Content Strategy

Is shorter content better?

In: Content Strategy

This week, we celebrated the one-year anniversary of our YouTube channel.

In the first year, we've uploaded:

  • 35 interviews
  • 2 solo videos
  • 9 clips
  • 79 shorts

And we earned:

  • 7,800 subscribers
  • 255,000 views
  • 23,900 hours of watch time
  • $1,008.28 in AdSense

What isn't obvious from those figures is that ~40% of our channel views and subscribers have come in the last 30 days from our latest two videos! As of this writing, my interview with Paddy Galloway has 62K views and my interview with Ed from Film Booth has 47K views.

One astute viewer noticed that these videos were both shorter than past videos – about 34 minutes each. And they asked if I believed that these videos being shorter is what made them more successful.

This is a question I hear a lot, even beyond YouTube:

"Is it better to create shorter content?"

The answer, of course, is that it depends. "Better" is a subjective word and means different things to different people. So let's break down how you should think about the length of your content.

The role of length

Some platforms have explicit limits in terms of length – Twitter used to only allow 140 characters, Instagram and LinkedIn have text limits, etc.

But if you're creating podcasts, essays, newsletters, or YouTube videos, there aren't really limits on how long things can be.

So how do you decide how long your content should be?

The answer is simple (though not prescriptive)...

Content should be as long as it needs to be to serve its purpose.

Inherent in that statement is the idea that your content HAS a purpose – everything does.

A few examples may be:

  • This content is meant to entertain
  • This content is meant to educate
  • This content is meant to help people feel seen

There is an implicit why behind everything you make – even if that why is, "Because I wanted to make it."

Your content should be as long as it needs to be in order to accomplish that purpose. In an ideal world, it's no longer than it needs to be and also no shorter.

Length is one quality of a piece of published work – usually measured in word count (1500 words) or duration (34 minutes).

But length is NOT the same thing as depth.

Length vs. depth

You've probably met someone who can talk for a long time without saying much at all. Time passes, they're speaking, but you're not getting much out of it. Maybe they're even repeating themselves in different ways.

You've also probably met someone who can say a lot in just a few words.

While length is easy to measure, depth is not. But we know depth (or lack of depth) when we see it.

For great creators, depth and length are closely related. Great creators realize they only need to go as long as necessary to make their point – but if their point has depth and nuance, it may take extra length.

When you go deep into something, it often requires more time on the front end (research, study, testing) but doesn't mean that the end product (the content) needs to be longer because of it.

Take my friend Kevin from Epic Gardening. His team is producing a series of videos called "Growing [plant], From Seed To Harvest."

These videos are very in-depth and take a LOT of time to produce (it takes months to actually grow radishes to a point of harvest).

The point of the video is to teach you how to grow radishes. And he boils that entire multi-month experience into a < 12-minute video.

The purpose is to transfer HIS knowledge to you as quickly and effectively as possible. This video goes in-depth about how to grow radishes, the process itself was long, but the final product is actually pretty short.

My friend Chenell spends ~25 hours per week researching her deep dives for Growth in Reverse – but you can read them in just a few minutes! That depth is evident from the specific examples and insight, but they're still written economically.

The benefit of going deeper

As you can imagine from that radish video, creating something with depth is harder to do. In a lot of cases, it requires more time and effort from YOU, the creator.

You can't really fake depth – when you try, it just feels like needless length.

As a result, there are fewer creators who go to a level of depth. As with all things, the harder it is, the fewer who do it. That is why we should be attracted to hard things – there is less competition and usually a higher reward.

And the benefits of depth compound. When your content requires depth, you are simply learning more. That learning compounds, allowing you to go deeper than most with less and less effort over time.

Short as a strategy

But there's another harsh truth you have to come to terms with:

Getting other people to pay attention to your work is hard – especially in the beginning.

It can feel brutally disheartening to put a lot of time into something, publish it, and fail to receive any meaningful outside interaction.

That makes depth an especially difficult challenge to take on. If you get the same (lack of) reaction to a piece with depth as you to do a piece without, why go to all the trouble?

Well, there's a chicken-and-egg problem here. It seems pointless to put a ton of time into creating something great if you can't seem to get anyone to pay attention. But if you want people to pay attention to your work, you need to create something worth paying attention to!

I do find that creating shorter content (referring to length) can be an effective strategy for capturing attention – especially if you're trying to get initial traction.

Shorter content has a lower barrier to entry for people to engage with it. It's less of an ask for someone to commit to watching a 4-minute video vs. a 30-minute video.

Most discovery platforms (social media) are even built to encourage (and distribute) shorter content.

Shorter content is a great "audition" for new audience. If you have a strong audition, they may choose to watch (or ask for) longer, deeper content from you too.

In podcasting especially, getting people to click "play" and experience your audio file is the toughest battle. And podcasting tends to lean more long-form – episodes are often an hour or even longer.

Asking someone to dedicate an hour of their day (they're only conscious for 16 of those) is a BIG ask. Even if people have positive intent and want to give it a try, they may delay until they have "more time."

The tradeoff of short as a strategy

There is a tradeoff with short as a strategy – your length (and depth) also play the role of filter for the consumer.

If you create longer, more in-depth work, you will attract (and retain) people who want to consume longer, more in-depth work.

If you create shorter work, you will attract (and retain) people who want to consume shorter work.

Neither is right or wrong, good or bad. But as you think about the business you're building and the work you WANT to make as a creator, it's important that you are attracting your desired audience.

If you want to attract a more thoughtful audience who crave depth, going short as a strategy may not work well long-term. It may help you build an initial audience, but as you go deeper, you may end up churning those people out and still starting from zero with your actual target.

Being short vs. feeling short

My target is for my work to "feel" short while providing depth and nuance.

When it comes to our YouTube channel, we shortened the videos not because we thought "shorter is better" but because we thought we could serve the purpose more efficiently.

Our videos got shorter because instead of focusing on the guest's entire journey, I started focusing on specific ideas that the guest could speak to. Instead of asking Paddy Galloway how he became a YouTube consultant, I asked Paddy to go in-depth into his pre-production process.

We also removed more redundancy. If a guest repeats themselves later in the episode, we take it out. Each minute of the video is new content that is serving the goal of the video.

I want people to finish watching a video and think, "Man, I could've kept watching that if there was more!" vs. leaving the video early because it starts to drag on.

No matter the objective length of your content, I think it can feel short if it is economical and moves the consumer through it quickly.

Conclusion

Shorter doesn't always mean better. Shorter doesn't always mean you'll more quickly attract your ideal audience.

Length and depth are two levers that you can pull as you build your creator business – and they should be pulled with intention.

While shorter work may be easier to find traction more quickly, you need to ensure that you're attracting the attention of your desired audience. Otherwise, it may not be a worthwhile trade.

In any case, regardless of the objective length or depth of your work, I would try to create the feeling of your work being relatively "short." Because as we know, time flies when you're having fun.

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Written by
Jay Clouse
I'm the founder of Creator Science. Through its newsletter, podcast, membership, and YouTube channel, Creator Science helps you become a smarter creator.
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