We’ve all heard the old adage - “Less is More”, coined first in the poem “Andrea del Sarto” by Robert Browning. The idea is simple and easy to understand. The idea that getting straight to the point - the heart of the matter, and expressing only the essentials of an idea is preferable to adding detail and superfluous language. When it comes to your brand, your marketing, or your advertising, does this still hold up?
The Evolution Of Attention Spans
As technology has progressed from written media to TV, the internet and now smartphones, our expectations from content and marketing have changed. Where long-form written advertisements in newspapers, word-heavy posters & leaflets, and even infomercials were once staples of marketing, these have taken a back seat over the last two decades. Instead, instant access to any volume of information on any topic, at any time, in any place has bred an urgency in demand for information. We want answers immediately.
A study released in 2019 by Technical University of Denmark reviewed Twitter Data from 2013-2016; Google Books data on books going back over a century; 40 years of film ticket sales; Google Trends; Reddit; and Wikipedia Data. The data suggests, according to TUD, that we have a finite attention span, and that global attention spans are shortening due in part to having more topics to pay attention to.. Not only this, but once a topic grips us, we lose interest just as quickly.
Trending Towards Shorter Content
We of course know all of this anecdotally. Since the release of the iPhone in 2007, we read less and have become lazier and more reliant on our devices. Information overload is a real thing. The instant gratification afforded by instant access has led to shorter news cycles, and shorter news articles and our younger generations are portrayed as glued to their screens. Social media channels aimed precisely at short-form content are also booming (We’re looking at you TikTok, Reels, Youtube Shorts and all other bandwagon jumpers).
This trend permeates all of our media, not just our phones, with Media Radar reporting a marked shortening of TV Advertising length per advert, with traditional 30-second ads being replaced with ads on average 16 seconds long.
Should you shorten your copy?
How does all of this relate to your business? With a race to get to the point and capture attention, should you take a second look at your website content, or advertising copy, with the goal of reducing length? If it's a reduction for reduction’s sake - then we would caution against it. Reducing content length, especially on websites, without regard for keywords, phrases, SEO, the strength of your company's funnel, product proposition et al. can have disastrous effects. Done incorrectly, reducing content can reduce its effectiveness, telling a weaker story, making a weaker pitch, or reducing rankings.
But my content feels too long, what should I do?
Just because our attention spans are shortening does not mean we’re willing to sacrifice quality. Whether in an online ad, landing page, website or blog, we want to get to the point but want that point to be worthwhile. Here are 7 tips to keep in mind when you think your content is too long.
Tip 1: Make It Bite Size
Long, run-on sentences and huge paragraphs are generally harder to read and absorb. Where it makes sense, break your content up into more digestible chunks. 5 short paragraphs are much more easily remembered than 1 long, run-on paragraph, and are also much easier to scan and reference.
Tip 2: The Right Message at the Right Time
Something else to consider is: “Is all this content really relevant right now?”. Do I need to say everything, here, right now? On websites especially, consider if your content can be broken up, while still making sense. This idea will be second nature to anyone used to a website marketing funnel. Separate your content into topics/sections like Main Proposition, Benefits, Mission, Specific Use Cases, Social Proof, Call to Action etc. This will allow easy navigation of content.
Taking this a step further. Rather than a one size fits all solution, repeat the process for your different customer personas or target markets. Do different age groups have different reasons for buying your products and different benefits? Try separating this content onto alternative landing pages and speaking to them directly, while deprioritising information they don’t care about.
In print, this means finding out exactly who will be receiving your marketing, and speaking to them directly and specifically, rather than throwing the whole kitchen sink at them (figuratively).
Tip 3: Treat Each Medium Individually
Yes, consistency is key when it comes to your brand and your messaging. Consistency reinforces the impression of your brand in your customers’ minds. However, do not forget that each medium - websites, online/social adverts, social media, and printed media are all interacted with differently and therefore content length has a different impact.
There is no hard and fast rule, but considering how much time a customer is expected to interact with content should give you a good impression of how much content you should present.
Websites can hold much more content that can be navigated at a user's leisure, whereas a social media advert might only be 15-30 seconds, and need to both capture attention and get your message across over a short period of time. Copy and pasting the exact same messaging from posters to adverts, social media and the web without considering the platform and how users interact with it, won’t do you any favours.
Tip 4: Distill Your Copy, Don’t Condense It
Writing short copy well, is quite frankly, hard. In the words of Mark Twain:
“Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.”
Writing effective, shorter copy is much less about reducing than it is about distilling. Keep in mind that in this shorter length, you want the same concentration of ideas and story. Some of the best brand taglines are several words long, but speak volumes.
Nike: Just Do It
Dollar Shave Club: Shave Time, Shave Money
Air BnB: Belong Anywhere
Apple: Think Different
Try and apply the same thought process to your copy. Can a paragraph or sentence be refined? Can a turn of phrase, simile, or clever wording make your message more concise but more impactful? If it can, Just Do It.
Tip 5: Remember SEO When Writing Website Copy
There's a lot that goes into SEO, from well written Meta Titles & Descriptions, Alt Tags, Backlinks and more, but Content is King. A well ranked website will have pages of high quality, informative text and normally of moderate length, 1000-2500 being the most common word count for higher ranking pages and articles.
Within these words will be keywords and phrases, terms and questions that could be helping you rank in search engines. Speak to your SEO team to find out what keywords you are, or can rank for, or discover for yourself with tools like:
Tip 6: Content Length Isn’t Everything
The goal in writing content for a blog, a web page, advertising or any other media for that matter, should never be ‘length’. Neil Patel gives a fantastic breakdown of content length, showing that on average longer form content has better rankings, shares, SERP and more - but that length isn’t the main factor in these achievements.
There are many factors that influence how high a page ranks, or how well an ad performs, including Content Depth, Coverage, Keywords & Phrases, Proposition, Unique Ideas, How memorable it is and more.
Online, Content Depth is expert coverage of a broad range of relevant topics centered around your main topic. This could apply to a single article or entire website and is a Google ranking factor. Thin content, stuffed with keywords but offering no real expertise, insights or value won't help you rank and in fact could be penalized, affect your authority score, and turn off your readers.
Comprehensive content, similar to Content Depth, is the coverage of related topics to your main topic. Focusing on comprehensive, deep content will provide you with a broad range of items to discuss. Remember, the goal is to provide quality, not quantity.
In advertising, both digitally and in print, making sure you have the correct proposition for your target market that provides value is key. Once you’ve found this, communicating it in a unique, eye catching and memorable way that keeps attention will increase the effectiveness of your advertising. Try distilling your message and call to action into their purest form, then look for ways to make this unique with your own tone of voice.
Tip 7: Don’t Forget, This Is Your Story
With all this in mind, don’t forget that at the end of the day - this is your story, unique to you. Some stories are longer than others, some paths take longer to travel. While your website, advertising and marketing are tools designed to increase your sales and impact, do not over optimise at the cost of losing what makes you unique. Yes, test the performance of copy of different lengths, of ideas distilled into shorter and longer forms, but the context clues, tone, and individuality of your story are what set you apart from the competition.
Ultimately, there is no one size fits all solution for content length for your brand overall, and no rule saying that content online or in print should be long. While some marketers and agencies will swear by writing as few words as possible, or as many as possible, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
With attention spans shortening and with the abundance of content, your brand wants to prioritise communicating effectively, efficiently, and memorably.
Try putting some of the tips above into action and see if you're able to improve your copy!
How can we help?
Our content and branding teams can help you distill your brand messaging and create effective, engaging content to achieve your goals. Contact our team to find out more.