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What’s the right amount of content for your website?

Do people want to see more and longer articles on your website? Yes and it’s all about building trust and reducing risk, says internet psychologist Graham Jones

There’s a question I’m often asked: how much content is too much? Can we give too much information on our websites?

It is an interesting question because there is going to come a point when no matter how much information you add, the impact is negligible. But where is that tipping point between not providing enough and giving too much? Besides, if you give too much information there are the costs involved in producing that content, which might not get used. Getting the amount of content ‘just right’ clearly has financial benefits.

There are plenty of myths about online content. For instance, you can find advice telling you that the ‘best’ length for a blog post is 400 words. Yet when you look at data, you find that the most frequently shared blog posts are those OVER 3,000 words. Similarly, you get told only to produce videos of around 10 minutes for YouTube. Yet the data on viewing figures show you that some of the most watched videos are those over one-hour long.

The notion that you should only have short videos, or short blog posts is based on the theory that people have low attention spans and are too busy to be able to cope with lots of stuff to read or hours worth of videos to watch. This is all assumption. Several items of research point to the fact that people do like long content. Rather than providing too much information it would appear most businesses are not providing enough.

I also have a theory. The reason people don’t watch videos for long on YouTube or do not bother to read more than 400 words on blogs is because much of what we can see online is rubbish. There is such a massive amount of poor quality content, is it any wonder we have low attention spans for it and skip past short items of content and stop a video after 30 seconds?

Quality content gets read

The ‘trick’ to get past this issue is to provide good quality content. Indeed, Google is now highlighting long content in search results to let you know ‘here is a long article’. And the more they do that, the higher up the ranking such pages are emerging, indicating the popularity of such content through greater sharing. Far from preferring short content, people like long content. Sorry chaps, size matters.

But why? Partly it is to do with risk reduction. When people are interested in buying from your site or consider working with you, their subconscious brain is trying to assess what the level of risk involved might be. With only a short amount of information, working out the risk is harder. Hence long articles help people perceive lower risk and this increases your conversion rate.

Similarly, lots of information helps people trust you more because they believe your business must know a lot about the topic as you have written a lot about it or added hours’ worth of videos. In a sense people ‘weigh by the pound’ the amount of information you provide – the more you give them, the more they trust you.

Years ago I knew an executive in a pharmaceutical firm who in the days of printing out reports used to add loads of blank pages at the end. When challenged he would say they were for ‘notes’. But in reality it meant that all his reports had a greater ‘thud factor’ when they landed on his boss’s desk. Reports from his colleagues were thinner and didn’t have the same resounding ‘thud’ when they were dropped onto the desk. The result was that they were perceived as less valuable because they were thinner – even though many of his reports had fewer words….!

Online you can’t get a ‘thud factor’ but you do need to show lots of content and information. Far from providing too much information, most web businesses do not provide enough to have a virtual ‘thud’.

But, I hear you ask, where is that tipping point between writing enough and spending time and money on content and information that has no value and probably will not get read? Frankly, that tipping point is so far away from where most websites operate that it isn’t worth worrying about. So here’s a challenge – keep providing more and more information and add more and more content and then let me know the point where additional information had no impact. My bet is that it will be a long, long time before any of us can achieve that.

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