily, prompting 3x as many purchases as social media, and the average order is 17% higher
  • ​For every $1 invested, email marketing generates a return of $38
  • 57% of marketers plan to increase email budget (that was back in 2016)
PAUSE FOR REFLECTION

So ... email marketing works. I'm not sure you had to convince or reassure me, as I clicked in to read this ultimate email guide, didn't I?

Back to the article.

  • Use lead magnets to give value to subscribers.
  • Value can be in the form of guides, reports, webinars, white papers, e-courses, coupons.
PAUSE FOR REFLECTION

How do I choose the right lead magnet for my audience? What would my subscribers value -- how would I know? How do I create a guide? How to I create a webinar? How do I create a white paper? How do I create an e-course? Is there a certain coupon percentage that works better than others?

See, this is what I mean. I'm barely 400 words into this massive post, and I'm already overwhelmed. However, for the sake of my argument in favor of short-form or narrower content, I must carry on.
  • ​Creating click-worthy content can be overwhelming, so "go small," as this other article says.
PAUSE FOR REFLECTION

The "other" article adds another 1,627 words to our reading assignment. Yikes! I do appreciate the fine summary you provided, perhaps to save me from reading that other article?

The summary:

  • "Instead of trying to tackle all of your audience's problems, you'll narrow them down to just one specific problem. And to make it super easy, we'll only consider problems that fit the following template: 'I want (goal) but (obstacle).'"​
PAUSE FOR REFLECTION

Wow. That cleared it up!

(For those of you who may not get my sarcasm: it cleared things up -- NOT. )

Onward!

  • Some products and industries don't need gated content to get people to sign up.​
PAUSE FOR REFLECTION

Okay ... so when you talked about lead magnets, you were talking about gated content?

And ... which industries and products? How about a hint or a clue?​
  • The author provides an example in which ungated content "absolutely destroyed all the others."
  • The only way to figure out if you should use gated or ungated content is to test.​

Okay. That's not very helpful. Onward.

​Now, let's learn about buttons:

  • Write in the voice of the reader: "Yes, send it to me" or "I want the details."
  • Use active not passive voice. [That's a given, right? How would you use passive on a button? "This PDF is to be downloaded by you"?]
  • Include the benefit: "Make me a ninja writer."
  • Use Joanna Wiebe's "I-want" strategy: "I want to ________."
  • Use YES and NO buttons, the latter with sad language: "YES! Sign me up" and "No thanks; I like losing business."
PAUSE FOR REFLECTION

Are you seeing the problem here? There's so much more that can and should be said about buttons. What about button color? Button shape? Button size? Button location? I can't help but think that a shorter, more thorough article on buttons would be MUCH more helpful than the few tidbits the author chose to provide here.

Next, let's learn about forms, 

  • ​Use a short form with as few fields as possible -- one field if you can get away with it. 
  • UNLESS -- unless you're selling something of higher value, or if you want to allow subscribers to customize their communications. Then don't use a short form, use a long form. 
  • UNLESS -- unless you want to take advantage of "behavioral inertia: the principle that once you start down a certain pathway, you're likely to continue." If that happens, then don't use a short form, use a two-step form.
  • UNLESS -- unless you want to dramatically increase conversion and lead quality. In that case, use a two-step opt-in process.
  • Two-step opt-in processes dramatically increase conversion and lead quality.

As exhaustion sets in...

I don't know about you, but I'm getting tired here. 

How I feel reading your bloated, long-form content

At this point, to bring you the bullet points I've laid out already, I've consumed 1,528 words, PLUS the extra 1,600 from the "other" article I mentioned earlier. 

And as I look at the scrollbar on the side of my browser, I'm dismayed to find out that I'm not even halfway through this massive post!

Some long articles are too long!

Because the post I'm writing to you right now is AGAINST bloated, long-form content, I'll stop the exercise here.

How to do long-form content right

But let me end with this recommendation: If you want to create long-form content, and if you want it to stand out from the pack, being truly useful to your readers, then keep the topic tight and actionable. Don't let your writer wander here and there all over (tarnation!). 

Instead, choose ONE topic. And then focus on it. For instance, how about long-form content on:

  • Web buttons: How to get more online sales using them
  • Gated content: Best uses cases for it (and when to avoid it)
  • Form size: The long and short of it

If you find that there's not enough to SAY about those topics to create long-form content, then create short-form pieces instead. 

Really, it's okay to publish short articles, especially if they're meaningful and helpful. 

I, and other Readers of the Internet, will thank you for it.


Join my tribe?

Do you sweat the small stuff? Do you want your online presence to inspire trust and confidence? Do you grit your teeth when others don't care enough about YOUR web experience? Are you all about creating an excellent website and excellent content that makes it easy for people to get to know, like, and trust you and buy your stuff?

I think we might be soul mates. And I'd love for you to join my tribe.

When you do, I'll alert you to new blog posts, new programs and products, and new ways for you to create excellent, frictionless, online experiences that lead more people to YES! I promise to be relevant and real, and to send only thoughtful content and advice.


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About the Author

Renae Gregoire is a marketing writer, editor, critical thinker, obsessive questioner, and excellent-results deliverer. Although writing is her talent, empathy is her Super Power; she combines both into a potent formula for creating content experiences that lead more people to YES!

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(3) comments

Andrew M. Warner September 4, 2017

Great post here.

I understand where you’re coming from with this. There are times where long form content can be EXTREMELY overwhelming. I struggle with reading 16,000 work posts … especially if they just give boatloads of information and no definitive idea of where to actually start.

And it’s very easy to get overwhelmed just like you stated in you example. I’ve done the same thing.

I think the onus is on the author to answer those questions and TRY to not make it seem so overwhelming. Easier said than done.

I agree with your point about only choosing one topic and writing long form content on that. I use to do the opposite and try to cram everything in, but now, i’ve changed my tune and I think I’m better for it.

Appreciate this post. It’s definitely needed. Off to share.

– Andrew

Reply
    Renae Gregoire September 4, 2017

    Hi, Andrew. I have a feeling that more people will be creating shorter, more action-oriented posts as we move into 2018 and beyond. And you’re right — it’s all about, and for, the reader. What will the reading and learning experience be from HIS perspective? Thanks for commenting and sharing. ~Renae

    Reply
Dai Software September 11, 2017

Hey, very nice site. I came across this on Google, and I am stoked that I did. I will definitely be coming back here more often. Wish I could add to the conversation and bring a bit more to the table, but am just taking in as much info as I can at the moment. Thanks for sharing.
Dai Software
Keep Posting:)

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