As digital marketers we strive to be concise with our content. After all, we know we’re competing for the attention of our multitasking audience. It’s easy to understand, then, why it might seem counterintuitive to switch to writing long-form content. What has changed?
The content provided in this blog will address long-form content—what it is, how it can benefit you and benefit the audience you aim to reach. The anchor links below make it easy for you to jump straight to the topic you wish to read, or you can choose to read straight through for a more comprehensive understanding of the topic,
Long-form Content/Frequently Asked Questions
- What is the rationale for writing longer content?
- What is long-form content?
- What are the benefits of writing long-form content?
- How do I write long-form content?
- Should I gate long-form content?
- Will my audience read long content?
Just a few years ago, inbound marketing was new. Because there wasn’t as much competition for keywords, it was effective to post a few short posts that ranked quite well in search engines. The rule of thumb for most blogs has been an average length of 600 – 800 words. Website pages typically have three or four paragraphs of copy with plenty of bullets.
When inbound marketing gained traction, suddenly there was more competition for those all-important keywords. Search engines became inundated with content. Similar to products crowding a marketplace, competition for keywords increased. When someone searched Google for a topic, they began to receive incomplete information. Why? Many inbound marketers were cranking out more information but not necessarily higher-quality content. Given Google’s focus on the user experience, the old rules for keyword ranking had to change.
Given the great increase in content that we describe above, Google made algorithm changes to bring quality content to the top of its search rankings. This means content that is designed for users, not search engines, and makes your site unique, valuable or engaging compared to other sites discussing the same topic. And what is a great way to create more quality content? You guessed it—long-form content.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t still a place for shorter content in the equation. After all, there are times when you want to communicate timely information on brief updates. The best approach is to have both in the mix.
“The new standard for long-form blog length has more than tripled from roughly 600 words to 2,000 words, and that length continues to expand up toward 10,000 words. Remember, it’s not enough to just write long content—it has to be well-written and include the keywords your audience is searching for.”
As a busy marketer, you are probably wondering, how am I going to find time to write this longer content? We understand that concern and will cover it later in this post. The good news is that long-form offers many benefits that make it attractive to your organization.
serpIQ conducted a study of the average length of the content in the top 10 results of search queries and found on average they were over 2,000 words.
As we mentioned above, Google wants users to obtain the best possible results when they search for a term. If you can consistently prove that you can deliver quality results, your business will be rewarded with improved ranking results. Other benefits include:
Writing long-form content gives you that much more opportunity to include keywords that will help your site rank in search engines. Google loves it when you not only use your main topic keywords, but other keywords that are related to your initial topic (think topic clusters). Another plus is that people are likely to spend more time on your site, which Google factors into its ranking algorithm.
See related article: Making the Case for Content in Your Marketing Budget
To test this out, Skoda Minotti Strategic Marketing converted a website service page for one of our clients from short to long-form. In year-over-year results for visits to all service pages on this site, both Unique Pageviews and Entrances (visitors who saw a service page first on this site) are both up near 100 percent in a little over a month since launch.
Via long-form content, you are able to position your business and brand as an authority on a specific topic—something that Google factors in as well. Again, we tested this out with another client by converting a website service page to long-form content. We also added an animated “How-to” video to that page. Similar to the example above, we achieved a 100 percent increase in year-over-year traffic to the main service page. In testing the “authority” factor, we saw an even greater spike of 861 percent by including a link to the video from that service page. In other words, Google views the client as a subject matter expert on this topic.
Increases Social Shares
Another benefit of using long-form content to establish expertise is that you will be able to increase social shares. Even if someone doesn’t have time to read your entire page, they will be much more likely to share a link to your blog or website on social media. A study by BuzzSumo revealed that content with 3,000 – 10,000 words is achieving the most average shares.
Increases conversion rates
Not everyone will read all of your long-form content. But you can bet that your visitors who are further down the sales funnel will.
“Long-form content can better position your company or firm for the final sell by providing thorough, high-quality information.”
Conversion Rate Experts, a website conversion rate optimization company, was able to grow the conversion rate for Crazy Egg, the web-analytics service, by 30 percent with the use of long-form content. It redesigned its site to answer its visitors’ questions and included a video.
