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Case Study: An Experiment with Short Form Content

Two days ago I wrote about the power of longer-form content on a blog, and gave a few examples of some posts that I’ve published this year that have been between 4000-7500 words that have done really well.

Today I’d like to talk about an experiment that I’ve been doing in the last week on Digital Photography School with short-form content.

The experiment started as an accident (as many of my better ideas do). I was surfing through some of my favourite Flickr photographers when I came across an image that grabbed my attention.

The image was of a portrait of little girl and it grabbed my attention partly because it was a beautiful shot, but also partly because it perfectly illustrated a post that I’d published on dPS recently on how sometimes NOT waiting for your subject to smile is the best time to photograph them.

The image was a creative commons licensed photo, and I toyed with the idea of adding the photo to the original post as an update – but as I pondered it, I wondered if maybe it was an opportunity to do something a little different.

On the spur of the moment I decided to set up a ‘page’ in the back end of WordPress to showcase the image. I added a link to the previously published article and then added a few more links to other portrait photography tips below the image.

Also because the content related to one of our eBooks, I put an ad for one of our eBooks in under the links too.

I also added a Facebook ‘like’ button to the page, and added a Pinterest ‘hover’ button to the image in the hope people might share it.

Here’s how the page looked:

Screen Shot 2013 12 19 at 2 53 04 pm

Why I Published it as a Page rather than a Post

You’ll notice that I mention above that I published this image not as a blog post but as a ‘page’ in WordPress.

I did this for a couple of reasons:

Firstly we had already published three posts for the day on the blog and I didn’t want to overwhelm my readers with too much content on the same day.

Secondly this was an experiment – a new type of post that I’ve not done before that was a simple image with a few links. I wanted to test it before rolling this type of post out onto the blog.

How the Content Was Received

I shared the post with our Facebook audience and tweeted the link to it to. As you can see in the screenshot – the post was fairly quickly ‘liked’ on Facebook over 400 times.

The post was liked on the Facebook share a further 300 or so times and was ‘shared’ there a further 36 times.

Traffic to the page was decent. The day I published it on our Facebook page, it received around 4000 visitors. Yesterday it had 250 more. Tonight it will be linked to in our weekly newsletter which should drive some decent traffic to it.

The above stats are pretty spot on average for a typical post on dPS – but what I did notice that was interesting about this piece was that visitors to it went on to view more pages on the site than a typical post.

Hence – the bounce rate on this post was pretty good. A typical post on dPS has a bounce rate of around 70% – but this particle piece of content had a bounce rate of 57%.

The shortness of the post and the fact that it was simply an image, a couple of sentences and some links for further reading meant a lot of people clicked those links and went on to read another 1, 2 or 3 posts on the site.

What I’d inadvertently done with this piece of content was to create a mini-sneeze page (a type of page that propels people deeper into the blog).

I found this fascinating and decided to keep experimenting with this type of post.

Evolving the Experiment

One of the things I immediately wanted to play around with was to change how the post looked.

You can see in the screenshot above that the image itself could only be shown at a relatively narrow size. The content area of our page template on dPS allows for a 600-pixel-wide image.

While this is big enough to illustrate an idea or show a picture in reasonable detail, it lacks punch. I also noticed that the content looks very short against the long sidebar that we had showing on that initial post.

Our sidebar was set up to show subscription options, a poll, ads, recent posts, etc, and while all this looked good on a typical post on the site – on this short piece of content it was two and a half times longer than the content!

Even as the post was going live on Facebook, I had already begun to talk to our developers to give them instruction on how I’d like to see a new ‘page template’ developed.

I wanted the sidebar removed and also wanted to add built in sharing buttons to replace the little Facebook button that I’d manually added.

Here’s the rough Skitch screenshot that I sent them:

Don t smile

You can see from this that I was already thinking about other possibilities for this type of content. Not only could I use these types of posts to showcase further reading and promote eBooks, but potentially they could be used as pages to get new subscribers to the blog.

While our developer got to work, I began to hunt for a few more ways to use this concept to see if we could test it further.

I rolled out my next test piece with a similar format of post – a great image that underneath had a strong call to read a single related post. Here’s how it looked:

Screen Shot 2013 12 19 at 3 00 22 pm

This one went up a notch in terms of reader response.

Facebook likes were quickly up over 1000 on the button on the page, the Facebook status update generated over 800 additional likes, 74 shares, and some great comments (including readers submitting their own images), and the page was visited by over 5500 people in the first 24 hours.

While the post only had one link in it to further reading, the bounce rate was down even further to under 50%.

It was around this point that my developers got the page template updated to remove the sidebars and add social sharing buttons.

The result of doing so was visually fantastic. Here are the two pages as they look now:

Screen Shot 2013 12 19 at 3 06 04 pm

Screen Shot 2013 12 19 at 3 05 43 pm

You can see them here and here.

