How long is too long?

August 25, 2008

It’s generally assumed in the online world that web articles should be kept short – after all, web readers have the attention span of a gnat. Zainab Zakari at the New York Review of Magazines disagrees in an article that goes over studies on attention spans, actual site statistics and his own anecdotal evidence.

On the one hand, I think short and to the point is good: the bulk of my online reading consists of scanning articles and rarely making it past page 1. But on the other hand, when the time and place are right (usually a Saturday morning browsing the Globe), I’ve been known to spend a good 20 minutes to half an hour reading one long, in-depth article. So what do web readers really want – and what should you be providing them with?

Well, the answer is probably both. There’s no need to exclude long features from your site if you think people will want to read them, just because the prevailing wisdom pushes short web articles. But in highly scannable pieces (service or how-tos), where readers are looking for you to get to the point, it doesn’t hurt to cut the excess (especially in repurposed content) and make the story quick to read.

What are your online reading habits when it comes to length?

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