Nobody wants to read long pages of content on the internet, right?
Imagine you want to plant and grow a fantastic herb garden, yet you are a novice gardener. You go to Google and type in “how to grow a successful herb garden,” and you’re greeted with page one of the search results for that query. Would you be more likely to click on a link for “Expert Tips for your Herb Garden,” or “A Complete Beginner’s Guide to Growing a Fantastic Herb Garden.” The second one, right? Its name entails that this is a piece of content that will give you all the information you will need, urging you to click. This is why creating high-quality, long-form content is well worth the time and work you need to invest.
This is where long-form content becomes a pillar of your content marketing strategy.
What is Long-Form Content?
Long-form content is a staple of any great content marketing strategy. Long-form content is it an enigma to many people because there is no hard-and-fast rule on what exactly classifies a piece of content as being “long-form.” Most marketers simply look at the word count to determine if a piece of content meets the threshold for being classified as long-term content. Sometimes articles with over 800 words are considered to be long-form, and other times the threshold is as high as 1,800 words. The most common word-count threshold is 1,200.
While many marketing strategies are shouting “keep it short and sweet” from the rooftops, content marketing is most successful for any brand when they fuse a mixture of long-form and short-form (500-800-word range) content, catering to audiences that prefer one or the other, or both. Readers today desire meatier articles and blog posts, giving them a deep dive into a subject or topic and providing them with enough information that they can then converse knowledgeably to other people about the topic.
Remember, when considering long-form content as part of your content marketing strategy, it doesn’t have to be an article, listicle, or blog post. Readers love well-researched, guides or eBooks that can educate them about a subject of interest.
There’s no tried-and-true golden rule for word count that will guarantee a piece of content will see success, engagement, and shares. The reality is, content success depends on the level of quality of the content and if you are getting it in front of the right audiences where it will pique their interest.
Benefits of Long-Form Content
Crafting lengthier pieces of content allow you to go deeper into a specific topic, which benefits you in a few ways. First, it positions you as an expert on the topic, leveraging that industry expertise to your brand, which will now be positioned as an industry leader as well. Lengthier pieces are also loved by search engines, that reward high-quality, in-depth content with higher rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs).
Many marketers or thought leaders don’t grasp the point of putting in the time, energy, effort, and research to do a lengthy informational piece like this. Guides and eBooks can often run the gamut of 3,500+ words.
Additionally, long-form content is also beneficial because lengthy pieces like these tend to be what is known as “evergreen content,” or they at least have a longer lifespan than shorter pieces. Take the example above about a guide to herb gardening. This content will be just as relevant in four years as it is today, making it what marketers refer to as “evergreen content.” Additionally, because it is evergreen, it will continue to garner more and more click-throughs over an extended period of time, increasing its ranking on relevant searches, until it is in the first place.
Long-Form Content vs. Short-Form Content
High-quality content is the backbone of every great digital marketing strategy. Articles, blog posts, email campaigns, guides, eBooks, social media content, and on-page content are an integral part of your marketing efforts. However, creating unique content takes time, effort, experience, and research. It also requires an understanding of the underlying goals of your content marketing strategy and of the goals your target audience has so you can align your content with those goals.
One of the very first issues that arise is usually related to the ongoing short-form vs. long-form content debate. The first step is to understand what defines each one.
What is Long-Form Content?
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, long-form content is generally defined based on word count, with that word count ranging based on many variables. For our purposes, we will continue to say that 1,200 words is the threshold for a piece of content to be considered long-form. Remember, a good piece of long-form content contains a great deal of meaty information and is high quality; word count alone won’t make a piece of lengthy content any good.
Advantages of Long-Form Content
Long-form content works well when you are covering a topic that has established interest (enter keyword research to find out search volume for the chosen topic) and where the audience is seeking in-depth information. Some of the top advantages of crafting and publishing long-form content include:
- Increased Authority. Long-form content positions you and your brand as industry experts, enhancing your authority with your audience as a trusted and valuable source of information.
- More Backlinks. Well-researched long-form content that includes useful statistics, data or infographics will be desirable for other sites to quote and link back to their original source (your long-form content piece). These backlinks increase website traffic to your site.
- SEO Benefits. When the backlinks mentioned above come from quality, authoritative websites, search engines see your brand as a trusted authority figure, therefore increasing your search engine rankings and bringing in a wealth of fresh organic traffic to your site as a result.
- Less Competition
- Increased Social Sharing. A study done by the BuzzSumo team analyzed the average social shares of more than 100 million articles. It was found that blog posts with a word count between 3,000 and 10,000 garnered the most social shares at an average of 8,800+, while posts under 1,000 words garnered the fewest social shares.
- The Scanability Factor. Long-form content lets you utilize subheadings, infographics, imagery, bullet lists, and more to allow readers to scan the article to find exactly what they are looking for.
- Great for Repurposing. Long-form content is great for repurposing over time into many different forms and on many different platforms. A single infographic with 10-12 statistics from one case study can be repurposed 10-12 or more times and still feel fresh to readers.
When to Use Long-Form Content
Long-form content is ripe for including a wealth of details, data, research information, and more. It sees the most success in situations such as:
- Your audience is at the top of your marketing funnel and is not wholly familiar with your brand, products, or services
- You are selling high-priced products or products that ask for commitment, such as subscription services
- Your business or brand is new to the industry or you are rolling out a brand new product or offering, requiring extensive details
- Your desired audience is in the B2B realm
What is Short-Form Content?
Like long-form content, short-form content’s definition generally looks at word count first. This also varies, many marketers see short-form content as any piece of content under 1,200 words, while many times this number drops to 800 words, sometimes even as low as 500 words.