They made it easy for visitors to go right to the question they wanted answered, similar to the way we have arranged this blog. While the redesigned page is 20 times as long, as Crazy Egg puts it, “You cannot have a page too long—only one that’s too boring.”
As promised earlier in the blog, let’s get back to the amount of time it will take. Yes, writing long-form content is going to take longer. However, you might want to test things out by simply looking at former posts that share a common theme but have not performed well. You can bundle these posts into one longer piece of content and link the individual posts to it.
Before you embark on your long-form content journey, you will want to have a strategy in mind to plot your path. Here are some useful tips to keep in mind:
- Have the end goal in mind
What metrics are you tracking? Are you trying to generate leads, sell a new service or product or just raise brand awareness? How will you define success?
- Select your topic
What are people searching for? Use keyword/topic research to see where you should focus your efforts. Take a look at the keywords your closest competitors are ranking for. Consider which issues are trending for your industries and be sure you are providing valuable content to your visitors.
- Develop your content
Use tools like the new HubSpot Content Strategy Tool to develop your content, and remember to review old blog posts that you might be able to bundle. Consider a blog that performed particularly well and expand that topic into a full-length guide. You can also take information from various sections of your site and pull them in to a main page to make it easier for your reader to see the information in one place. Take a look at webinars and other presentations you have for important sources of information.
- Make it visual
Focus on visual appeal by using graphics and images to break up your copy and support the points you are making. You can also link to other tools on your site (as we did above) to provide additional information while improving your ranking when your visitors click on that link.
- Need outside help?
Consider the need for outside help—do you need to bring in outside experts for interviews? Do you need freelance writers? Keep in mind that it’s all about quality content, so choose carefully when you need additional help. If you do bring in outside help, don’t forget to ask them to share the final blog as well. (Shameless plug: We can help with this!)
Many inbound marketers are accustomed to gating e-books, guides and other premium items. With gated content, you are asking your visitors to provide information before they can access your content. That’s great for rounding out your prospect lists and putting visitors into your sales funnel. You’ll find out exactly who is reading your content, which is helpful in targeting other useful information to them.
However, there will be a greater chance that you will lose many of your readers. When that happens, it becomes more difficult to build your subject matter authority, and you’ll have less opportunity for social shares.
“By ungating your content, you allow visitors to click around to find the information they need. As a result, you are able to drive organic traffic.”
If you’re more focused on building your business’ search engine ranking and brand authority, you may want to ungate much of your long-form content.
You can still gate content like valuable guides, checklists or demos—content that compels visitors to share their information because they are probably further along your sales funnel.
As part of your overall content marketing strategy, you will have to decide which blend makes the most sense for your audience and your goals.
This long-form blog is more than 2,000 words in length. Are you still reading it? Chances are, you might have used the anchor links to jump right to the topic that most grabbed your attention—and that’s fine. You want to make it easy for your reader to get the information they need. Perhaps they will read your entire blog—if not, they will be likely to come back to it later, visit other pages on your site and share the information on social media.
“Users often turn to Google to answer a quick question, but research suggests that up to 10% of users’ daily information needs involve learning about a broad topic. That’s why today we’re introducing new search results to help users find in-depth articles.” Pandu Nayak, Google Technical Staff
Long-form content does seem to convert one-time visitors to repeat visitors because they perceive value in the information they are reading. In my opinion, one reason long-form content is so successful is that a visitor willing to read through an entire blog is more engaged in the topic, so they are probably further along in the sales process than a typical visitor. As a result, they are likely to convert to a customer sooner than a typical visitor (another reason to keep the content ungated).
All of these actions will help build your authority for the topic you are writing about. As we’ve addressed in the section above, by breaking up your text with images, charts, graphics, links and videos, you will hold your audience’s attention much longer, and that’s really what long-form is all about.
If you have been struggling to rank for keywords and attract your coveted audience to your site, you may want to rethink your mix of content. Is there a healthy balance between short and long-form in your overall content marketing program? In addition to looking like an expert for the services and products you provide, you will attract new visitors through improved search engine results, and continue to build your brand authority.
Does your company need assistance creating long-form content that converts? Or are you looking for help developing an overall content strategy? For questions about long-form content, or any other content marketing information, contact Matt Seitz or Cindy Spitz at 440-449-6800.