January 19, 2017
There’s historically been a lot of buzz surrounding content length: how many words does content need to contain to go viral?
While it’s an accepted truth that long-form content converts better than shorter content, how long does that long-form have to be? Will 1,200 words do the trick? 1,500? 2,000?
If you’re a follower of Buzzsumo, you’ll know that the company published a report in 2014 that lent some serious backup to the latter. In fact, their report says that the longer the content, the better.
Here’s what you need to know.
Long-Form Content is the Golden Child of the Internet
Given the rapid-fire nature of the web, you may think that short-form content would be the way to go. After all, more people are reading content on their phones than ever before, things like live-streaming video are becoming massively popular, and it seems like the world, in general, is trending toward a quick-update style of online content.
And, in some cases, that’s true.
In many, though, long-form content is where it’s at. According to the Buzzsumo report, content containing between 3,000-10,000 words got the most shares out of all the content they analyzed, with a whopping 8,859 total average shares.
Check out this OkDork graphic, to see what I mean:
Courtesy of: OkDork.com
Surprised? If so, you’re not alone.
While a significant portion of the Internet is indeed racing to find information and get on with it, many readers want to sit down and dig in, and that’s exactly what long-form content like this allows them to do. In addition to being more valuable (a higher word count means more space to insert useful information), these articles and blog posts are also much rarer, which makes them stand out naturally. When compared with short-form articles with less than 1,000 words, there were 16 times fewer pieces with 2,000 words or more.
Finally, there’s some evidence to support the fact that even Google likes long-form content. While the search engine hasn’t specified a “preferred” content length, their Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines state that, to rank well, a page must have a satisfying amount of high-quality “main content.”
With these things in mind, it’s clear that writing long-form content can benefit your brand and your readers all at once.
The Future of Content is….Long
OK, so the Google Gods love long content, and your readers do, too. But what’s the future look like? According to Steve Rayson at Buzzsumo, it also lies in long-form. Long-form, and a lot of it.
His reasoning relies on The Washington Post. Recently acquired by Amazon mogul Jeff Bezos, The Washington Post has undergone some serious changes in its content strategy in recent years. Today, the publication pushes out roughly 1,200 posts each day. Seem excessive? Not so fast – the publication’s online visitors have ballooned by 28 percent in the wake of this massive increase.
And The Washington Post isn’t alone: between 2008 and 2014, the number of pages Google indexed had ballooned from 1 trillion to 30 trillion.
So, yes, people are publishing more content, but how long is that content?
While there’s no doubt that much of it is short, one-off material, much of it is much more in-depth. For example, scholarly journals publishing peer-reviewed material account for 2.5 million new posts each year. This feeds into what many researchers (most notably and first Chris Anderson, the editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine) are calling “The Long Tail Theory.”
The Long-Tail Theory essentially states that, in order to gain long-lasting traction, companies will do well to stay away from a focus on content that wracks up a bunch of quick gains (short, snappy, trending pieces, for example) and focus, instead, on creating content that caters to a specific niche. This is where long-form content comes in (try writing a 10,000 word piece on Justin Bieber’s new haircut). It’s also where ultra-niche sites and publishers, like Amazon itself, come in.
While it’s true that this long-tail content takes more time, money, and effort to produce, the gains can be massive.
How People Share Long-Form Articles
When you start getting into reader share patterns, things get a little murky. Yes, people share long-form content, but isn’t short-form stuff (think Elite Daily and BuzzFeed) the stuff that goes viral? Not quite. In fact, the New York Times discovered that longer articles were significantly more likely to be shared via email than shorter posts.
To understand why this is true, it’s important to understand, once more, the Long-Tail Theory. While there’s no shortage of people dying to share startled cat videos, there are also countless niches that enjoy spreading informative, challenging, interesting content around to their friends.
What’s more, the publishers who are routinely publishing long-form content (with 2,000 words or more) are rare, and readers tend to know a good thing when they find it. As such, the content from these companies is likely to be shared around the web on a much more frequent basis.
While it may still be wise to keep social posts to a minimum (100-characters is the optimal number for a Twitter post, for example), long blogs (with more than 1,500 words per post), earn 23 percent more Facebook likes and 68 percent more shares on Twitter. This is backed up by our research (check out our full content length infographic here), and research from Buffer (who found that posts with a read time of seven minutes, which equates roughly 1,600 words, perform better than shorter pieces).
What’s more, the majority of pages that rank in the top 10 slots of Google’s SERPs contain 2,000 words or more, and search queries containing eight words or more have ballooned by (wait for it) 34,000 percent.
Case in point? Long-form content is where it’s at – in 2016 and beyond.
