There are two schools of thought about long-form content.
Some marketing professionals claim that people’s attention spans are diminishing. Consumers no longer read online, they say, but instead simply browse or scan copy as briefly as they possibly can before moving on to the next site. It’s therefore a waste of time for any business to write and publish anything longer than a concise 400-word article when trying to deliver messages to its target audience.
Others have greater faith in their potential readers. We believe longer content offers an outstanding opportunity for brands to provide value, engage with readers on a deeper level, improve search engine rankings, demonstrate expertise and thereby achieve both thought and market leadership.
The problem isn’t that people are unwilling to read long-form content. They are simply unwilling to read poor-quality long-form content. If the quality of your long-form content is high, you will likely discover that your target audience relishes the idea of engaging with such content, and consequently, with your brand.
Defining long-form content?
The definition of long-form content varies among marketing specialists.
Longer content can take the form of writing in an in-depth blog post, article, report, case study, white paper or e-book. It may also be an extended podcast, webinar, video or presentation.
However, for the purposes of this article let’s confine the discussion to written content and agree that the term ‘long-form content’ describes any written content of 1,000 words or longer.
A typical news article is likely to be in the range of 500–800 words. Yet, there is some evidence that this article length is the least likely to succeed in terms of attracting attention and converting readers to action.
This is because too many media sites adhere so closely to this word count range that it has become predictable. Also, by the time many readers reach the end of such an article, they are only just beginning to engage with the subject matter and they crave further detail.
The benefits of long-form content?
Long-form content has a range of potential benefits, including:
- improved search engine rankings
- increased brand authority and thought leadership
- deeper stakeholder engagement
- greater shareability
- higher conversion rates.
Search engine rankings
A key benefit of producing long-form content is the positive effect it can have on search engine rankings.
While keywords and backlinks were once the primary focus of search engine optimisation (SEO), Google’s search engine guidelines and algorithms have evolved to favour the potential relevance and usefulness of content. Statistics suggest that the greater amount of useful and relevant information you produce, the better, as long as the level of quality is maintained.
One reason for this is that long-form content is more likely to provide specific answers to long-tail keywords in search engine enquiries, which are more prevalent today than ever.
In fact, in Google’s top-10 search results, the average post is over 2,000 words long.
Brand authority and thought leadership
Long-form content enables businesses to demonstrate their expertise and thought leadership in their chosen areas of specialisation.
It provides an opportunity for the people within businesses to show off their professional skills and illustrates to target readers that a business is an industry leader in its specific field of endeavour.
Short-form content is often perceived as truncated and shallow. Longer content, on the other hand, is weightier and cannot easily be faked. It requires research and in-depth knowledge, and consequently, a reader identifies trust and loyalty towards the brand that has produced it.
Long-form content enables brands to engage deeply with stakeholders such as customers, clients, referrers, influencers, employees or suppliers. It can be an indispensable vehicle for intensifying stakeholder loyalty.
The longer a piece of writing is, the longer a reader may potentially remain on a company’s site and become increasingly familiar with its brand, products and/or services.
Long-form content is more likely to be shared than short-form content. A study has found that content exceeding 1,000 words consistently receives more shares and likes than shorter content.
When sharing, people tend to be more confident that long-form content will contain information and answers that their colleagues, family and friends will find useful and relevant.
As a rule, high-quality long-form content engenders greater trust than short-form content. This, in turn, means it is more likely that the readers of long-form content will buy from the source of such content.
Surveys have demonstrated that long-form content can achieve a 40–50% higher conversion rate than short-form content.
Is long-form content right for your business?
Long-form content may work for your brand if:
- the nature of your business, products or services is such that buyers may be interested if they have a greater, more detailed understanding of their features and benefits
- people within your business possess the specialist expertise and information that is likely to be useful and relevant to your potential buyers
- you can access the writing skills required to translate this specialist information into content that is clear, informative, entertaining and persuasive.
On that basis, long-form content may be less effective if your business simply sells t-shirts at a local market. It is likely to be more effective if, for instance, your business sells complex financial services about which potential clients require detailed technical explanations.
Planning long-form content
Producing effective long-form content requires a considered content strategy.
