Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Long vs. Short Articles as Content Strategy

Is it better to write long vs. short articles ...

"Information foraging shows how to calculate your content strategy's costs and benefits. A mixed diet that combines brief overviews and comprehensive coverage is often best.

How much information is enough? How much is too much? And, most importantly, how much information is optimal?

Information foraging gives us a way to formally model user trade-offs in deciding how much to read on your website. More precisely, diet selection is a modeling tool that tells us what food animals will eat and what articles users will read. In both scenarios, animals and people decide what to consume in a way that optimizes their benefits relative to the costs.

For example, say a forest is inhabited by large and small rabbits. Which will the wolf eat? The obvious answer might seem to be "large rabbits" because they provide the biggest benefit in terms of filling the stomach. But if the big bunnies run faster and are harder to catch, the benefit decreases. Much better to eat lots of small tasty bites if tiny bunnies are easier to nab.

So, basically, the wolf must eat more calories than it expends pursuing prey. The real question is not which prey provides the most food, but how you get the most food relative to the cost of chasing it down.

The cost/benefit ratio is what matters, not the benefit alone.

Exactly the same is true for informavores. A long article might contain more information, but if it takes too long to read, users will abandon the website and read shorter, easier pieces elsewhere.

Cost/Benefit Metrics for Reading
To formalize the model, we must quantify the costs and benefits of reading different articles.

Cost is easy to model: we calculate it as the amount of time it takes to read an article. For an intranet, this would be a direct cost in dollars, because we're paying employees for every minute they spend reading stuff during working hours. For a website, time is a more indirect cost, because users don't get paid to surf the Web. But still, life is short, and you only have so many hours in the day. Even if users don't get paid, they're still conscious of their time and don't like wasting it.

Benefit can be modeled by hypothetical benefit units that represent whatever value users get from online information. For a B2B user researching a company purchase, the benefit units translate directly into dollars, because they represent the extent to which the company gets a better deal or decides to buy a better product as a result of that user's time on the Web.

For home users, benefits might also have a dollar value. For example, if you're looking into buying airline tickets, the benefit of checking one more site or one more alternate departure time would be the average savings on the airfare that resulted from using a richer data set to decide which ticket to buy.

If people are browsing the news or reading an entertainment site, the benefit units would represent the amount of enjoyment they got from each page.

Example: Long vs. Short Articles
Let's work through an example, using the following values for our cost-benefit metrics:

* Short articles:
o 600 words, meaning a cost of 3 minutes to read (assuming a reading speed of 200 wpm)
o 7 benefit units gained from reading each article
* Long articles:
o 1,000 words, meaning a cost of 5 minutes to read
o 10 benefit units gained from reading each article
* Finding a new article to read: 1 minute

The following chart shows how the accumulated benefit units increase as a user keeps reading short articles (blue curve) or long articles (red curve):"    (Continued via Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox)    [Usability Resources]

Benefit Analysis - Usability, User Interface Design

Benefit Analysis

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