business storytellingContent Marketing

The power of long-form content in an age of instant gratification

By October 13, 2016 No Comments

Good things come to those who wait. Patience is a virtue. No great thing is created suddenly. These three phrases, used frequently enough that they have become embedded in common vernacular, all extol the value of remaining calm and collected while snubbing the desire to try and achieve objectives hastily.

We are, however, now part of a society that is unwilling to endure delay; we have all of the knowledge, information and entertainment we could ever desire at our fingertips – we have become unaccustomed to waiting, and increasingly reliant upon our ability to be immersed in content mere seconds after we become inspired to do so.

While this is undoubtedly convenient, such dependence upon acquiring content immediately has not only changed our attitudes when it comes to how we digest content, but it has significantly altered our capacity to remain absorbed for long periods of time. And this is not just conjecture; research undertaken by acclaimed Canadian scientists supports the idea that, thanks largely to smartphones giving us the ability to access information instantaneously, the skill of concentrating for an extended period of time is becoming something of a lost art.

According to the study’s findings, the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000, to eight seconds today. To put that in context, it is believed that goldfish – a creature that has long been mocked for its inability to retain and recall information – has an attention span of nine seconds.

The average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000, to eight seconds today

We are – quite literally – losing focus.

The influence of mobile

Statista estimates that there are approximately 42.4 million smartphone users in the UK, which is almost double the number of users in 2011. And, if we remove the 7.5 million UK citizens aged nine and under, that would mean 75% of the UK population owns a smartphone.

With such power resting in our pockets, and 4G connectivity meaning we can be on the internet in seconds regardless of location, it is unsurprising that we have become obsessed with immediacy, and find ourselves somewhat flustered when in a situation that does not allow for instant resolution.

This modern mentality has, quite rightly, given content marketers something of a headache. Many have taken to culling longer posts in order to concentrate on short, sharp pieces that pander to people’s inability to remain absorbed in something for any longer than a few seconds. However, it would appear that there is still a market for extended pieces of detailed, accurate and thorough content.

There is still a market for extended pieces of detailed, accurate and thorough content

And, what’s more, that market may well be far bigger than you think.

The enduring power of long-form content

While long-form content can of course provide your audience with valuable information, know-how and detailed evaluation, there are also numerous other benefits that are not quite so obvious.

An organisation called Backlinko recently decided to analyse over one million Google search results in a bid to discover more about top SEO practices. The study found that longer content (more than 1,000 words) tends to rank far higher than articles with fewer than 500 words. In fact, Backlinko’s findings revealed that the average Google first page result contains 1,890 words.

The value of long-form content is something that has been backed up by various other pieces of research; a study by MarketingExperiments concluded that long-form content performs, on average, around 40% better than its short-form equivalent, while Search Marketing Standard has reported that Google’s algorithms ignore web pages that contain fewer than 200 words and prioritise those that are determined to offer the most value to a reader.

Research by Medium, one of the world’s best known blogging platforms, found that the highest performing content on its site takes approximately seven minutes to read and comes in at around 1,600 words, while a study of over 31,000 people carried out by Edlman Trust discovered that companies who take time to create extensive pieces of content that mark them as an industry expert inspire ‘far greater trust and credibility’ amongst consumers.

It can of course be easy to become disheartened when a piece of work you have spent hours upon hours crafting fails to make an immediate impact, but it is always worth keeping in mind that content marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. Reputation and standing both take time to establish, after all.

Long-form content that contains valuable, interesting and high quality material works in the background to make your website rank higher on search engines, but this benefit will often not be seen for months, or maybe even years. However, we at Southerly can personally attest to the fact that long-form content works. We produce extensive blogs twice a week, and doing so has significantly enhanced our Google ranking. It has taken a couple of years to get to this stage, but in terms of attracting new readers and clients, such commitment is most certainly paying off.

Different strokes for different folks

It’s also important to remember that long-form content need not always be in the form of the written word. Telling an engaging story is largely reliant upon reaching your audience in a way that appeals to them. Sometimes that will be through an article, but other instances may better suit a podcast, a video or an infographic.

The aim of giving consumers content that they will find valuable should resonate regardless of what you create, but it is imperative you remember that your audience will react and respond to a range of channels and approaches. It is your task – or ours, should you wish to hand us the reins – to ensure that you target both current and potential customers in a way that gives the best chance of drawing eyes to your offering.

The bottom line

When someone decides that they are going to read a piece of long-form content they are, whether consciously or unconsciously, engaging with your business. They become invested in your work because they believe what you have written has significance and can either assist them, or provides them with information they find thought-provoking.

Though short-form content can get a message across and has the power to increase the number of hits on your website, it does not have the same ability to grab someone’s attention for an extended period. Short-form content is the equivalent of dipping your toe in a swimming pool, while long-form is more akin to diving in headfirst; both enable you to experience what the water feels like, but only one method allows you to become fully immersed.

Aside from the SEO and reputational benefits, quality long-form content gives the consumer additional value, which is something every company should be aiming for in everything they do. If it takes only 400 words to get your message across then so be it, but if you feel the need to dedicate a few extra hours – and a couple of thousand words – to communicate effectively, then don’t be afraid to commit yourself to carrying out the work.

While it takes patience to read a lengthy article, it also takes patience to write one; however, in both instances, endurance and persistence can ultimately result in long-term benefits.

About Southerly

We are a creative content agency. We are storytellers.


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