Why You Should Be Writing Long-Form Content
Delivering quality content in the form of short blog posts — around 500 words — has been a content marketing and SEO practice for many years.
Short blog posts allow companies to provide actionable information to readers without requiring them to spend too much time reading.
While there’s still a demand for concise content, forward-thinking companies are recognizing the need to balance this with long-form pieces, which tend to perform better when it comes to search engine rankings as well as conversions.
Blogging has been embraced as an inbound marketing staple for many businesses, which means there is more information than ever available to your audience, plus more generated every day.
With this new competition for your readers’ attention, it’s become necessary to create content that is truly valuable and unique. Therefore, creating content that’s much longer is necessary.
From a content marketing perspective, long-form content is way more work.
But, it’s a strategy that can pay off significantly.
Long-form vs. short-form content
Before we dive into the benefits of long-form content, let’s define the difference between long-form and short-form content.
Content around 1,200 words or less has traditionally been considered short-form content. This can include social media posts, short blog posts, and emails. Short-form content can be used to convey important information concisely.
By contrast, long-form content includes anything over 1,200 words. Long-form content can include downloadable resources such as e-books and whitepapers. More and more, it includes longer blog posts designed to provide more value to the reader. These blog posts can be 2,000 words or even longer.
How Google ranks content
Until recently, when inbound marketing was still relatively new, blog posts of 500 words or even less were often sufficient to keep your website at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs).
These types of short-form blogs were often a rehash of basic top-of-funnel content marketing that other websites were also producing.
As a result, many websites were turning out well-optimized but poorly written content that offered little true value to readers.
Users were searching Google for answers and finding these blog posts, which meant Google had to change how it evaluated content.
In its attempts to provide the best information possible for each search query, Google makes constant updates to its search algorithms. These changes have allowed Google to prioritize content that is more valuable and provide users with better search results.
The past several years have seen the introduction of SERP features such as featured snippets, “people also ask” boxes, and image packs.
While keywords are still important, well-optimized but generic content is now being crowded out of the SERPs by content that truly answers readers’ questions or helps them solve a problem — which is what inbound marketing is all about.
For content creators, this means that if we want our content to rank organically, it has to be better than all of the other content that’s optimized for the same search queries. Since the keyword(s) we are targeting has become more competitive, the need for valuable content has become critical. And one factor of quality is content length.
Benefits of long-form content
You might be wondering, does anyone actually read blog posts that are 2,000 words or more? With multi-tasking and short attention spans the norm for most people these days, will people read a blog that takes up 10 minutes or more of their time?
The truth is, they might not. But it’s always been true that most people scan web content rather than read it word for word. That’s why it’s important to learn and use web content best practices such as breaking up text with headers, writing with short paragraphs, and using lists where appropriate.
One example of a website that produces well-organized and easy-to-scan long-form content is Healthline. Their articles are often long, but written as numbered lists, with short paragraphs and a “bottom line” that offers a summary of each section.
Even if users don’t read your content word for word, long-form content offers several benefits that make it worth including in your content strategy.
Long-form content ranks better in SERPs
Google often considers long-form content to be more valuable and authoritative.
Take a look at the content that ranks best for any given search query in your industry.
Unless you’re in an ultra-niche industry, you’ll likely see that it’s longer, more authoritative, and more comprehensive content.
A 2016 study by Backlinko that analyzed one million Google search results found that longer content tended to rank higher in organic search results. The average length of content that appeared in first-page results was around 1,900 words.
Part of the reason that long-form content tends to rank better is that it naturally gives you more opportunity to include important SEO elements, such as evidence and supporting facts from authoritative entities.
Long-form content also encourages users to stay on your site longer, which could indicate to Google that they found your content useful.
Long-form content gets shared more often
If written correctly, long-form content contains more valuable information than a standard blog post.
It naturally generates more organic shares and backlinks.
An analysis by BuzzSumo found that long-form content such as case studies, infographics, and white papers is shared more than short-form content.
