Most web marketers will tell you that these days, long-form content is king. Gone are the times when agencies cranked out threadbare, 500-word posts crammed with keywords designed to increase their client’s search engine rankings. Today, it’s all about information-rich, keyword-savvy copy that fully satisfies searcher intent.
According to Orbit Media’s 2018 study on blogging, post lengths have been climbing year over year. Today’s posts average 1,151 words as compared to 800 words in 2014, a word count increase of 42%. Perhaps more telling is that 50% of bloggers writing long-form content report strong results for their efforts.
But is long-form content always the way to go? While you should never write fluff to meet an arbitrary word-count goal, long-form content may make the most sense for digital marketing campaigns. Keep reading to learn more about long-form content and why it can be a true value-add for your website or blog.
Defining Long-Form Content
Before you can understand the pros and cons of content length, it’s important to define what we mean by long-form content. While there isn’t a universally recognized number of words that characterize long-form content, according to Forbes, experts generally agree that the low end of word count lies somewhere between 1,200 and 2,000 words.
Tony DeGennaro, Director of Marketing for Dragon Social Limited, offers a different perspective on defining long-form content. He believes it’s more about providing an in-depth look at the covered topic and less about word count. DeGennaro explains that at Dragon Social, “We aim to answer nearly every question a potential reader could have in that one piece of content. It’s due to this we don’t really have an optimal content length. We write as much as necessary to achieve this goal.”
By this definition, long-form content can be distinguished as content designed to comprehensively cover a topic, including semantically related subjects. Exploring these logical ‘next steps’ that are connected to the main topic can ensure the piece’s completeness, even promoting a higher search engine ranking.
Casey Hill of Bonjoro defines long-form content by a different measure: dwell time. Essentially, dwell time considers how long a viewer spends consuming web page content returned by a search query before clicking back to the results page.
Although Bonjoro generally classifies anything over 1,500 words as long-form, Hill, the company’s growth manager, notes, “The more important factor than length, however, is ‘dwell time’ and here we want to shoot for 120 seconds or greater.”
Regardless of actual length, long-form content can take several different shapes, including:
- White papers. These are authoritative reports meant to inform a brand’s audience about a particular topic or issue.
- Case Studies. Used to analyze a principle or subject, case studies detail the development of a particular individual, business, or unique situation.
- Long blog posts. Often informal, blog posts generally explore a topic related to the overarching subject of the blog.
- Guides. Instructional material, guides are meant to inform and to direct the reader along a particular path.
- Essay-style listicles. These trendy articles take the form of lists and can be considered long-form or short-form content depending on the approach. Long-form listicles generally include brief essays on each item.
Why Opt for Long-Form Content
While there may be no hard and fast rule governing the word count of long-form content, online marketers know that these meaty articles can be a real value-add for businesses, bloggers, and websites.
The benefits of long-form content may include:
Better Search Engine Ranking
The numbers don’t lie. Long-form content ranks well. In fact, Bonjoro’s Casey Hill points out that in 2019, Google’s algorithms adapted to prioritize long-form content. Hill notes, “For many organizations, well-formatted long-form content began to see a 5-10% placement prioritization for SEO versus comparable short-form content on the same blogs.”
One reason for this bump in performance is that well-crafted longer pieces may utilize more long-tail keywords, which are multi-word keyword phrases that hit on your site whenever someone searches for those exact phrases. These long-tail keyword match-ups also let search engines know that your content is high-quality and on target for your topic.
In addition, most long-form content pays attention to semantic completeness, addressing, if only briefly, related topics that give the audience a full picture of the topic at hand. This effort to create comprehensive content is often rewarded by search engines designed to rank these longer, comprehensive articles higher than content of lesser quality.
Longer Visitor Engagement
If you post information-rich content that’s worth reading, chances are good that visitors to your site will linger longer and come back more often. This is particularly important when readers reach your site through Google search results because the time spent on your page essentially tells Google that you’ve given searchers what they were looking for, letting Google adjust search rankings for future searches.
Forbes notes that companies such as Crazy Egg were able to improve their conversion rates significantly by using long-form content. In the case of Crazy Egg, conversion rates increased by more than 30%.
Establishing Your Site as an Authority
By providing high-quality long-form content on your blog or website, you bring credibility to your brand. Eventually, this credibility establishes your site or brand as an authority in your industry or subject matter, which can ultimately lead to better name recognition and more online sales.
More Social Media Shares
According to Search Engine Land, long-form has historically outperformed short-form content when it comes to social media shareability. According to a study done by Quick Sprout, posts greater than 1,500 words receive significantly more social shares and likes than shorter posts. The upshot of enhanced social media engagement is new readers and site growth.
Another benefit of longer content is a higher percentage of backlinks, which can provide more organic traffic. To encourage backlinking, your content should entice link creators to view it as valuable enough to link to or even to use as background information for their own articles.
Since shorter content, by its nature, provides less information, it’s often considered less valuable, resulting in few, if any, backlinks. Content that takes a deep dive into its subject matter is almost guaranteed to generate more backlinks, which in turn contribute to better search engine rankings.
Tips for Creating Long-Form Content
While the benefits of long-form content are undeniable, it’s important not to lose focus on quality. Keyword stuffing and other black-hat SEO tactics have no place in modern content, and can actually harm your search rankings.
Here are several ways to ensure that readers make it all the way through even your longest pieces:
According to Audrey Strasenburgh, SEO Strategist at FreeLogoServices, it’s important to be informative when creating long-form content. “Your users are probably looking for advice, examples, a How-To, or a history lesson of some degree,” she explains. “Always look to answer the What, Where, Why, and How questions of your industry — and never hesitate to cover a topic that hasn’t been covered before.”
