Is Short-form Content Reductive?

Posted by Owen Matson, Ph.D. on January 6
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Content Under Pressure: 

Statistically speaking, I have until about the end of the next sentence to capture your attention: About 10-15 seconds, fingers crossed. Of course, this estimate only applies if you happened to read this article in the first place. In the race to capture the attention of an increasingly distracted online readership, content producers feel pressure to simplify their message. But at what point does simplicity risk reducing the meaning of a message?

 The Need to Simplifiy is Real: Attention spans are dwindling. Consider the stats:

  • The average attention span in 2015: 8.25 seconds
  • The average attention span in 2000: 12 seconds
  • The average attention span of a gold fish: 9 seconds

The 20% Rule:

And even if I managed to hold your attention beyond that opening 15-second hurdle, studies suggest you will likely only read about 20% of this posting. Online, to read deeply is to defy the numbers.

Reading, Skimming, Glimpsing: 

Apparently, we don’t even actually read online; instead, we “skim.” And sometimes skimming diminishes to glimpsing! The human eye can only process so much information at any one time.

The Need for Verbal Economy: In terms of content strategy, the shift from reading to skimming requires writers adopt a newly economic style:

1. Bite-sized bits of dense, meaningful prose.

2. Bullet points

3. Listicles

4. Short, subtitled sub-sections, for easy navigation of information

5. Visuals

What about Long-Form Content?

Despite the demands for brevity, long-form content plays a vital role in effective content strategy. Here’s why:

1. Expertise: Long form content establishes industry expertise.

2. Authority: Demonstrating expertise in long-form content establishes industry authority. Simplified content may be more user-friendly, but oversimplification can undermine authority, particularly with sophisticated audiences in niche target markets.

3. Audiences Actually Do Read Longer Content: The dismal stats on long-form content can be misleading: They reflect general readership trends without considering the specialized needs and reading practices of niche audiences. In the world of B2B marketing, prospective buyers looking to invest 7 figures in, for instance, a new office building, are significantly more likely than the average reader to spend time examining a 10-page case study about the work of a particular architectural firm.

4. Long Form Content Enhances SEO: Google’s search algorithms continue to favor longer content: Articles of 2500+ words, about 5 pages, rank higher in search results.

5. Long Form Leads to a Deeper Reader Experience: For target audiences, long-form content provides the depth and detail necessary for a more fully immersive reader experience. You can read a minute-long plot summary of the latest Star Wars film on IMDB, but that summary will be nothing like the actual experience of the film.

The Long and Short of It All:

Digital marketing in an “age of distraction” demands a creative regime of efficient messaging strategies designed to capture and maintain reader attention. Yet, to remain effective, these strategies will require a carefully executed balance of scannable simplicity and authoritative depth.

Final Thoughts:

Instead of Mere Simplicity, Aspire to Engagingly Condensed Language: Concise writing does not simply mean “short and easy”; rather, concise writing condenses the meaning of a message without reducing its scope and significance.

Consider a Poetic Strategy: In the ongoing mission to blend brevity and depth, content writers can take a cue from poets. I don’t mean use flowery language. Literary texts, particularly poetry, essentially function as a form of “condensed” writing. Metaphor, concrete imagery, irony, puns, and other literary devices have long functioned as the tools of poets seeking to develop meaningfully “dense texts” that say more with less.

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