How Long is a Piece of Content?

, June 3, 2014

Micro content appears to be having a moment. Twitter led the way back in 2006, its 140 character tweets taking the world by storm. Hot on its micro blogging heels were the likes of Vine and Snapchat, and before we knew it “short” was the new black.

So what about Google and its army of monochrome, four-legged algorithm updates? For those SEO marketers religiously adhering to the latest updates, it may seem as though this new content fad goes against everything Penguin and Panda have taught us. But it’s not that simple.

Under tweaks to Google’s ranking system, while content (both the quantity and quality of), is still important, so is usability. This means providing your audience with the information they seek, in the format they prefer, where and when they want it. When a consumer is commuting to work and stealing the odd glance at their iPhone, more often than not it won’t be a 900-word introspective debate they’re after. Time, location and device dictate that long form simply doesn’t make any sense. 

Play to your audience

As a result, it has become a necessity to capitalize on the fickle attention span of your audience. This is precisely what Snapchat has done, and done well. So well in fact that 2013 saw them turn down an offer of $20 billion from social networking giant, Facebook. Snaps shared through the picture messaging service automatically disappear after 10 seconds. It is this self-destructing feature that encourages users to let their guard down and become more creative and spontaneous, all the while appealing directly to their short attention span.

Vine is another great example of micro content leading the way. Twitter’s video app allows its users to capture and share short looping videos under six seconds. As the Dutch proverb goes, “Who serves the public serves a fickle master.” Vine knew this, took advantage and now has in excess of 13 million users to show for its troubles.

It’s something of a win-win situation. Readers can access small, consumable chunks of content, while marketers are presented with ample opportunities to approach their audience. It’s not just mobiles that are demanding this fractured form of content either, but wearable technology too.

The year of wearable technology

semrush imageWhile mobile devices provided us with access to valuable information regarding a person’s location, their online activity and the purchases they make, wearable technology has provided us with a far more granular level of data. From watches and glasses to clothes, footwear and wrist bands, these devices can tell us almost anything, from a person’s heart rate to their sugar levels, their physical whereabouts and even how many hours sleep they got last night.

All great information that marketers can, and should, be using to influence their marketing efforts, but try reading this article on Google Glass or Apple’s iWatch. It doesn’t work. While wearable technology might not have quite hit the mainstream yet — it isn’t far off — it certainly won’t be something you want to underestimate. Your content marketing strategy really needs to take this into consideration.

Size matters

When faced with the challenge of spatial limitations, every word counts. Axe your 100 word introductions, save your witty anecdotes for a rainy day and get to the point. When it comes to promoting products or services on a tiny screen, it pays to ensure consumers are presented with the information they need as quickly as possible, such as price, key features and USPs.

Format is also key. Split your content up into readable sections to make it easier on the eye. Punchy titles and headings work well and most importantly, serve a purpose. Bolding words, bullet points and underlining can also help to break up text, but remember not to over complicate things.

It’s also more important than ever to make sure your content is easy to understand in or out of context. You have less words and time (tech users are notoriously impatient), to justify your point and explain how you got here before you lose their attention. Dazzling your reader with your sparkling creativity is all very well, but, to quote Billy Joel, will this be your consolation when she’s gone? We think not.

Have your cake and eat it

This being said, micro content need not replace longer form pieces. It is quite possible, in fact essential, for the two to coincide peacefully. Just because a person uses Google Glass or a tablet while they’re out shopping doesn’t mean they’ll stop using a desktop for more relaxed browsing when they are at home or work.

At first glance it may seem that the modern digital marketer faces a dilemma; abide by Google’s guidelines or focus on your consumers’ demands? In actuality, it isn’t about setting out to create content of a specific length, but about doing what best fits the need.

Trust your instincts; if a topic warrants longer coverage, go with it. If you’re targeting someone on the go, keep it concise.

Photo credit: Pinterest

Author bio:

Ben Austin is CEO of Absolute Digital Media, an award winning agency specializing in SEO, PPC, social media and web design. Inspired by all things digital, Ben can be found on Twitter and Google Plus.

  • mstricker

    Nicely written, and thought-provoking. Looks like you trusted your instincts and went with a longer piece!