When it Comes to Content, More is More

By Jennifer Nelson

Don’t let the term “TL;DR” (too long; didn’t read) fool you into thinking people aren’t reading articles that are longer than a tweet. In a world where people have so much information coming at them, they are reading and sharing thoughtful, informative and, typically, longer articles.
If you aren’t investing in long-form content for your website, you’re missing out on boosting your company’s credibility, conversion rate and clicks to your website. (More on that in a minute.)

What is Long-Form Content?

There isn’t a definitive answer in the marketing world as to what constitutes long-form. HubSpot says it’s anything over 1,000 words. Search Engine Land encourages the content to be closer to 2,000 words. Core DNA believes the article must be more than 4,000 words where IMPACT says that the number of words should be anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000 words.
The longer format allows a deeper look at a topic or pain point than a brief, 400-word blog post allows. (That’s not to say short content doesn’t have its place in your content marketing plan. It’s definitely a part of the marketing mix and shows consistency in publishing and awareness of timely issues. Short posts are great for things, such as updates on current events impacting your industry, writing a synopsis about new research, or an overview of a topic you’d like your audience to know about.)

Why is it important to really dive deep into a topic? Because it allows you to demonstrate your expertise on the subject matter. And this leads us to our next section. 

Why Write Long-Form Content?

As noted above, providing a comprehensive guide on a topic gives you credibility – not only with your current and potential clients, but also with Google. And let’s face it, Google is many people’s choice of search engine. If you want to maximize search engine optimization, you need to follow certain rules. Google changed up its algorithm about five years ago in response to the way people seek information. 

Instead of typing a couple keywords – “Indianapolis restaurants" – people often search with conversational phrases or questions, either through voice command or by typing them. So, the new algorithm can answer questions, such as, “Where should I eat for lunch that’s within two miles?” or “What’s the best Italian restaurant in Indianapolis?” and organize results based on what Google believes provides the most relevant content.

Google rewards websites in which people remain on the sites longer, where there is more valuable content, where the sites’ content links to reputable pages (and not spam) and where reputable sites link back to your content. Several studies back this up. 

Backlinko released a study in September 2016 of 1 million Google search results and found that longer content typically ranks higher. The first page of results for a search featured content that averaged out to 1,890 words. 

The study also pointed out the importance of links to your site. It found the number of domains linking to a page correlated with Google rankings more than any other factor. And, a site’s overall link authority strongly correlates with higher rankings.

SerpIQ did a similar study and found content with 2,000 words or more consistently ranks higher in searches. 

What’s the takeaway from this? You need to have strong content that people find valuable and link to on their sites. 

People who find a blog post or e-book they like will link to it. They will also share their praise on social media. Research by Moz and BuzzSumo a few years ago found content of more than 1,000 words consistently received more shares and links than shorter-form content. HubSpot research determined the sweet spot for earning high organic traffic is between 2,250 and 2,500 words, and articles with more than 2,500 words are shared the most on social media. 

Longer articles also may lead to better conversion rates. Again, these long-form pieces show that you understand the industry and are a thought leader on a topic. Having a “how to” guide that answers most (or all) of a prospect’s questions in one place means the prospect doesn’t have to look elsewhere (either on your site or someone else’s). This also boosts your credibility. 

Search Engine Land cites two studies by companies that started using long-form content. This change led to higher conversion rates. Highrise Marketing used split testing and found its homepage with long-form content saw an increase in its conversion rate of more than 37 percent. Crazy Egg’s conversion rate increased by more than 30 percent when it implemented long-form content.

What Should I Write?

“OK,” you may be thinking, “you’ve convinced me that I should be mixing in long-form pieces to drive more traffic to my website and to boost my credibility with prospects. I can earn higher search rankings, boost shares of my work on social media, and potentially increase my conversion rate. But what content should be in long-form?”

Short answer: Whenever it makes sense for your clients and prospects. 

Remember that Google wants to help humans find the answers to their questions. If your content can answer frequently asked questions, then Google wants to help people find it. 

This means that your long-form content needs to fulfill a purpose. That could be an informative blog post about three common mistakes people make when planning for retirement; a white paper about different investment options; or an e-book breaking down every step you should be taking to retire at your desired retirement age. 

The keys are to make the articles valuable to people and cover mostly evergreen topics. People are always going to be worried about retirement, so they will continue to search for answers on that topic online. If you’ve got an in-depth piece that has been shared and linked to by several reputable websites, even if it’s a few years old, it will still be considered valuable by human readers (and therefore valuable to Google). 

Evergreen pieces include “how to” guides and “frequently asked questions” pertaining to your industry. Neil Patel also suggests writing about definitions of terms in your industry or creating lists of popular industry resources. (He points out you’ll need to periodically update this list as sources perhaps go offline.)
You could expend the resources writing a long blog post about a current event your industry, and it could receive a lot of shares and links for a while. But, be aware that in even a few months, its popularity with people and search engines will diminish. 

Also, don’t think that you can take a topic that should be a succinct, well-written, 500-word blog post and turn it into a 1,500-word post to boost traffic and conversion rates. There’s still a place for short posts in your marketing mix, because people still value timely updates and prospects appreciate seeing demonstrations of your expertise through curated content. Be sure to consider whether your topic rises to the level of long-format content. Then, to maximize your return on long-form content, spend time researching topics and organizing your thoughts.

What Should the Long-Form Content Look Like?

While there’s not much consensus on the definitive word count of long-form content, nearly all marketers agree on how it should be presented. 

1.    Break your content up. Use subheads and lists to highlight various topics within your content. Even though many people are reading long-form content, they often don’t finish the article and tend to scan looking for key points. In fact, Core DNA says only 20 percent of your content on average will be read. Make your content easy to scan. 

2.    Use images and white space. Do you remember when websites in the 1990s had a bunch of text on them, with very few images? They were really difficult to read, right? We know better now, so we intersperse our content with relevant graphics or pictures and the right amount of white space. This design makes it easier to read on any device. 

3.    Keep your sentences and paragraphs short. If it makes sense to break a long thought into two (or more) sentences, then do it. Shorter sentences allow the reader to quickly and easily digest your point. Remember: People often scan long-form content. 

4.    Make navigation simple. A person reading your “how to” guide may want to get back to the navigation bar on your homepage to visit another part of your website. Make that easy to do with a “top” button that either follows them on the screen as they scroll or is available under each section of your guide. 

5.    Don’t gate your content unless necessary. The belief that all long-form content needs to be gated to generate leads is dying. Many companies now provide their white papers and “how to” guides (including us!) front and center on their website, no contact information required. By ungating the content, it makes it easier to link to and share on social media. 

It may seem intimidating to start writing long-form content, especially on a consistent basis. But with thoughtful planning, research and a well-laid out presentation, you’ll be on your way to boosting your links of your content by other pages and shares on social media by people who found your content to be valuable. 

We’re always happy to answer questions about taking your content marketing to the next level. 

Jennifer Nelson