Jerryll Noordern, a real estate investor and digital marketer with SEO Real Estate Investors, believes that content marketers should worry less about content length and concentrate more on pleasing their audience. Rather than aiming for a specific word count, Noordern suggests trying to produce an article that includes all the information your audience needs. He advises, “Cut the fluff. Make it as short or as long as it needs to be.”
One thing to consider in an effort to be thorough is semantic completeness. To cover a topic thoroughly, a writer should consider related subjects. Even touching on these connections as a sidebar can go a long way toward creating the most comprehensive piece of content possible.
Keep It Readable
Another suggestion from Strasenburgh is to check your content’s readability score. She suggests that an 8th-grade level is ideal. The Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test can help which determine the grade level and reading ease of your content, by generating a score. The higher the score, the lower the complexity is. According to the site, most business writing should aim for a score of around 65.
There are several additional tools available to check your readability score and help you benchmark against similar content generated by your competitors, including Yoast SEO and SEMrush’s online writing assistant.
To keep your material readable, you should follow a few basic rules:
- Keep paragraphs short.
- Limit long sentences.
- Avoid words that have too many syllables.
- Minimize the use of industry jargon.
Include Actionable Tips
Readers like takeaways, particularly when they include easily executable steps designed to generate results. Bulleted lists with action items for users give your audience a road map to guide them toward what to do next.
Don’t limit the shelf life of your post, if you can help it. Whenever possible, avoid language that dates an article and write about topics that are evergreen to ensure the longevity of your content and keep visitors coming back.
Formatting is Critical
Casey Hill of Bonjorno notes that in long-form content, formatting is particularly critical. “Have clear headings, anchor links to different sections when possible and make it easy to navigate,” Hill suggests. “A wall of poorly laid out text with high keyword concentrations is not a guarantee for good rank and is certainly not something that will hold a reader’s attention.”
A well-organized table of contents can be especially helpful in constructing long articles, giving your audience an at-a-glance view of what’s included in your text. Smart use of visual elements such as text boxes, diagrams, featured images, PDF downloads, and white space can also make an article less overwhelming to readers.
Audrey Strasenburgh also suggests using title tags to break down subsets of ideas and incorporating bullet points or numbered lists to keep information more digestible. “Don’t forget images!” she says. “Images that accurately describe the content will keep users scrolling down the page.”
If words are the bread of your long-form content, formatting is the butter that makes it go down smoothly. Savvy formatting can keep visitors on the site longer, which is vital to optimizing for Google’s RankBrain and increasing your search ranking.
Avoid Fluff and Filler
Kyle Douglas, the SEO Manager of Revium, believes that there is such a thing as too many words. As he explains, “Overdoing content can increase bounce rates just as much as content that is too short. If I’m trying to find a ‘plumber near me,’ I want the contact details and information on their services. Not a 2,000-word article on their plumbing history and capabilities.”
A good rule of thumb is to never use fluff or filler to pad content simply to increase your word count.
Managing Long-Form Content
If you think your website or blog would benefit from the addition of long-form content, there are tools that can make the process of content creation and management less cumbersome. Here are a few resources to help optimize longer articles:
Content Optimization Tools
There are several tools available to promote content optimization. SEMrush offers a template to help content creators craft and optimize SEO-friendly articles. This tool lets you compare your content to pages holding the top ranks for your primary keyword(s). A second option, MarketMuse’s creative brief tool, lets you streamline the process of content creation, illuminating opportunities and gaps in your content.
Keyword Research Tools
Whether you’re writing long or short content, keywords are essential. Keywords are determined, in large part, by the terms that searchers type into search engines, and finding the right target keyword can set the tone for your whole article. Although it’s no longer essential to match keywords exactly to potential search terms, matching the searcher’s intent is vital.
Finding the right keywords can be daunting, but there are tools available to help. Whether it’s finding out what keywords your competitors are using or discovering semantically related keywords, the right tool can take you far. Some tools to start with are:
Google’s Webmaster Tools
What better way is there to understand search engine rankings than the search engine leader itself? Google’s Webmaster Guidelines help content creators better understand Google’s search algorithms and how the search engine views websites.
You can find out more about how these guidelines can help webmasters and marketers navigate the sometimes-challenging ins and outs of Google in our recent post.
How Long is Too Long?
There may be such a thing as too long, however. According to Mark Webster, the co-founder of Authority Hacker, an industry-leading online marketing education company, the optimal length for long-form content may be lower than you think. Authority Hacker recently performed a study on the topic, looking at various ranking factors for over 1 million SERP results, including content length. What they found was surprising.
Webster says, “We previously believed long-form content was king. We would invest thousands of dollars into huge 8,000-word guides assuming it must be good, right? However, upon analyzing the top #1 positions in Google, the optimal number was much lower — in fact, the average word count of the top one to three SERP results are just 1,500-2,000 words.”
In light of its study, Authority Hacker began to divide its longer posts into shorter chunks. Webster notes, “Both user feedback and rankings have shown us that this style is much more favorable than ultra long-form content and we will certainly continue to pursue this style in the future!”
So what does all this mean when you’re trying to decide on content length? Ultimately, what it all comes down to is outdoing your content competitors rather than shooting for an arbitrary number.
The Long and Short of It
Long-form content may indeed be king, but there are benefits to short-form posts as well. Ultimately, an engaging mix of longer and shorter pieces may be the best way to keep visitors coming back to your site.
Visit Crowd Content to learn how we can help your website gain traffic and increase conversions through targeted, professional long-form content.