Daniel Burstein

Content Marketing: Focus on value, not length

Stanley tape measure

The other day I received a question about the desired length of a speaker submission for Email Summit 2012 in Las Vegas

I noticed that the following questions do not include a word count min. or max. amount:

What can email marketers learn from your content?
Describe the session you would like to present (or organize).

Seeing as this is a major component of the application, is there a required or recommended word length for each?

This is a question I get often about all types of content. How long should my blog post be? How long should my article be?

And the reason we didn’t put a word count on the speaker submission form, is because …

I don’t care how long your content is

I believe this focus on content length is archaic…a vestigial reminder of media buys…essentially, the appendix of digital marketing.

I remember the days when I was obsessed with editing a script just right to make it fit neatly into 30 or 60 seconds (complete with the motor-mouthed voice talent who could get the entire disclaimer in at the end).

But, just last week, we published a YouTube video that was 1:27 long, because one minute and twenty seven seconds was the exact length we needed to communicate the message we were trying to get across, not because we had a specific time slot we had to fill.

And yet, people writing for your blogs and creating your content marketing may not be content experts. They may not be professional writers. Many are likely subject matter experts asked to pitch in and creating content is not a process they are comfortable with, so they want some guidance.

I tell them…

I only care about value to the audience

How long should a MarketingSherpa or MarketingExperiments blog post be?

However long it takes to deliver one salient point, one piece of actionable advice to our audience. Sure, that’s not as neat and tidy as a word count, but it is a guideline that reflects the heart and soul of our blogs – our job is to help you do your job better.

If the blog post delivers on that proposition, the writer has done his or her job.

Respect the audience

Of course, I’m not saying length doesn’t matter at all. That doesn’t mean you can pour endless content onto the virtual page and expect your audience to care. You must still respect their time and, especially if the content is longer, make it as approachable and consumable as possible.

For example, for a long blog post, you can make it more scan-able by:

  • Using bullet points
  • Bolding key points, but not overdoing this emphasis because if you emphasize everything, you emphasize nothing.

And writing short paragraphs (with quick sentences that aren’t necessarily complete).

Make a promise (and deliver on it)

Lastly, just because we don’t need to feel confined by the tyranny of the media planning department with our content marketing doesn’t mean we should ignore length all together. But length can take a complete 180 – from creative restriction to marketing benefit.

For example, we’ve just published our first “30-Minute Marketer” brief, How to Use Contests to Grow Your Email List: 10 Quick Tactics for Lead Generation through Contests. We provide them free to MarketingSherpa members, and non-members can buy the briefs for $47 each.

As you can see, length is part of the value proposition for this report. MarketingSherpa has 1,862 marketing numbers and report abstracts, 915 case studies, and 3,186 creative samples from real-life marketing campaigns and tests, but if you give us just 30 minutes, you’ll discover the actionable advice you need to solve a specific pain point right now.

Hopefully that’s much more valuable to our audience than a randomly selected word count.

For more information about length as it applies to marketing copy instead of content marketing, check out today’s MarketingExperiments blog post – Copywriting: Long copy vs. short copy matrix.

Related Resources:

Copywriting: Long copy vs. short copy matrix

Inbound Marketing: Social media strategy planning tool

B2B Summit: Lead generation training event coming up in Boston and San Francisco

Email Summit: World’s Largest Gathering of Marketers Aimed at Overcoming Your Top Email Challenges

Photo attribution: wwarby

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Inbound Marketing

  1. August 29th, 2011 at 12:16 | #1

    The ideal length of a blog post or any other piece is exactly the same as the ideal length of a woman’s skirt: long enough to cover the topic but short enough to keep it interesting.

  2. September 2nd, 2011 at 14:34 | #2

    If anything, a word count should be a generalized guideline, but not the sole definition of what comprises a great piece of content. The only problem that arises with focusing on value over length is that length provides payment guidelines for the writer, whereas value, of course, is a bit harder to measure in terms of payment. In my view, it’s more about using word count standards as a jumping off point for creating high-quality content within a quantifiable framework.

  3. September 29th, 2011 at 13:14 | #3

    It’s not how much you say, it’s what you say. Things like press releases often require minimum word count. I have been doing SEO research and the thing that comes to mind the most is that the matrix changes all the time. Larry Page is a brilliant and humble individual.
    - Glenn Davis Doctor G

  4. December 27th, 2011 at 03:28 | #4

    I couldn’t agree more! While there are length suggestions for SEO and Google purposes I find that applying length restrictions on content does nothing but stifle the opportunities and success of the content. While many claim that shorter content makes it more shareable, I personally refuse to share content that feels unfinished or leaves questions lingering in the air.

    A great post, at a great length that leaves no questions unanswered, well done!

  5. September 11th, 2012 at 08:37 | #5

    This focus on quality over word length is spot on, but still leaves the tough question of how long each specific piece needs to be. Another 100 words deserved or not? Did a recent post on how a trade press editor makes these decisions. http://scheierassociates.com/2012/09/proper-length-marketing-copy

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