Before you begin writing, you will need to identify your key objectives. For example:
- What business outcomes do you wish to achieve from a specific piece of content? Is it improved search engine rankings for your business, greater brand awareness, increased website traffic, enhanced brand authority, deeper stakeholder engagement or higher conversion rates?
- What form will your content take? Will it be an article or blog post, a research-based white paper or report, a case study or an e-book?
- Who is the target audience for your content? Does it comprise existing clients or customers, prospective clients or customers, referrers, influencers, employers, suppliers or others (e.g., regulators, targeted communities etc)?
- What types of content will members of your target audience most likely respond to? Do they prefer simple, entertaining stories or highly technical product descriptions?
- What actions do you want readers to take after reading your content?
- How will you measure its ultimate effectiveness?
You should also determine how you will disseminate your content. For example:
- Will you post your content for free on your website and potentially other sites that may carry it?
- Alternatively, will it be ‘gated’ – only available to those who subscribe to your blog or newsletter, or perhaps even pay for it?
- Will you repurpose the content in various ways, such as by using the copy as the basis for a series of smaller articles, a webinar, a podcast or perhaps even a video or live presentation?
Finally, you will need to consider the subject areas or themes your content will address. Your content must involve subjects that your business has expertise in, while also being of interest to your target audience.
Ideally, your long-form content should be a detailed answer to a long-tail question that might be posed by a typical member of your target audience. The objective is for your business to be perceived by your target audience as having expertise and thought leadership in a subject that they have a keen interest in.
Writing long-form content
When you begin writing long-form content, you have a unique opportunity to demonstrate your business’s expertise, authority, personality and brand identity.
For optimal results, the tone used in the content should align with that used in all of your other business communications. If your business is a hip clothing firm targeting a young audience, your tone of voice may be light, casual, irreverent and perhaps humorous. However, if your business is a traditional, conservative law firm that serves a mature clientele in the context of consequential legal matters, your tone of voice may be more formal, serious, considered and respectful.
If in doubt about tone, it’s always better to lean towards more conversational language (as if you were chatting with a close friend) than towards a stilted or jargon-laden style.
The word count for each piece of content should align with its subject matter. For instance, if the above-mentioned clothing firm wanted to inform its customers about this summer’s on-trend clothing colours, 1,000 words along with relevant images may be enough. If the law firm wanted to explain in detail the process and legal ramifications of estate planning, this may require 10,000 words or more.
A key consideration here is that any single piece of writing should not be longer or shorter than the subject matter requires, from the perspective of both writer and reader. It should certainly not be longer than the depth of your expertise allows. It should also not be longer or shorter than a typical reader requires in order to achieve their perceived primary objectives.
Whatever the tone and length of your content piece, try to be as specific and relevant as you can in terms of both the subject matter and the audience’s needs. By going off on a tangent you will invariably lose your readers’ interest.
Make sure you research your subject matter thoroughly. A key objective of your content is to demonstrate authority. This cannot be achieved if any of your assertions are inaccurate or misleading.
You should also help your reader by structuring your content carefully, with an engaging introduction and conclusion, clear sub-heads, bullet-points and images (where appropriate).
Promoting long-form content
Writing long-form content will be a waste of time if no-one can find it. Therefore, you should do as much as you can to promote it as soon as you post it.
The first thing to do is promote your post on social media (e.g., LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter) with links, quotes and images that lead readers back to your site.
It’s always a great idea to include a link to the post in any newsletters you send to your mailing list.
You may also consider connecting with third-party media outlets, public relations firms, influencers and forums that may be interested in the subject matter. They may be able to promote your content among their audiences.
The future of long-form content
Now that Google is relatively kind to long-form content, it is likely to become valuable for brands well into the foreseeable future.
However, your content (long or short) will have no future unless it is strategically planned, well-written and promoted effectively. In other words, the quality of your long-form content has to be high to attract attention, engage your target audience and keep readers interested.
Producing long-form content is certainly worth the effort, as long as you are prepared to put in the time to undertake the relevant research, understand your target audience, prepare your content strategy and write in a clear, professional and persuasive manner.