TL;DR: Why Writing Long Is Costing You
- 19 Jul 2016
Remember high school essays? We would be tasked to write about a topic with a specific minimum word or page count, then we’d try every trick in the book to stretch our ideas out to meet that quota. I remember using bigger fonts to cover more pages and feeling somewhat relieved to have since meet other people who did the same.
It seems we were trained to write until we meet the minimum word count, not when we’ve said what we need to say. Even today, having written marketing content, I still lapse into that mindset. It doesn’t matter what kind of content–over and over, I’ve learned that writing long does not get me read. In an industry where being seen is everything, that’s bad. In Propelrr, we invest a lot of content development effort into making sure the brands we handle tell crystal-clear stories. More importantly, they have to be interesting stories to our brands’ target audiences.
Fact is, interest wanes the longer any piece of content goes, generally speaking. Regardless of age, readers prefer to consume articles with 300 words or less. I’m, of course, hoping that you’re willing to invest a bit more commitment to learning this stuff, so this article will run a bit longer than that.
Why the preference for short content, exactly? I’ve narrowed it down to what I lovingly call the TL;DR Principle. Anyone who has spent some time on the interwebs knows what TL;DR means at a visceral level even if they don’t know what the letters stand for, which is “too long; didn’t read”. It strikes when you’re starting any sort of online account and you’re urged to read this absurdly long Terms and Conditions document. You know you could be inviting all sorts of legal problems if you don’t go through each paragraph, but TL;DR hits and you just skip to the end.
We’ll be discussing why that is. With an ever-growing body of connected consumers, content creators need to speak their language and write with their mayfly attention spans in mind.
The emergence–and overwhelming success–of the listicle is the truest manifestation of this trend. You may have read anywhere from one to twelve thousand listicles because they speak the language of the digital content consumer: concise chunks of information. You may associate listicles with vapid Buzzfeed fare, but the format is genuinely useful for content curation on any subject. This listicle writer even goes so far as to consider it a literary form.
Wordiness Disperses Impact
Consider this statement: a lot of people think that stuffing their sentences with lots and lots of words will make them sound a lot more intelligent. Obviously, this is not true at all. Being articulate does not equate being long-winded. One of the most common pitfalls in content writing is to go on and on without adding any substance to what you’re saying.
In other words, you don’t need to say much to sound smart.
That’s all there really is to it. Your message will be heard clearer if the reader doesn’t need to slog through so many words to decode it. Go straight to the point; your readers will love your for it.
There’s a reason why SALE is one of the most powerful things you can slap onto any piece of copy. Most of the time, you’re already giving your reader what they want with that word alone. Why mess with a done deal? Going overboard with meaningless details will likely lose you eyeballs.
The Pitfalls of Big Words
When we’re writing to impress, there’s this tendency to look for the most elaborate words to express the simplest ideas. While I’m certainly not against broadening your vocabulary, there is something to be said about consulting a thesaurus for every sentence. The most obvious is that you should suit your writing to your reader. That said, even the most academic target audience will find it tiresome to read an article that is obviously compensating for a lack of substance with fancy words.
Besides, your average reader won’t appreciate this kind of pretension. There are so many ways to keep your reader engaged, and being informed that you have access to a list of synonyms is not among them. Honestly, a random cat video will get the job done much better.
If you want to respect your reader’s intelligence, speak plainly. You’ll find that the opportunities to flaunt your vocabulary will arise on their own; you don’t need to try so hard sentence after sentence. You’ll end up with copy that’s a chore to read in the end, and your readers really won’t bother.
Mobile Users Will Strain Themselves
With 27.5 million smartphone users in the Philippines (and growing!) alone, digital marketers are channeling efforts and the money that goes with these efforts into streamlining the mobile user’s experience. Content is no exception.
Imagine needing to hold the phone up to your face as you read an article that just. Won’t. End. Chances are, you’ll decide that the arm strain isn’t worth the effort. Digital marketing should always keep the reader’s experience in mind through all its incarnations, so create content that would be a pleasure to read regardless of the device it’s being read on. Your visitors will end keep coming back for more.
Good news: there are solutions. Instead of offering a massive block of text, cut your content into several smaller chunk, with each chunk being able stand on its own as a satisfying read. Present everything as a series; this builds anticipation as you release the content bit by bit.
A Caveat: Brevity Isn’t Everything
So far, we’ve learned not to mistake length for substance. However, the reverse is also true: never mistake the lack of it for conciseness. Finding the balance to produce engaging content that gets your whole message across can only come from long practice. Steer away from the high school essay paradigm and work on getting your message across with the intention to be read.
Go over the content in your site and try to see how they could have been losing you money. Awareness is the first step to finding solutions.