Do you write content as a marketing tool?
If so, you probably have an opinion about long copy vs. short copy. I can't tell you how many times an agent has told me they just want me to write a short agent bio for them because people won't read a whole page.
It turns out that they're wrong. Perhaps some people won't read a whole page, but plenty of others will, and they’ll read more than that.
As long as the content grabs and holds their interest, people will read.
I started thinking about this because I have just started posting on a site called "Medium." Because I'm new to the site, I'm reading a lot about what to post there, how to do it, etc.
An article I read yesterday offered up statistics I thought were interesting. The writer, Quincy Larson, stated that 8-14 word headlines get the most social media shares.
He also said that, at least on Medium, the most popular articles take 7 minutes to read. Based on an overall average reading speed of 200 words per minute, that means the most popular articles are about 1,400 words long.
Personally, unless the topic is really compelling, that’s about all the length I want to read. Once I get to 10 minutes I start to wonder “How much more is there? Are they almost finished?” "Should I keep reading, or if I exit now will I miss the good stuff?”
That writer’s take was that if you don’t have 5 minutes’ reading time worth of thoughts to convey, then don’t write.
My opinion is that what he said is likely true for Medium, because it is an article site. But it's probably not true here, or on social media or on our own blogs. Sometimes we only need 200-400 words to say something interesting or important. Sometimes we just need one sentence under a photo. But then that something doesn’t belong on Medium.
He did point out, however, that the right length for any article is the number of words it takes to convey the message you set out to convey. Not one word more or less. That one is a universal fact, known by every professional writer.
Another article informed me that about half of all adults read long copy articles on their phones.
I would have thought no one read long copy on a phone. After all, reading on that little screen is not easy! It also said that most people only read one long article per week from any given site.
Being a skeptic, I have to wonder where they got that statistic. I read on my laptop and I seldom pay attention to what site I’m on. I just follow links that come in my email or links from other articles. So had I been asked to take part in that survey, my answer would have been “I dunno.”
The article went on to say that people engage more with articles of 1,000 words or more. They based that on how many seconds they spent with longer articles. Well – it takes longer to read more, so I’m not sure that proved anything.
More research told me that even on a phone screen, people are still skimming.
Some scholars are bemoaning this, because we don’t get in-depth knowledge or information when skimming. Instead, we get little bits and pieces.
But then – we have to ask whether most people are reading to learn something or reading for entertainment. One study said that most users even get to news articles via social media. So - were they looking for news, or just happening across an article that might be interesting?
Do you know anyone who doesn't scan down the page, looking at headlines and perhaps the first few words in a paragraph to see if they want to stop and read? Eye studies done on people reading from full-sized screens and / or physical newspapers tell us that this is how we read.
The bits and pieces catch our attention and cause us to stop and read some more – or not. If the writer offers something we really want to know, then I expect most of us will slow down and read every word.
When I'm hunting for specific information...
I scan to find an article that seems most likely to answer my question. Then I scan the article to see if it really does. If so, I stop to read. Otherwise, I just keep scanning.
So what does this mean to us as marketers using content to attract clients?
My take-aways are:
- Decide where you’re going to post based on how much you have to say.
- Never mind the introductory paragraphs. Jump right into giving some good information.
- If you’re going to write long copy, keep it moving along. Don’t let anyone get bored.
- Use your sub-headings to inform about what is to follow.
And always, if you’re writing content as a marketing tool…
Strive to give value in everything you publish.