Recently Jennifer Kane, a marketing/communications strategist and principal at Kane Consulting, wrote an important blog post about long-form content on the Web.
She starts “Five Secrets Behind Effective Long-Form Content” by stating a fact that is often overlooked: Long-form content is not dead or dying, although it may seem that way because so much of it is “weak and boring” and, therefore, not read. She adds, “in-depth content must adhere to a different set of rules to be seen and consumed.”
Then she provides some of these rules, which make a good starting point for anyone wanting to develop long-form content for the Web. These tips do not focus on how to write a better document but rather on how to make the content more presentable on the screen and, therefore, more easily and enjoyably read.
Since her “secrets” in this post are so accurate and helpful, I decided to ask her what other advice she might have for someone interested in writing and presenting better digital long-form content.
Below are her answers to my questions:
David: How narrowly or broadly do you define “long-form content?”
Jennifer: I define it pretty broadly because it really seems to be up to the reader what they consider to be “too long.” On a really basic level, if it’s a video over 5 minutes or written content that the person cannot see the end of even after scrolling down from the first view of the page to a second view of the next segment, I think most people consider that to be “long.”
Even if it’s easy to read or simple to view, if there is no easy end in immediate sight, people can be quick to make a judgment that this is going to take too much time to consume.
I wrote this post because I got trapped inside a number of long pieces I enjoyed, but wasn’t sure how long I was going to have to enjoy them.
If I left to tweet about the piece, I’d have to scroll down and find my place. If I scrolled to the end to see its full length, I’d lose my place. I basically felt stuck within the content’s awesomeness—which is lovely because it was well written, but also annoying because I, like all audience members, wanted to manage my time.
David: Does long-form content have a minimum number of words?
Jennifer: From the guest posts I do on multi-author blogs, it seems like a post that is “long” by their definition is one that is over 900 words. That’s kind of an arbitrary number, but one I keep running into.
David: Do you think that for something to be “long-form content” it must fall into a specific category of documents?
I know you consider narrative journalism as long-form content because you mention “The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek” as a good example. But do you consider a white paper, a bylined article, a speech, or an annual report as long-form content?
Jennifer: I think this applies to all online content—fiction or non-fiction, educational or entertaining. I do consider white papers, most bylined articles, and speeches to be long-form content.
I don’t know that I’ve ever read an annual report on line. Due to the fact that they’re graphic heavy, they seem to always be downloadable PDFs—which I think people have an easier time processing because they can view, assess and navigate the total breadth of it pretty easily.
I guess I would always define this based on how people are currently defining “average” length. If the average video is 2-5 minutes, and the average blog post 500-750 words, then “long” would be anything longer than that.
I also think this average is becoming shorter consistently over time. People have shorter attention spans, so what constitutes “too long” is always changing.
David: Finally, besides “Tunnel Creek,” would you recommend other examples of long-form content that are easy to read and follow because they are well written and well designed?
Jennifer: Here are some very good ones:
1) Most recently, the “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us” feature in TIME. (24,105 words—amazing info).
2) I think some of the most consistently amazing long-form stuff I’ve read lately is in WIRED. Every month, they’ve usually got a whopper of an article (often not the feature) that’s a jaw dropper. For example, the recent article “Kill the Password: Why a String of Characters Can’t Protect Us.“
3) This LEGO video is well done (a little long for me, but I’m not the target audience) and is a great example of company storytelling to boot.
4) And, then in my industry if I mention a tool/technique in a post I’m often hyperlinking to articles from CopyBlogger, ProBlogger, and Social Media Examiner because they post a lot of “definitive guide” kind of posts as well as exhaustive lists of ideas. For example:
My thanks to Jennifer for taking the time to answer these questions and providing her expert advice.