September 23, 2016
If you’re familiar with the world of online content creation, you know that there’s a longstanding debate about which content type is more worthwhile: long-form or short-form.
For years, so-called “content experts” have been touting the benefits of short-form content, saying it’s easier to digest and more welcoming for readers.
Unfortunately for these “experts,” and for the people listening to them, this is just plain wrong.
While short-form content has its place in the grand scheme of a content strategy, it’s not ultimately the go-to that people hope it is.
Instead, long-form content is where it’s at.
Preferred by search engines, more valuable to readers, and more authoritative for your site, long-form content is the content that’s truly worth the time it takes to create it.
Read on to learn more.
What is Long-Form Content?
Long-form content is generally described as content that clocks in at 1,200 words or more.
While short-form content (of about 1,000 words or less) has its pros (easier to skim through, easier to chock full of images, and a more direct way to get to the point of a piece), long-form content has proven, time and time again, that it’s more valuable than its short-form counterparts.
Why is Long-Form Content Better?
While short-form content may be ideal for people who want to skim a piece, long-form content allows the time and space needed to really dive into the meat of a topic which, in turn, makes it ideal for interested, value-seeking readers who want relevant information.
What’s more, long-form content offers the added benefit of producing brand authority, which helps readers and would-be customers perceive a brand in a better light.
When customers see a brand as more authoritative, they’re generally more willing to share, like and backlink to said brand’s content, which can help improve the brand’s online visibility and boost its rankings.
Finally, long-form content also offers some significant SEO benefits. Because long-form content is, well, longer, it offers more space for the natural inclusion of keywords, which can help a piece rank for certain search queries and appear on the front page of Google’s SERPs.
Because of all of these things, long-form content is highly recommended for any brand that wants to craft relevant, sought-after, data-driven material that appeals to a target audience.
Our Experience with Long-Form Content
Long-form content works. I know this because we rely on it for 100 percent of our content lead generation. Across five years, we’ve been consistently publishing about two to five blogs weekly — a minimum of two per week, no matter what. In the past 12 months, no blog has been less than 1,500 words. We include imagery with unique alt and title tags, a well-written, original meta and title tag each time. The resulting rankings have been incredible. We outrank all our competitors by six percent visibility on average.
Check out the first page rankings we have for some hot keywords (screenshot SEMrush):
And, we’ve even been increasing in the rankings by optimizing with fresh content and new meta descriptions/titles on long-form content in the past month:
Neil Patel has actually recommended us as the one content agency that does what they say in terms of creating content that works, and I credit much of this success to our dedication to long-form content.
How to Excel at Long-Form Content: 7 Essential Tips
While long-form content has many benefits, you have to learn how to create it. There’s a definite learning curve involved with long-form content, but these seven tips are just what you need to dive in (successfully) with both feet:
1. Define your goals before you start
Without a goal, long-form content risks rambling or losing a reader’s attention.
Because of this, it’s essential to define your goals before you start writing. For example, do you want your content to educate? To drive conversions? To point readers back to your website?
No matter what your goals may be, defining them before you get to work is an effective way to ensure that your article performs as well as possible and that it’s well-received by your readers.
As a general rule, you should have the following three questions answered before you sit down to write:
- Who is this content targeted at?
- Why am I writing the content?
- What will “success” look like for this content?
By taking the time to answer these three questions now, you can save yourself plenty of time, stress, and hassle down the road.
2. Be careful when deciding on your topics
Long-form content requires a high level of research and expertise, so it’s important to choose a topic accordingly. Contrary to what some people believe, it’s virtually impossible to create good long-form content on a topic that’s too broad, too vague, or too boring.
With this in mind, choose a topic that offers you plenty of opportunity to explore within it. If you’re having trouble deciding on a topic, take a look at places like your site’s Q&A section, long-tail keywords you have yet to target, or the long-form content your competition is targeting.
Once you’ve decided on your topic, create a rough outline that helps you determine how you’ll link the topic back to your company or sales message, and what you’ll cover within the long-form content.
While this may seem like an unneeded step, it can work wonders toward helping you develop quality long-form content that will turn out to be well worth your time and effort.
3. Decide how you will deliver your long-form content
The delivery method you choose for your long-form content is almost as important as the content itself, and it’s essential to make this decision early in the process.
One critical question to ask yourself when developing your long-form content is if you’ll offer it as gated or ungated. Gated content requires users to pay, subscribe, enter an email, or provide other personal information in order to download a piece of long-form content.
Ungated content, on the other hand, is provided for free to anyone who wants it.
While there are benefits and drawbacks to each approach, it’s worth it to take the time to consider which will be best for your company and your long-term goals.
Gated content provides you with a way to build your subscriber list, while ungated content offers more value to people who may be unwilling to give you personal information right off the bat.
While there is no “wrong” answer to the question or gated or ungated long-form material, it is well worth the time to consider the pros and cons of both option and make an informed decision that’s right for you.
4. Start writing your long-form content
Now comes the hard part: creating your long-form content.
While there’s no doubt that this is a great deal of work, it’s also the most important part of the entire process. Take your time and be sure not to rush through the process just to get it done.
The value of your long-form content eventually comes to rest on its quality, and it’s hard to get a good ROI from poor-quality content that your readers don’t want to read, share, or interact with.
With this in mind, go slowly and focus on each piece of your content. If you don’t have the time, skill, or resources to create your long-form content in-house, consider hiring a team of writers to do it for you.
In addition to taking the burden of content creation off your shoulders, professional writers can also help you research, distribute, and optimize your long-form content for best results.
5. Make your long-form content beautiful
Once your content is all written and ready to distribute, the final step is to design it to be visually appealing. An eBook that features some formatting and design is much more attractive to readers than a 4,000-word word document, so it’s well worth the time and effort it takes to spiff your content up a bit.
While the exact route you take to do this will depend on your personal preferences, most marketers recommend including email sign-up buttons, links to related content, graphics, images, borders, and social sharing buttons that guide readers to your various social profiles.
These things, while they may be simple, can help set your long-form content apart from the crowd and make it more exciting for readers to share and interact with your material.
The Case for Long-Form Content
In addition to drawing more reader attention, earning more social shares, driving more conversions, and helping you rank more prominently in Google’s SERPs, long-form content can help your brand build authority and may be just what you need to get found online.
While there’s no question that long-form content takes time and effort to create, it’s widely regarded as the most lucrative content strategy out there, and marketers who put in the work to create long-form content will typically be rewarded with more shares, clicks, and views than they had ever thought possible.
Julia McCoy is a serial content marketer, entrepreneur, and bestselling author. She founded a multi-million dollar content agency, Express Writers, with nothing more than $75 at 19 years old. Today, her team has nearly 100 expert content creators on staff, and serves thousands of clients around the world. She's earned her way to the top 30 worldwide content marketers, and has a passion for sharing what she knows in her books and in her online course, The Content Strategy & Marketing Course. Julia also hosts The Write Podcast on iTunes.