ProTip: The answer is “both!”
I’m going to engage in a little exercise this week. I’m posting two articles based on the same content — one in ‘Snackable’ form, the other in ‘Long’ form. I encourage you to read both and determine for yourself which one you enjoyed more — and why — and then tell me in the comments!
What Are ‘Snackable’ and ‘Long-Form?’
The easiest way to think of these content forms is to rely on the metaphor implied by the term ‘snackable.’ A ‘snackable’ piece of content can be consumed in a few seconds, is intended to be enjoyable and fun, and to not overtax the reader’s attention span or cognitive load. A ‘long-form’ piece of content is like a buffet — it conveys a lot of information, in a significant amount of detail, and is usually intended to either solve a problem or educate the reader on an important topic.
(Yes, this is a spectrum, and yes, most web content falls in the middle — ‘mealable’ content, if you will. Most blog posts on this blog are just on the longish end of ‘mealable,’ for example.)
It’s important to note that there’s no specific medium of content that necessarily must be snackable or long-form. Generally speaking, GIFs are snackable, for example, but then, there’s actually an entire subReddit for GIFs of full movies. Similarly, there’s actually a significant amount of debate in the marketing world about whether infographics count as snackable content or not. On the one hand, sure, they pack a lot of data into a small space, but then, they also generally take a lot of focus and time to really comprehend.
So, let’s get into the major differences between snackable and long-form, and what they mean to both the consumer and the business creating that content.
Scannability is a critical aspect of web content; research shows that somewhere between 18% and 24% of web content is actually read — the rest is simply skimmed by a reader who is attempting to find “the point” as quickly as possible. In this area, snackable content clearly has the advantage — because it’s intended to be consumed as quickly as possible, “the point” is frequently 100% of the content. You see it, you get the point, you move on.
By contrast, long-form content has to be carefully sculpted to be scannable, using visual tricks like subheadings, bullet lists, and so on to help the reader find the point. This creates a kind of inefficiency, insofar as you know as you’re creating the content that at least three quarters of it is going to be ignored — but because of the way a content creator’s brain works, we literally cannot create meaningful content without all of the interstitial, ‘ignorable’ words that come between the critical points that the reader actually cares about.
Speed of Consumption & Engagement
Closely related to scannability is the speed with which a given piece of content can be consumed. Something that’s scannable is, by definition, consumed more quickly than something less scannable — and notice, above, that even long-form content is intended to be easily scannable. Meaning that even long-form content is intended to be consumed as fast as possible. It’s just intended to convey a lot more detail during that fast consumption.
The problem with fast consumption is that is doesn’t generate engagement, and engagement is the primary way that you build relationships with your readers. Relationships, in turn, are the most effective way to position your brand as a positive one in the mind of the reader and the most effective way to sell something to someone. As a side-effect, engaged readers also don’t bounce as quickly and generate other positive SEO signals as well. So long-form content definitely wins in this arena.
Accessibility is frequently oversimplified in the Internet Marketing world down to two questions:
- Does it look good from any given browser?
- Does it look good on a mobile device?
In reality, of course, there’s a lot more to accessibility — it’s about everything from choosing your diction and lexicon to match the intellectual and attitudinal bent of your audience to choosing images that make it easier to understand and enjoy the associated copy. Because snackable content loads more quickly, is most often found in fairly simplistic formats that mobile devices easily comprehend, and doesn’t involve balancing a lot of different elements, it’s inherently more accessible than long-form content.
And because it’s more accessible, snackable content massively more sharable than long-form content. It’s easy to look at, for example, one of Cracked.com’s Photoplasties and say to yourself “Hey, Grandma would not only appreciate this, but she would understand it quickly — I should share it on Facebook!” It’s much harder to make that call when you’re reading a Wait But Why post, no matter how intriguing and informative it is.
So essentially what we’ve learned over the last two points is that engagement is the opposite of accessibility. Of course, every piece of content is both engaging and accessible at different levels — there’s no such thing as something that is only accessible or only engaging — but snackable and long-form hang out on different sides of that particular yin-yang-lookin’ duality. But we’re not done yet.
Cost vs. Profitability
If you’ve lived in the First World for more than a couple of weeks out of the past several decades, you’ve probably heard someone say “it takes money to make money.” This is true when it comes to content as well — because as mentioned above, long-form content is the kind that achieves your sales objectives (building relationships, making sales). Snackable content achieves your marketing objectives (building a following, brand awareness), but it won’t make you that much money.
On the other hand, snackable content is generally much less expensive to create. Just as an easy example, the ‘snackable’ version of this very post, which I made first as an guideline for what I wanted to talk about in this version, took me about 6 minutes to create. I’m on my 47th minute for this one, and still going. So just going on cost-per-time, we’re easily 8 times more expensive for this post than for the snackable version. But given similar degrees of quality, the long-form content will make more than 8 times as much money on the back end — if and only if your audience is large enough.
An audience which you grow most effectively with snackable content.
And now, if you’ve stuck with me through all that, we finally have reached the point: that snackable and long-form content work together to achieve the goals of content marketing. What the precise ‘correct’ balance between the two is, well, that is going to vary a lot depending on your business, your target market, and your specific objectives. But in general, according to my completely informal poll of seven different marketing giants’ blogs, it’s about 2-to-1 — two snackable bits per long-form content produced. Your mileage may vary. Good luck!
Still with me? Great! If you haven’t already, please check out the snackable version and you can compare and contrast the experiences — because really, experientially is the best way to get the full impact of the difference.