The only pity in the change was that we lost the social sharing numbers that has already been counted with the old Facebook button – but in the scheme of things this was a small price to pay.

Since implementing these changes I’ve created three more of these pages:

It is too early to do proper analysis on these posts as tonight we send our weekly newsletter which drives a lot of traffic, but the initial results are promising and in the next couple of days I have a couple more experiments to try using this new approach.

To this point, my initial learnings are that this type of content is great for:

  • increasing page views per visit
  • showcasing older posts in your archives while still adding new content so that people who’ve seen the old stuff are not just being hit with the same old posts
  • creating shareable content (readers seem to be sharing these posts at pretty high rates)

I’ll update you on my next experiments with this type of content in the weeks ahead. To get updated when I do make sure you’re subscribed to our newsletter below:

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Brankica says:

    I absolutely love this. My question is if you published all of these as pages (not posts)?

  2. Julian Hooks says:

    Great experiment. People tend to get caught in the mindset that longer is better. Specially when shooting for organic search traffic and you want to rank for lots of long tail keywords. This is a nice reminder that content isn’t just words on the screen, it can be video, pictures, games, etc.

    Also the thought of using these short posts to bring life to old articles that have done well in the past is very clever.

  3. That’s very interesting! We’ll have to try that out sometime. I like the name you gave it, too — a “sneeze page.”

    I like the idea of it being something that revitalizes your older content without boring your active readers. It might do us better justice than simply dropping a link in a new post to an older one.

    Thanks for sharing your test study! I always like reading what you discover.

  4. Karen Main says:

    This is so informative and generous. Sharing your thought patterns and the evolution of an idea is incredibly valuable to me as your reader and inspires me to experiment more myself and then to share my finds. Thank you for not only helping me to be a better blogger but to also be a generous one.

  5. Freddy says:

    You offer so much insight with this blog post. I personally prefer long blog posts to short ones, but I will have to agree that when done right (as in the case above), short blog posts can deliver quite the punch. Rock on Darren and thanks for sharings. Happy holidays!

  6. Jade Craven says:

    Don’t necessarily create posts like that – create more sneeze pages and compile them into one ‘start here’ page. You’ve already gotten some awesome sneeze pages but I can see the potential to create more. Another suggestion is to give more context after the links and talk about how they connect to each other. Help people figure out which one of the many posts may be best for them.

    ;) Maybe even create a pinterest type of graphics (5 resources on x topic) and test how viral it goes on Pinterest? What you are doing now has a lot of viral potential.

    Love these type of posts, Darren.

  7. Tracey G says:

    The large image is a major factor in the success of this approach, much the same as high quality large (i.e. not thumbnail) images elicit strong responses in social media (Facebook, Twitter, Google + posts).

    It’s great to read about your experiment, especially your decision to publish these as pages, which makes them appear more ‘timeless’ than blog posts.

  8. Gary Woods says:

    This is a very interesting case study you got here Darren..will probably implement this type of experiment in one of our campaigns. Now I know the impact of large creative images have to the eyes of the reader.

  9. Talia says:

    How do people access the page? It’s not linked anywhere I can easily see on the homepage. Is it just through linking from other places like social media that people find it?

    • Darren Rowse says:

      yep – to this point it is through social and our newsletter. But there’s potentially to link to them on other posts too at some point.

  10. I love this concept! I had one question: do you think there are any potential Google issues due to the short length and, if so, would you recommend making these short pages noindex? Thanks!

    • Nina Amir says:

      I had the same question…Will they be downgraded by Google because they don’t have at least 300 words or will it not matter since they are pages, not post?

      Also, might you create a special tab somewhere to access these pages?

  11. Ina says:

    This is really interesting. We always talk about content being king (and writing more than 250 words etc), but we forget what content really means. Content is not just text, but the sum of your concept, copy, images, extra resources etc.

    I also like that, as you say, you can showcase older posts without boring your attentive and returning readers.

  12. Sandra says:

    Great experiment Darren. But how do readers find the pages on your blog? Posts are visible for all to see but if you have a lot of pages how can you show readers where to access them? Also how do pages compare with posts with regard to visitor numbers?

  13. Alexa says:

    I think that longer posts get higher SEO, but short posts are appreciated by readers. To my way of thinking, we’re writing for people, but not for machines. Moreover, it’s really difficult to be laconic and informative, that is why I think that bloggers who write short posts are more professional!

  14. kangbabas says:

    well, nice experiment. if we have a lot of page, i think the readers will confuse. how will they get access for them?

  15. Jason Leake says:

    My wife has so much archived content on her blog that she can just link to older articles from Facebook. But with a new blog that’s not the case. The high quality, long posts just take so much time to write! So for newer blogs this looks like an alternative, quick way to turn Facebook traffic into blog traffic, and if your blog is sticky, gain some followers in the process. I really like this idea; thanks for sharing!