How to Make Long-Form Content as Valuable as Possible: X Tips
One of the reasons that long-form content tends to rank so well is that it does a better job of providing quality indicators for searching engines, which helps bump it up in Google’s SERPs. But how can you make long-form content even stronger? Here are some tips:
1. Add images to your long-form content
Long-form content performs very well, but 10,000 words is a lot, and adding images can help break it up and make it more compelling to readers. According to Buzzsumo’s 2014 report, content containing at least one image earns twice as many Facebook shares than content without any images. Check out the visual below:
Courtesy of: OkDork.com
With this in mind, insert images throughout your long-form content. It will help make it more interesting for readers and will provide to underscore the critical elements of your posts. It will also enhance people’s willingness to share it online.
Not sure where to get a great visual? Here are a few suggestions.
- Check out a stock photo site. While stock photos are notoriously jabbed for being cheesy, there are some great, free stock photo sites out there that provide useful material. Check out our guide on the topic to find one that works for you.
- Take a screenshot. Screenshots are incredibly valuable in long-form content because they allow the reader to see what you’re seeing. Especially critical any place you intend to provide instructions or demonstrate a process, screenshots clarify potentially hard-to-understand content and make it easier for people to connect with it.
- Input a graph. Graphs (like the ones in this post) are a great way to help people visualize information. Either create one of your own or pull one from a reputable source – just be sure to include attribution!
2. Use emotion to grab readers
While it may seem like feeling doesn’t have much to do with top-performing blog posts, the opposite is true. Buzzsumo reports that articles that inspired awe earned 25 percent of the total shares, articles that inspired anger earned six percent, pieces that were amusing or made people laugh received 32 percent, and those that inspired joy earned 14 percent of the total shares.
Surprised? That emotion won two percent of total shares.
With this information in mind, it’s easy to see how important appealing to emotion can be for content performance, and why it’s so critical to incorporate it into your material.
To understand how emotion impacts the performance of content, let’s talk about why people share content in the first place. The New York Times has some information for you on this one. According to a survey conducted several years back, people share content for the following reasons:
- To share valuable content information with their friends
- To help people understand a person’s values
- To build connections with other people
- To fulfill a need to be involved in the world
- To spread the word about causes
All of these are emotional reasons for sharing, and, when you use them correctly, they can have a significant positive impact on the success of your content overall. With this in mind, position your content so it caters to a reader’s emotions. It will help boost shares and improve the success rate of your material.
3. Make it a list post
List posts are amazingly popular, and, aside from infographics, they receive more shares than any other type of content online. While it may be tough to understand how you can transform a 10,000-word piece into a list post, it’s critical to remember that the entire thing doesn’t need to be written in list format.
Instead, break your content up into segments, and include a few lists throughout. This prevents fatigue (“187 Good Reasons to Wear Nikes This Season!”) and helps maintain your readers’ interest throughout the piece.
Finally, and most importantly, lists make long-form content easier to read and more approachable, which makes it less intimidating for people who may not be familiar with the long-form.
4. Back yourself up
People want to share content they can trust, and positioning yourself accordingly is a great way to enhance the visibility of your content. To make your content more trustworthy, follow these tips:
- Include a byline. According to Buzzsumo’s report, content that contains a byline earns 42 percent more shares in Google+. With this in mind, include an author byline at the top of your content, and a short bio at the end.
- Use credible sources. Reliable sources (with a DA score of higher than 50) are essential to the quality of your online writing. Pull data from them to back up important claims and help yourself stand out online.
- Organize your content accordingly. Content that is organized correctly (broken up into distinct segments) performs better than large, intimidating walls of text. With this in mind, break your content up to keep it from feeling overwhelming.
5. Re-use your old content
Once you’ve written a whopper post, don’t let it stagnate at the bottom of your blogroll forever. Instead, re-use it as time goes on. By either re-promoting it or repurposing it entirely, you can gain more reads and keep the traction of your long-form content going. While there’s no hard-and-fast information for how “old” content has to be before you re-promote it, OkDork recommends waiting at least a week, and I tend to agree.
Don’t forget to re-promote periodically for best results.
Long-form content is king, and it shows no signs of slowing anytime soon. When you write long content, it appeals to your reader base and helps you rank more efficiently in Google. It also helps you position yourself as a leader in your industry and provide more value to your followers.
Julia McCoy is the founder of Express Writers, a serial content marketer, and bestselling author. A dedicated self-starter since an early age, by age 13, she'd written a 200-page book and taught herself Internet marketing. At 19, Julia dropped out of college and a nursing degree to follow her passion, teach herself online writing, and start her agency. Within two years, Express Writers grew by 400 percent, and today, Julia’s agency serves more than 5,000 clients. Julia is a bestselling author, the creator of The Practical Content Strategy Certification Course, host of the Write Podcast and Twitter Chat #ContentWritingChat. She just published her second bestseller, Practical Content Strategy & Marketing, November 2017.