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“This blog post is too long.”
“We need to cut this down to 500 words.”
“Make this shorter. Maybe split the blog post into two?”
As a social media manager, I’ve heard these comments numerous times before. Many marketers are biased against long-form content. “Less is more,” they claim. “People have short attention spans.”
It is true that being concise is often a good thing. That’s why Twitter is such a hit: It forces us to distill our thoughts and communicate only what’s truly important.
But having short content for the sake of having short content is not valuable…and it’s not a good content strategy. Brevity shouldn’t come at the price of completeness.
The rise of Big Content
In the past year, several well-respected SEO and marketing folks have been advocating for “big content.” And when people say “big content,” they often mean long-form content. But it’s worth noting that marketers and analysts are using the term “big content” differently:
- Craig Roth from Gartner says big content is “a term that helps highlight the subset of Big Data related to the less-structured side of it. Big Content isn’t new or different than Big Data; rather it helps focus on uses of Big Data for unstructured information for the kind of folks that think the Library of Congress is filled with ‘content’, not ‘data.'”
- Contrast this with this definition from Moz’s Dr. Peter J. Meyers’ definition. He says big content is the type of content that takes time and effort, that breaks the mold and that talks about big concepts. In other words, he’s talking about pieces of content—either a blog post, an interactive infographic, an ebook, etc.—that is well-researched and that is often (but not always) lengthy.
Big content should serve a higher purpose in your company than just to increase pageviews. In this post, my focus is more aligned with Moz’s definition. I’ll cover why long-form content should be part of your content marketing mix. (To be clear, I am not advocating that you stop creating shorter blog posts. The point of this post is to highlight why creating long-form content in addition to shorter pieces is a great idea.)
Why marketing & SEO experts are recommending longer content
Leading marketing experts are now recommending long-form content over short-form content. Here’s why:
Link building and SEO: In 2012, Moz found that “there seems to be a correlation between longer content and links.” Link building today is less about spamming people to please link to you, and more about putting your resources into longer, well-researched content.
More social media traction: Neil Patel found that “if a post is greater than 1,500 words, on average it receives 68.1% more tweets and 22.6% more Facebook likes than a post that is under 1,500 words.”
Better conversion: Still according to Neil Patel, longer content “converted better when there was more content… even when the form fields were way below the fold.” He adds, “We had the same experience with Crazy Egg: the long form version of the homepage converted 30% percent higher than the short version.”
Longevity. A well-researched piece of content almost always naturally become evergreen. The content becomes useful for a longer period of time.
Examples of long-form content
To hone in on what I mean by long-form content, here are a few examples:
- The Marketer’s Guide to Infographics is a mega-post I co-wrote for my employer. It continues to get good traffic and remains one of our most popular blog posts a few months after publication.
- The Beginner’s Guide to Social Media is a comprehensive resource from Moz about social media marketing. It’s available online and in PDF. According to Topsy, the guide has been tweeted at least 1,800 times.
- The Secret to Creativity, Intelligence and Scientific Thinking is a well-researched blog post that shows why being able to make connections is the key to creativity. It starts off by giving interesting facts about creativity before quoting other people and then providing some actionable tips.
10 steps to creating long form content that Google loves
How do you actually create long-form content? I recommend following this process:
- Brainstorm a topic.
Think big ideas instead of how-tos. You want a subject that is meaty enough so you can do a deep dive on it. While instructional content is equally useful, it doesn’t usually lend itself well to long-form content.
Also, consider topics that will have lasting effects in the future. Given that long-form content takes time, you might as well as pick a topic that will be valuable for a long period.
- Consider your target audience.
Create a persona of the person (or persons) you are trying to reach. Are they part of the C-suite? Are they students, marketing pros, or perhaps fashionistas?
Once you have a clear idea of your target audience, list all the questions they are likely to ask about your topic, and then structure your piece to answer those questions.
Do a quick Google search to see what type of content has already been written about your subject. The related searches is a good indicator of gaps that need to be fulfilled. Check out Quora to see which questions are not answered yet, and use those as inspiration.
- Think sub-headlines in addition to headlines.
Continue to organize your content. Write an outline to create a hierarchy using sub-headlines to support your headlines. This will be useful for readers too since it will help visually break the page up.
- Allocate time to research.
The virtue of having an outline is that it focuses your research. You know the topic and subtopics that you’d like to cover, so it will be easier to peruse Google, blogs and news articles for information. (You might even use Wikipedia—just be sure to double check the source.)
Expect the research process to take a while. After all, you can’t write a meaty blog post/article/ebook without taking the time to do research.
- Write and edit.
Now comes the actual work.
With your outline, you know the major points you’d like to make. And through your research, you know the nitty-gritty that you need to cover. You have the building blocks to start writing.
Expect your first draft to be messy. The first version of your introduction will suck; don’t let that discourage you. With longer content, I like to come up with the main body first—usually a list—before writing the introduction and the conclusion.
Once you have a version you’re happy with, get a colleague to review your work. That, or leave your work for a while and then come back and edit it with fresh eyes.
Be a ruthless editor. Check for grammar but also for content and flow. Look out for jargon. Communicate clearly: write for the grade 5-level reader.
- Format to make your post easier to read.
Make your work easy to read. Use bullets and numbers for lists. Bold important points. Italicize titles.
Aim to make the content more scannable: after all, many people will probably read your content using their smartphones or tablets.
For articles that are more than 2,000 words, consider having a mini-table of contents, using anchor texts to link to critical sections of the page.
- Use multi-media.
Long-form content isn’t just about text. Use multi-media to make your post more interesting.
Embed Slideshare presentations. Use great images. Illustrate a point by using an infographic or a video. You can even embed a tweet, a Facebook post, a Pinterest image or a Google+ update. These are all great ways of using visuals to make your content more visually appealing.
- Link to other posts.
While doing your research, you’ll come across articles, news items and blog posts that will help support or that will complement your points. Share the love and link to these resources.
Be generous about linking to others: whenever you’re presenting data or whenever you’re borrowing from someone else’s idea, don’t be afraid to link to them. If you’re worried about losing your readers, you can always format your link so a new window or tab is opened when people click.
- Create a promotion plan.
Make no doubt about it: Your long-form content will not gain traction if you don’t promote it. People will not come just because you’ve built it.
Post to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and other social networks. Reach out personally to some people (the so-called “influencers”) who might be interested in the post. Tag people on Twitter and Google+ if you’ve mentioned them in the article.
Put it on your website’s homepage. Create an “ad” on your blog to direct people to this content.
Consider investing in a content promotion strategy using owned, paid and earned media.
Source: Search Engine Watch
Give your content some time to flourish, but after several months, be sure to evaluate your efforts. How many people tweeted about it? (Topsy can tell you.) How much organic traffic is it pulling? (Google Analytics can help.) How many comments does it have? If you included CTAs in the article, how many readers did the action you’ve asked them to do?
More resources about long-form content
If you want more information about long-form content, I recommend the following:
- How to Write the In-Depth Articles that Google Loves
- Is Long Form Content Worth The Investment?
- Investing in Big Content Assets for Big Returns
Just give long-form content a try…
Producing quality long-form content requires time, effort and strategy. But it’s worth the effort. At the very least, I suggest trying it once a month (perhaps tying it in with a broader marketing campaign), and evaluating how it’s helping your content marketing efforts.
What do you think of long-form content? And what are the best practices for writing longer content? Leave your comments below.