It is a common misconception in B2B marketing that buyers care much about ‘snackable content’. The data teaches us that nothing could be farther from the truth.
It seems that in B2B content marketing one resilient myth on human attention spans has for a long time buttressed another myth on the kind of content buyers enjoy to consume.
Of goldfish and men
The first misconception I will discuss here is that people have very short attention spans. We apparently have the attention span of goldfish, being able to keep our focus on nothing any longer than eight seconds. This view on how human minds work might sound credible to some, but the truth is that there is no scientific proof for this whatsoever.
Simon Maybin is a reporter for the BBC who went out to examine the history of this belief. The eight seconds was first mentioned in a 2015 report by the Consumer Insights team of Microsoft Canada. This report cited a company called Statistic Brain as the source of the information which itself listed on its site many different sources, of which none could not tell Maybin where they got the eight seconds from.
Maybin went out to talk to cognitive scientists and found out that the eight second human attention span is bunk (and that goldfish are far from this themselves, thank you very much!).
The myth of popular short-form content
A second myth in B2B marketing, and one for which the first myth is often called to support, is that people prefer short, ‘snackable’ content over elaborate subject matter explorations. People are simply not wired to process a 1,000 blog post, the myth goes. Or they might be able to take all of that in, but simply can’t or don’t want to make time.
One can expect that this B2B marketing meme spread like wildfire because intuitively it looks to be true. Do we not all suffer from ADHD to some degree?
Another reason I expect the notion to have become so popular is because it is self-serving. If it is true that buyers want 600 words posts in lieu of longer content, then marketers have a perfect excuse to spend less on both the ideation and production of content. Let’s keep this simple. Enter the tiresome ‘listicles’ that a great many content marketers like to churn out (but would probably never read themselves).
Long form content reigns supreme
B2B buyers want to read content with plenty of meat around the bone. BuzzSumo and LinkedIn analyzed more than 400,000 blog posts for their 2017 report on “The DNA behind the world’s most successful content.” They examined the popularity of content on two dimensions: the amount of backlinks blogposts acquired (a signal for thought leadership) and the amount of shares the posts garnered (a signal of awareness – “buzz” in the words of the report). This is what they found:
- As the blog posts get to grow in length, the amount of backlinks and shares they accrue keeps growing.
- They analyzed both backlinks and shares for different sectors, and everywhere they looked the amount of shares went up with the length of the posts. For technology companies for example, they found that posts with less than 1,000 words scored a median amount of 165 shares. For posts with between 1,000 and 2,000 words, the median amount is 180. For content that has is more than 2,000 words long, the median value is 194.
- The pattern is the same for backlinks, where across the board they saw backlinks increase with the length of content. Taking technology companies again as an example, they saw that for the content length brackets used above, articles acquired 1, 2 and 3 backlinks respectively.
To be clear, the word count is a confounding variable here. Buyers do not love lengthy posts because they are lengthy. People appreciate content that is of value, and in order to develop a coherent train of thought and support your arguments, you simply need a sufficient amount of words.
Sidebar for those who still needs convincing at this point: long-form content does not only get people to share and backlink to your content but is also a boon to your SEO. Long-form content makes it so that people will, for example, spend more time on your site (‘dwell time’ as it is called), which is an important signal for Google that your site is of value to searchers.
None of the above implies that every single content piece should always be 1,000 words long. It is still OK to have shorter size content in your mix, as long as you are cognizant of the fact that the shorter form content, because it is of less value to your readers, will never do the heavy lifting when it comes to helping you achieve your awareness and thought leadership objectives.
Did you enjoy this piece on short-form B2B content?
You might also like my interview with Patrick Vermeren on the abundant presence of pseudoscience in HR and communications.