In fact, the longer the content, the more shares it received.
Content between 3,000 and 10,000 words received the most social shares.
The same study found that there were 16 times more short-form content (less than 1,000 words) being published than content with 2,000 words or more.
This reveals that a lot of companies aren’t making the effort to create long-form articles, which opens up an opportunity for those who are willing to do so.
Writing valuable content that’s at least 2,000 words long can make it easier to stand out from the competition.
Long-form content positions you as an authority
Long-form content allows you to take the reader from beginner to advanced information in one article.
It can also position you as an influencer in your space, producing the type of content they crave.
Using your industry expertise to provide this type of comprehensive information shows your readers that you’re an expert in your field.
And clearly demonstrating your expertise and authority is another ranking factor for SEO.
Long-form content leads to better conversion rates
If all of the above hasn’t convinced you to start producing long-form content, maybe this will: Long-form content has also been shown to generate more conversions.
An article on Search Engine Land demonstrates how companies managed to increase their conversion rates by more than 37% when they tested long-form content on their website.
Is longer content always better?
Before you overhaul your content strategy to turn everything into long-form content, keep in mind that length of content is only one measure of quality. Content that’s long just to reach a certain word count isn’t necessarily more valuable than shorter content.
Remember, we’re aiming for quality, not just length. The key to developing long-form content that converts is to answer your target audience’s questions — don’t create content that’s boring just for the sake of creating longer content.
Your content strategy should include short-form content where appropriate — such as social media, emails, promotions, company news, etc. — and long-form content where it makes the most sense.
How to add long-form content to your digital marketing strategy
So how do you determine when to use long-form content? Truly valuable long-form content requires significant time and effort.
Even highly experienced bloggers need to do research, find statistics, and possibly even conduct interviews with subject matter experts.
Depending on the amount of research required, it could take several hours or a couple of days to write a truly valuable piece of long-form content. This is why many companies have shifted their blogging strategy, decreasing their output from 2 or 3 short posts a week, to as few as 1 or 2 longer blogs per month.
Try these strategies for determining when and how to include long-form content in your digital marketing strategy.
Start with what you have
Historical optimization of your existing content is often a good starting point for creating more long-form content.
Take a good look at your Google Analytics. Many websites attract a large portion of their organic traffic from a few high-performing blogs. Look at these blogs and see if you can make them even better. Do they need to be updated? Can you add more information to make them more comprehensive and authoritative?
Content that isn’t performing as well may also provide an opportunity for improvement. Maybe you have several blog posts on a related topic that can be consolidated into one post that can be better optimized. If you do this, make sure to redirect your existing posts to the new one.
Look at your top queries
If you haven’t already activated Search Console for your website, do so immediately! Search Console provides a wealth of information regarding which search queries are resulting in impressions and clicks for your website. This can provide you with key insight into what information your target audience is looking for. Again, you may have a piece of content that’s generating impressions or clicks but isn’t as comprehensive or as valuable as it could be.
Look at what’s already ranking
When you’re attempting to create quality content for a specific keyword, it’s always a good idea to look at what’s already ranking high for that search query.
Is there a featured snippet? What piece of content is appearing in the first organic position? Take a good look at this content and see if you can create something better. In your expert opinion, is this content missing important information that should be included? Use your industry expertise to create something even better.
Determine your goal
Depending on where your content falls in the buyer’s journey, your long-form content may have different goals. Whether you want to generate newsletter subscriptions, sell a product, or build brand awareness, make sure you have a clear goal and call to action for each piece of content.
As you start to see the results of your long-form content, you’ll begin to develop a better sense of when to use long-form content and which topics warrant more attention than a standard blog post.
To summarize, creating long-form content may seem daunting at first, but if you make it a regular part of your content marketing strategy, you’ll soon see that it’s an under-utilized strategy that can help you increase your website traffic, generate more leads, and stand out from the competition.
She is the Director of Content for a medical marketing agency, and is certified in inbound marketing, content marketing, email marketing, site structure, and keyword research.