Content fads and trends suggest many rules of thumb for web content length. For example, we see marketers raving about continuously scrolling homepages that defy the conventional wisdom of users jumping from page to page. Many landing pages draw inspiration from direct mail best practices to engage users. Or, there’s the rule of thumb to keep videos to three minutes or Facebook messages to less than 40 characters. Who makes up these rules anyway?

Turns out, while acknowledging that these rules of thumb may originate from convincing data and help guide your web content length at a high level, it takes a much more nuanced approach to figure out what’s “just right” for your particular audience. We find that effective web content varies in length depending on the different parts of your customer lifecycle.

ContentWorkings-TooLongTooShort-graphic-lc (1)

In the diagram above, you can see points in the customer lifecycle where short and long-form web content may each make sense. Let’s delve into each stage in more detail.

Discover

Here, you want quick overviews, images, visuals, and short videos to drive home a key message in a limited amount of time. You need short “elevator pitch” content that communicates a key message in a few seconds.

For example, Montage offers great discovery content on its home page. Six words describe the entire service in a nutshell: “Effortless photo books, made with love.” And a user doesn’t even need to scroll down to the “learn more” section. The icons alone communicate the main features of the service. Montage keeps discovery content brief and leverages visuals to tell its story in just a few seconds.

Montage Home Page

Montage Home Page 2

Research

When people want to learn more about your products and services, they need longer videos, slideshows, presentations, whitepapers, etc. At this phase, lengthier web content makes sense. Enthusiasts, technical experts, businesspeople, or savvy consumers all have a need to dig deeper about information related to a product or service—especially when justifying the cost.

IBM’s Rethink Business page connects the company’s complex cloud, SaaS, and on-premise software offerings to actual business needs. This page devotes itself to educating customers and prospects through lengthy and substantial podcasts, webinars, eBooks, reports, statistics, and videos. Rather than blathering on about the wonders of cloud-based software, they instead talk about the cloud and SaaS in terms that interest customers—reduced costs, competitive advantage, collaboration, and efficiency.

IBM Rethink Business

Buy

At the buy phase, your customer has all but made a decision. They need guidance through the buying process in the quickest, most efficient way possible. If they’re ready to buy, you want to make the entire process easy. That means calls to action, moving from step to step with the click of a button, brief product descriptions and comparisons, and microcopy that helps answer questions and remove obstacles.

Luhsetea’s product pages serve as a great example. A strong voice comforts and entertains the buyer with a story, and it’s easy to glance at the tea description, sizes, ingredients, and preparation information. Seeing the price, selecting quantity, and adding to your cart is easy. All excess, dry, and boring product information is boiled away.

Luhsetea Product Page

Support

If a customer needs assistance, help must appear with the ease of someone answering your question in person. Customers don’t want to wade through long support descriptions, 40-page PDF manuals, or chaotic user communities full of confusing, redundant answers. For example, Uber has streamlined so much of what’s wrong with traditional taxi service that it’s no surprise Uber’s support content follows that ethic. They cover a variety of common issues including getting copies of old receipts, retrieving lost items, and a driver unable to find the customer. A support form stands at the ready in case you still need help, and it states that someone will contact you soon.

Uber Support Page

Nurture / Engage

You’ve got a fan, a happy customer, or an interested subscriber. They like what you sell and may return for more. They need web content to help them learn more, help them return to the research phase to buy new products, and help them geek out about aspects of your products or services that interest them. Articles, blog posts, videos, podcasts, reports, and other resources can help them learn more about your product, service, and industry—and stay engaged with you.

Guitar Center serves as a great example of ongoing customer nurturing and engagement. They know very well that customers don’t just buy a guitar and disappear. Playing the guitar is a lifelong practice, hobby, and way of life. On Guitar Center’s Tumblr page, the company highlights videos of performances and interviews from some of the best guitar players today. They want Guitar Center to feel like a musical home of sorts where web content creates a bridge between company and customer.

Guitar Center Tumblr Page

Takeaways

What do these examples teach us about web content length? While we avoid sticking by rules of thumb, we urge you to consider these takeaways.

1. Understand your user’s needs throughout the customer lifecycle.

Are you a B2C company that caters to impulse buyers who make quick purchases? A B2B company with long purchasing cycles for a complex product? Your user needs during the discovery, research, and buying phases will heavily impact the length of your web content.

2. Fill in web content gaps based on missing or misaligned parts of the customer lifecycle.

If you’re lacking discovery content, work on shorter web content such as an elevator pitch for your homepage. If you’re lacking research content, you might start a blog or write longer whitepapers that help educate buyers. Diagnose where you need shorter content, and where you need longer content.

3. Mix it up.

People learn and like to consume web content in different ways. Cater to all of those different needs and create a mix of text, visual, audio, and video content.

4. Make longer web content easy to skim and scan.

Longer content works greats in some cases, but still use web writing best practices to make it readable and scannable.


Beware of rules of thumb that cause you to create unnecessary infographics, 3-minute videos for everything, or experiment with long-form web content when it may annoy users. Adapt web content length as needed for different parts of the customer lifecycle. Make sure you have a mix of short and long content for different user needs. Like the three bears, your web content should be not too short, not too long, but just right.

The Author

Kevin Howarth is an associate writer for Content Science Review. You can contact Kevin at Content Science.

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