Long-form content is back in vogue. Long gone are the days when consumers were sated by throwaway posts on social media and marketing was purely focused on bite-sized content suited to the shorter attention spans of smartphone users.
Long-form content is proven to be more shareable, better at building links, and much more effective at boosting SEO efforts. The average page at the top of Google’s rankings has in excess of 1,800 words, while the average number one page will also rank for around 1,000 related keywords.
With long-form ruling the roost, you may be wondering whether you need to pivot from shorter articles right away. Here’s what to consider before greenlighting your next campaign.
How long is long-form?
Shorter news and blogs generally have a word count of 500 or less. You can create more detailed blogs at 750 words, but you may want to step up to 1,000-plus words to really get your message across and cover everything in detail.
Long-form is a great tool to have in your content marketing arsenal, but it does not suit every format or campaign. Certain topics, keywords or ideas simply don’t merit an extended word count, and padding out a blog can result in a piece losing focus and being less relevant. This is not a good thing for search as Google’s search algorithm is weighted towards content that always adds value.
You should use long-form content when you believe that it is the most effective means of delivering information to a target audience. As always, content needs to address pain points and problems and give a reader key insights. If it can give a reader what they are looking for when entering a search query, long-form is the way to go.
Ranking in SERPs
Short-form content can rank at the top of Google search rankings, but the vast majority of prominent positions in SERPs are taken up by content with word counts in excess of 1,000 words.
When entering the term ‘winter camping’, for example, four pages in the top 10 are between 1,000 and 1,500 words, two are between 1,500 and 3,000, and one comes in at a staggering 16,301. This outlier is accompanied by a 787-word piece in the second position.
Word count is an important ranking factor, then, but it is not the be-all and end-all. Fractl marketing director Amanda Milligan says that it’s “not even close” to being the primary signal. Brands should not expect a long-form piece to take Google by storm merely because it is comprehensive and hits a large word count.
Milligan believes that content “usefulness” and the “authority” of a site or publisher are much more important signals. Authority can even make up for poorly designed pages and substandard experiences, though every company should be striving to fix these issues in 2020.
Content does play a role in supporting usefulness, pushing brand authority and delivering engaging user experiences, so word count should still inform decision-making before the creative phase of a campaign.
Should I go long or not?
Long word counts are not a shortcut to SEO success, but they do, by and large, take up Google’s top ranking positions for each keyword or phrase. This is because a longer piece usually offers value. When you provide information to an agency for a brief or outline the details of an in-house campaign, you need to decide whether long-form is suited to what you want to do.
How can you find this out? First, take a closer look at the topic that is at the heart of your content marketing campaign by analysing how it is performing in search right now. Is there any way that you can differentiate your blog or editorial from the rest by increasing or shortening its length? Will long-form make it easier to deliver quality?
Depending on what you find, either short-form or long-form may be best. Short, punchy content is great if you want to create something unique that other brands have not thought about or committed to digital print. Longer content is ideal if there is an opening for you to create something in depth that can add value.
Consider audience expectations
After conducting a competitive analysis, start thinking about the demands and expectations of your audience. Does the article or blog you are about to produce need to answer a nuanced or complex question? A short article in this instance could leave readers feeling dissatisfied.
Many of the top results in Google rankings go into greater detail about a topic rather than merely offering a dictionary definition. You need to find out whether your target readers want a simple answer or an article that looks at things from different angles and deep dives into the effects or impact of a particular issue.
Brands have been urged to tell stories to develop connections with customers, and there is no better format suited to weaving in narratives than long-form content. Milligan believes that 1,000-plus-word pieces are more engaging for the reader and thus help to deliver on narratives that trigger a positive reaction or feeling from a reader.
Storytelling can be used in both B2C and B2B settings. The latter is trickier, but brands could start out a piece with a personal narrative that leads into tips and tactics. Whatever you want to express, long-form is capable of doing it. Just make sure that it is relevant and the right choice for your campaign.
Mix words and images
Long-form doesn’t have to be text-based in its entirety. You could mix in:
- Stat and fact-driven infographics
- Stock images
- Personalised or computer-generated images
- User-generated social media posts
- Screenshots of written content
- Bullet point info
Long-form is often the way to go, but your goals and objectives, the needs of your audience, and the keywords you are targeting should inform your final decision about word counts. Attracting and retaining the interest of readers is key, as is exploring topics in an organic way that resonates with audiences after they have left the page.