One of the interesting (and some might say depressing) details to come out the recent collapse of The New Republic was the comment of new editor Guy Vidra that he thought “the magazine was boring and that he couldn’t bring himself to read past the first 500 words of an article.” The battle between a century-old cultural institution and Silicon Valley’s “disruptive” mentality aside, what struck me about this was Vidra’s apparent distaste for longform content.
If you look at the most successful publishing ventures on the Internet at the moment, stalwarts like the New York Times aside, we see Buzzfeed and Upworthy: outlets that focus on short content that generates clicks and shares. On the other hand, there’s a strong movement to promote longform content on sites like Longform and Medium. And, as there is for every movement espousing a niche interest, there’s a reaction against the rising popularity of longform. The result is acres of content — from the longform to the tweet — being published about the correct length of content and the benefits of writing a lot of it, to which this (short) article is about to add.
Lots of marketers, writing “gurus,” and SEO types are touting the value of longform content fairly indiscriminately, and the result is that businesses are trying their hardest to increase the length of the content they are publishing on their blogs. Sometimes the results are excellent, and sometimes not so much — inflating content that could be expressed in a 300-word article to 1500 words just so that it’s “longform” and offers plenty of opportunity to include keyword variations is the wrong approach.
A smart man once said “that perfection is attained, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to take away, ” which overvalues concision, sometimes redundancy and repetition are good for comprehensibility, but as a rule of thumb, it’s useful. Business blog articles should be as long as the topic can bear and no longer. I’m a writer; I often get paid by the word, and I’m quite skilled at using a large number of words to say a simple thing (not here of course), but I try my hardest not to overburden the already divided attention of my readers.
Attention is the crux of the matter. Attention is a valuable commodity and it’s not one to be spent lightly. An in-depth examination of a complex topic can take a shelf of books to examine, but that’s not what most consumers want from business’ blogs. They want reasonably easy to consume content that is immediately relevant to their interests.
Which is not to say that longform content should be avoided at all costs. In some cases, the topic can bear a detailed and comprehensive examination — just be sure that it’s the best way to disseminate content to your audience.