Research: Long-form writing gets more shares

Experts preach the benefits of ‘snackable’ content, but new research indicates that, even in an age of smartphones and dwindling attention spans, readers will make time for longer articles.

When I was in journalism school, professors would say to give an article what it’s worth, meaning that a story’s value and the attention needed to cover it well should dictate the story’s length.

As we strive to adjust to Internet readers’ short attention spans, we seem to have forgotten that advice. Listicles, infographics and curated summaries dominate our news feeds. These formats get us in and out of stories as quickly as possible.

However, new research from Pew indicates that those journalism professors’ advice still holds true. People do read long-form content—even on smartphone screens.

Pew researchers spent months digging into 117 million anonymous cellphone interactions with 74,840 articles from 30 websites in September 2015. They concluded that long-form content still has a place in a world of short attention spans.

The study revealed that although short news content is far more prevalent than long content (and thus draws more traffic), readers access long-form articles at nearly the same rate as short ones.

Seventy-six percent of the articles studied had fewer than 1,000 words, but article for article, long-form stories attracted visitors at nearly the same rate as short-form pieces: 1,530 interactions per long-form article and 1,576 interactions per short-form.

Among the key findings:

Cell-phone readers spend about twice as much time with long-form content as with short-form content: Readers spend the most time reading late at night and early in the morning.

People spend the most time on articles referred by others and the least amount of time on content they find through social media: Readers of long-form content spend an average of 148 seconds with a news article when they arrive from an internal link. That falls to 132 seconds for those who visit the article directly or follow an email link, 125 seconds for those arriving from an external website, 119 seconds for readers arriving from search and 111 seconds for readers coming from social media.

However, social media sites drive the largest share of traffic to both long- and short-form news—roughly 40 percent of smartphone visitors.

Facebook and Twitter readers are different. Facebook drives more traffic, but Twitter tends to refer people who spend more time on the content.

Facebook users spend an average of 107 seconds on long-form content, whereas Twitter users spend an average of 133 seconds. The same pattern emerges with shorter content.

Four percent of users who access a story return to it later.

Both long- and short-form articles tend to have brief life spans. Eighty-nine percent of short-form interactions and 83 percent of long-form ones take place within the first three days.

There is another aspect of long-form content that many marketers overlook: Longer content gets more shares.

If you’re producing only short-form content, rethink your strategy. If the content is worth reading, your customers will value and share in-depth articles.

A version of this article originally appeared on Mark Schaefer’s blog, {grow}.Save

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