Benefits of Short-Form Content
Many brands choose short-form content at their main option due to its unique benefits. Some of the main advantages of using short-form content include:
- Less Time-Consuming. The top benefit garnered from short-form content is that it takes both less time to create and it takes less time for your audience to read through. You can create and publish multiple posts at 400 words in the same time it would take to create one piece of long-form content.
- Consistency and Frequency. Since it is less time-consuming to write short-form content, you can create and therefore the more frequently you can share content with your audience.
- Mobile-Friendly. Short-form content is great for brands with audiences that tend to connect with them on a mobile device. Mobile audiences are more likely to click-through and read a shorter blog post than they are to download a 4,500-word eBook.
- Better, Easier Engagement. Short-and-simple posts are more likely to pique your audience’s attention, leading to more engagement including social shares, comments, and ongoing interaction with your brand.
When to Use Short-Form Content
Short-form content is simply the optimal approach for certain brands. It works best and sees the most success in situations such as:
- The audience you want to reach is generally familiar with your brand
- You don’t need to waste time providing extra details
- What you are promoting is generally inexpensive and/or most people reading will already have a basic knowledge about it
- Your content is directed as existing customers or established leads
Your short-form content is designed to serve as ad copy
8 Simple Steps to Creating Great Long-Form Content
Step One: Set Goals
After hearing all the benefits you can achieve by creating well-crafted long-form content, you’re likely ready to get started adding your next piece of lengthy content to your website. The first thing you need to do is to figure out exactly what your goals are from creating that piece of lengthy content. Remember, it is a good deal of time investment and work, so ensure you have specific goals in mind before jumping in. For example, do you want to position your brand as an industry expert or grow brand awareness? Do you want to grow your email list? Do you want to generate tangible leads and site traffic? These goals help shape the project and will help you develop key performance indicators (KPIs) to track the success of that content. These goals also include outlining the audience that the content will appeal to.
Step Two: Carefully Select Your Topic
The most important step is to choose a great topic that will appeal to the audience you are trying to reach, position you as an industry expert, and centers around a topic with related keywords that have a high volume of related search queries already. A great way to find a good topic is to do some keyword research to find out what your target audience is already looking for information about.
Step Three: Determine Your Marketing Strategy for the Content and Consider Collaboration
You put a lot of work into your piece of long-form content; now how will you make sure it gets the maximum reach and lifespan. This is where you create a detailed and creative strategy to market, share, and repurpose your content on a variety of platforms over time. This is what is called a drip content marketing strategy and it can greatly extend your content’s lifespan and reach more audiences and increase your chances of every content marketer’s dream: going viral.
Your marketing strategy for your long-form content should include inbound and outbound marketing strategies. Outbound methods include paid approaches such as ads, PPC campaigns, email marketing, paid social media ads, etc. Inbound strategies would include your SEO work to promote long-form content, organic social media marketing, influencer marketing campaigns, and on-site marketing. You may also want to consider collaborating with another brand that complements yours to see if you could repurpose the content as a guest post for their blog or come up with another creative way that you could collaborate with a brand that would benefit from the inclusion of your expert content.
Step Four: Don’t Forget About Design
The most successful pieces of long-form content are expertly designed. They have a great content flow, include calls-to-action (CTAs), social share buttons, attractive overall design, and an email or newsletter sign-up form.
Step Five: Determine the Writer
You need to decide who will be the actual author of the piece of content. You have three general options:
- Write the piece yourself
- Utilize someone on your team – typically someone in your marketing department –as the author, working under your guidance
- Hire a quality freelancer and provide them with a detailed outline of what you are looking for
Step Six: Write!
Now that you’ve fleshed out the first four steps, you’re ready to sit down and get started. Keep a list of your goals handy while you write. It also greatly helps to create an outline before you start. The most successful long-form content is broken up into sub-topics (such as this one) that make it easier for readers to digest the content. Sub-headers also make it easier for readers to return to portions of the content that were particularly interesting or that they want to flag to do further research on.
Step Seven: Add Engaging Imagery
Long-form content without engaging, useful imagery can just become boring, similar to reading a lengthy newspaper article. You’ve surely heard the phrase, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” This saying is relevant to the digital space, especially regarding lengthier content. Increase engagement by making sure the media (image, video, chart, etc.) fits well with the subject of the article. Imagery can set the tone for the article and increases share potential. There are many simple tools out there to create custom imagery that requires zero design knowledge. An original image tends to perform better and increases your chance to grab more backlinks when your content is shared by others.
Step Eight: Ask Yourself, Gated or Ungated?
After you’ve completed an amazing, interesting, expert piece of long-form content, you need to ask yourself if you want to publish the content as gated or ungated. Simply put, this means, do people who find the content via search engines or other promotional methods need to give you something to access your content? Typically, this is just a name and an email address. However, some pieces of exceptionally desirable content ask for as much as a phone number. Be aware that making a phone number mandatory will significantly impact the number of people willing to access your content.
Long-form Content Case Study
Does long-form content work to increase traffic, links, leads and organic search reach? Take a look at this case study by our team that dives deeper into what happened when we turned our long-form content strategy on ourselves.
Conclusion: Long-Form Content Is Your New Best Friend
Now that you’ve delved into the world of long-form content, you can see the benefit of including it as a pillar of your content marketing strategy. However, be sure it is just one pillar, as you’ll need multiple pillars to give yourself a strategy to stand on. A mix of long-form and short-form content generally appeals to audiences who have a preference or who enjoy a mix of content. In fact, the famous Quartz Curve shows that content over 800 words in length and content under 500 words in length perform the best, leaving content between 500-800 words scraping the bottom of the barrel for readership. In conclusion, keep your content high-quality and make sure to weave in engaging, well-researched long-form content that is ripe for search engines and audience engagement.