Long-Form Content and SEO Strategy
SEO experts have long said content on the internet must be brief. Here’s why that school of thought is changing.
Are your keywords not ranking in the way you expect? Is the information in your content not attracting an audience? The problem might not be with the keywords you’re using and the information you’re providing. Instead, the problem might be the way you’re presenting your content.
The prevailing wisdom regarding content creation is to make it A.S.A.P. –- that is, to make your content “as short as possible.” After all, this is the internet. Major world events can unfold in 140 characters or less. Readers want information, not articles. Nobody wants to read thousands and thousands of words on a smart device. Right?
Well, not really. Turns out, long form content isn’t dead just yet. Used correctly, longer articles have benefits for both users and SEO. Check out our complete guide below:
Long-Form Content Defined
Like a lot of marketing terms, long-form content is a bit vaguely defined. Generally, however, long-form content is any content over 1,000 words. Five hundred words is considered the bare minimum to be noticed by the search engines, so long-form content is roughly double that.
If you can go beyond 1,000, you’ll have a bit of a competitive advantage over shorter, similar material found on other sites. This makes the ideal length for long-form content anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 words. As you get comfortable with long-form content, you can even increase that word count to several thousand.
Why Long-Form Content?
There are three reasons to use long-form content:
- Increases reader engagement and sharing
- Improves your SERP ranking
- Establishes expert status
This last one is particularly interesting. The more long-form pieces you publish, the more your readers will tend to see you an authority in your field. This is actually an old advertising concept which digital marketers are making new again.
A Brief History of Long-Form Content
Pre-internet, direct mail was one of the most common forms of advertisement. It wasn’t uncommon to receive direct mail ads which were several pages long. Perhaps surprisingly, these types of ads worked – and worked well.
Advertising legend David Ogilvy put it best. “All my experience says that for a great many products, long copy sells more than short,” he said. “Advertisements with long copy convey the impression you have something important to say, whether people read the copy or not.”
The “more is more” approach worked in Ogilvy’s day and it works today as part of your overall SEO strategy.
This doesn’t mean every bit of content you publish has to be long. Instead, if you have shorter content which isn’t generating conversions according to expectation, you might want to make that content longer. The problem might not be the information, but the length.
The Benefits of Long-Form Content
There are many benefits but, in the interest of brevity, here are the top five. Longer content:
- …allows you to describe more of the benefits your product or service provides.
- …allows you answer more common questions about the product or service. Addressing customer questions is often a key aspect in making a sale.
- …can be a great source of information to give a potential customer who has expressed interest in your product or service.
- …can be tailored to directly target specific subsets of your target audience. For instance, one long-form piece can target returning customers while another piece can target new ones.
- …is perfect for inserting a wide variety of keywords naturally.
Long-Content on Social Media?
Alright, so long-form content can both find an audience online and increase conversion rates. But does long-form content succeed everywhere online? Certainly, social media is an exception.
Actually, long-form content works well on social media, too. Long-form content is perceived as having “something to say.” So people are more likely to share this high value content.
The trick with long-form content on social media is in the title. You want to create interesting, descriptive titles which are 140 characters. This way the subject matter can be easily understood in a tweet or Facebook post. While it’s great to provide information people can actually use, if people want to share your content without reading it – well, that still benefits your brand.
How to Create Killer Long-Form Content
Remember, you’re creating advertising, not literature. Just because the article is long doesn’t mean it should be challenging or time-consuming to read. Here are a few tips:
- Keep it Readable
The average news article is written at anywhere from a 5th to an 8th grade level. This doesn’t mean you need to treat your readers like they’re idiots. Instead, use simple language and short sentences. Keep the material organized in a logical way. Your readers are looking for clear information.
- Avoid Fluff
Your long-form articles aren’t a last-minute homework assignment where you desperately have to reach a certain word count. Don’t just pad your content with fluff. Also, unless you’re a professional writer, your likelihood of making typos and other errors increases with the length of your article.
Long-form content does require more research than shorter pieces. Research can take a fair amount of time. But, done correctly, this ends up being time well spent.
- Use Subheadings
Readers can find blocks of text intimidating. Subheadings help break up the article into readable chunks. Plus, subheadings are great for readers who want to skim the text in search of specific information. Already understand the benefits of long-form content and want to know more about how to write it effectively? Simply scan the text until you see the “How to Create Killer Long-Form Content” subheading.
- Add a Summary
At the start of the article, below the headline, add a short summary of the entire article. This is similar to the approached used by The Daily Mail. This short summary should be vague enough to spark interest but descriptive enough to make the topic clear.
Keep the summary short enough to fit into a Facebook ad. A brief summary and a descriptive title will help your article spread across social media.
- Use Listicles
A listicle is a combination of a list and an article. Buzzfeed articles are a great example of listicles. Each entry is numbered (like a list) but also contains a paragraph or so of supporting information (like an article).
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, listicles aren’t going away anytime soon. Readers are drawn to the quick, clean format. Plus, you’ll find creating listicle is an easy way to reach high word counts quickly.
Most digital marketers are told – repeatedly – that all content must be short and simple. But long-form content absolutely has its place. By following the tips above, longer content can help build your brand and engage your customers.