  16. Anirudh says:

    Awesome Case Study Darren. I never expected Bounce Rate will be benefitted coz of Images. And by the way, can you give me the Flickr profile link of the photographer? Awesome Photographs. Cheers :)

  17. That is quite an interesting little project, Darren! I may have to give it a shot and see what happens :)

  18. JR John says:

    Hi there,

    Short content is almost like a hit & miss. Often, the viral stuff is short content – the trick is to make it super-special, and 100x better than any of the other short blog posts out there.

    Just my thoughts … :)

    Regards,
    JR John

  19. Hi, Darren Rowse

    I think short content is not good at all for SEO point views, well if any one having huge list like John Chow then don’t need to worry about it.

    Other than great article as well always.

  20. It’s a awesome Case Study Darren! As a new blogger i am going to practice on my blog.

  21. Hi Darren,

    Thank you for sharing this great case study. I will be using this tips immediately.

  22. styles media says:

    Thanks pro blogger

  23. waqar says:

    I did a similar experiement on my website , but that was completely unintentional and at the time when I didn’t knew how to make Labels and categories in blogger, (at that time I did knew how to make text bold in html just something darren might laugh at :) ).

    So that was all , all my pages are doing pretty well,in fact I don’t earn much from entire blog because it is a dumb but my pages are ranked higher in google search results. So I get pannies from my blog only 10$ a month just because of those pages,

  24. hi,

    Excellent Case Study, it will be useful for me because i am new to bloging and i will follow your steps on my new blog really thanks for the great share…!

  25. Sandra says:

    Hi Darren
    Do you think that pages get better ranking than posts? In my experience, they seem to almost automatically rise higher than many of my posts without the considerable effort that I have to put in for posts. But I am wondering if this is generally experienced by other bloggers. If so it would be an important thumbs up for pages.

  26. Scott says:

    Google actually tell you to create a page for each image in their user experience section of the image publishing guidelines:

    “Even if your image appears on several pages on your site, consider creating a standalone landing page for each image, where you can gather all its related information. If you do this, be sure to provide unique information—such as descriptive titles and captions—on each page. You could also enable comments, discussions, or ratings for each picture.”

    https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/114016?hl=en

  27. Mike says:

    Great idea. The recent change to the Facebook algorithm hit my site hard, traffic down 60%. This seems like a good way to increase engagement.

    Question – on Facebook, it seems you are posting as a link to the page. How to you “entice” Facebookers to click on the post/page link?

  28. Are you saying that pages get ranked better than posts?

  29. Very interesting study of short posts and great results. Thank you for sharing this and I will try some experiments of my own.

  30. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I opened this in my feed reader but I’m glad I did. I’ve been considering different types of posts sicne I’m a new blogger and I figure now is the time to experiment(not many people watching.) You’ve really shown how:

    Experimenting can be a great way to discover things about your blog and readership;
    Pictures really can speak louder than words!

    Thank you, Darren!

  31. short posts sometimes produce great result, I have seen it on my blog with short and sharp posts. But after Google Panda I stopped posting small posts.

  32. Erin says:

    This is my favorite post, so far, in my short time coming here. Just really clicks with me. Makes me want to experiment a bit myself!

  33. Adam Morgan says:

    How did your developers put your ideas into action? I really enjoyed this experiment and think the reason it did so well was because it was simple and provided a concrete example of a previously taught principle.

  34. Vishva Nath says:

    Thank you.awsome content and i think as a developer im developing my skills with your knowledge article

  35. Phillip Dews says:

    As a newish blogger of 4 months and with close to 50 blog posts to my name already I was thinking about adding new pages Darren!

    This is an awesome post buddy and is really going to help! I was thinking about updating some old posts (old as in 3 months ago) and adding them or linking to them in pages! My ides was to have a kinda resources page with topics like ebooks, hosting, domain names, you get the idea!

    Or I may just create a new page updating what I had originally said in my earlier posts! After all it’s more content hey! I do have a question though for you on pages! I may be missing a trick here but how do I add comments on my pages?

    I too am also using the Genesis framework but cannot find a way to add comments to pages! Thanks for the idea Darren am going to implement it on my blog now!
    Have a great day!
    - PD

  36. Otto S. says:

    Totally agree, people always seem to want 500 word articles but I’ve always found when looking at the top ten results for a keyword term that many have well over 1500 words on the page.

    I think that as long as the word count isn’t stretched out on purpose and the page contents are logically planned out that having a higher word count works.

    It does take much longer to write the pages, and sometimes it is a struggle to get over the normal 500 words, but since everyone seems to use 500 I like to be a bit different and fit as much good quality content onto a page as I can.