As an Inbound Writer for Lean Labs, Melissa writes about high-converting websites and customer-centric marketing. She's an avid traveler, with trips to Iceland, Ukraine, and Portugal under her belt. She currently resides in Wilmington, North Carolina with her dog, Morrie.
Ever read War and Peace? Probably not.
At nearly 587,287 words, War and Peace is a huge undertaking for any reader.
Despite the insane length of War and Peace, it's one of the most well-known and respected novels of all time. It's constantly ranked as one of the greatest books ever written.
Is it because the book is long?
Of course not.
War and Peace is considered to be one of the greatest novels of all time because of the content. The book studied some of the most forgotten moments of war and dug into the human condition. The novel had a unique perspective on the outcome of hardships from war.
Precisely 151 years later, it still provides readers insight about life, suffering, and humanity.
While long-form blog content can't compare with Tolstoy, long content that is written very well provides tremendous value for a reader. It's why writers use long-form content to dig into topics with detail and expertise.
However, is long-form content really that beneficial for marketers? Can't the same value come from shorter, more concise content? Short answer, yes. By the end of this post, you'll be a believer that long-form content is the way to go.
The Value of Long-Form Content
Today, anyone with Google Drive and an Amazon Publishers account can call themselves an author. Any marketer with a blog can provide insight and guidance about marketing. It's never been easier to write. However, it's still challenging to write well.
During the early stages of research, customers are inundated with content that promises to answer all of their questions or solve their problems. However, by the end of a lot of that content, many are left more confused or disoriented than they were before. Then, the business or marketer that produced that it asks the customer to trust them even more.
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There's not much value in that.
That's why businesses that invest in more high-quality, long-form content can stand out. Not only do customers want better, more in-depth coverage about topics, but Google (and other search engines) also prefers long-form content. Publishing posts that are at least 2,000 words is a tactic that top influencers, such as Neil Patel, use to increase organic traffic.
"I am a big believer in evergreen long-form content pieces. They perform better and add immense value to your audience by going beyond just scratching the surface." - Neil Patel
So, if long-form content is so great, why aren't people doing it all the time? Honestly, hard work. It's the same reason not everyone wants to run into the gym and get into shape. There aren't overnight results, and it takes dedication and commitment to see it through.
Also, long-term content hasn't always been as beneficial as it is now. In the beginning of all things Google and Amazon, search engines preferred shorter, more concise posts. However, with the rise of voice search, for instance, that's drastically changed.
With home AI devices like Alexa or Google Home, as well as mobile AI technology like Siri, the number of searches conducted by voice is only going to increase. Marketers predict that by 2020, 50% of searches will be voice search. The word count for a voice search result page is 2,312 words, so a majority of these voice search results are directing readers to longer content.
So unless you've already cornered the market of an industry, it's time to get writing. For startups still on the fence about long-form content, here are the top indicators that the investment will pay off.
Sign #1: Low Engagement
Many businesses may argue that 500-800 words are plenty for a blog post. Many companies assume that readers want to read articles quicker, right? Not necessarily. When it comes to online content, a lot of readers don't digest content the same way they would with a book. Nowadays, some readers don't even read content - they listen to it. The content marketing landscape is evolving, and businesses that don't prioritize assessing the new preferences of their audiences will get left behind.
This starts with understanding their content consumption behaviors. Did you know, that rather than reading from start to finish, many readers follow a specific pattern? Studies show that online readers actually skim using an F shape. Visitors start articles off by reading the first lines of text. If that content is enticing enough, they scroll down and simply scan the left side of the page. Here and there, phrases might catch their eye, and they'll pay closer attention. But for short-form content, there aren't as many opportunities to hook the reader.
That's why improving engagement for short-form content can be difficult. Metrics such as time on page, or average session duration are already lower because readers aren't staying on the website for that long. If the quality of the content isn't good, a majority of your readers won't spend more than a few seconds on it. When the content is valuable, they might spend a little longer, but it's still an average of about 57 seconds.
However, when content is invaluable, and over 2,000 words, it has the potential to:
- Improve time on page. On average, readers remain on long-form content pages 40 percent longer than short-form content.
- Increase social shares. After analyzing nearly 100 million articles, Buzzfeed found long-form content gets more shares on Facebook, Twitter, and more.
- Increase backlinks. Both Moz and HubSpot found proof that long-form content generates more backlinks.
With long-form content, there are so many more chances for engagement throughout the post. Readers find value in greater context, and the length indicates that the content is more accurate. They'll actually pay attention to what you're writing it about, and will want to share that value with others.
Need to improve engagement, fast? Check out our post about 5 Data Driven Design Tips For Improving Site Performance. We explain how to study your data and find opportunities for optimization, as it pertains to improving engagement and the overall user experience.
Sign 2: Low Organic Traffic
Blogging and content creation is one of the most best ways to increase low organic traffic. But what if you're producing a lot of content, and still not driving results? It can be frustrating to put so much time and effort into content, and not get the performance necessary to move the needle. The answer may lie in improving the search ranking of content.
When brands start to rank on Google, they can drive substantial organic traffic back to their site. For many businesses, the golden opportunity is achieving the highly coveted top ranking position. The #1 spot gets around 42.25% of first page clicks. That's nearly half of the traffic coming in for a keyword. So brands are constantly competing for this top billing, investing a lot of resources into keyword research and optimization.
However, many neglect one of the lesser-known tactics to improving rank. When brands increase the length of their content, they can:
- Rank on the first page. On average, posts that have over 1,000 words end up on the front page of Google.
- Climb up to the #1 Rank. The highly sought after number one ranking usually features articles with a 1,890-word average.
- Get more traffic to their homepage. Neil Patel ran an experiment comparing 1,292 word homepage copy versus 488-word homepage copy. The long-form version drove more qualified leads and delivered a higher conversion rate by nearly 7.6%.
- Increasing leads. HubSpot customer Conversant Bio experienced a 250% month-over-month increase in lead growth with long-form content and long-tail keywords.
- Improving lead quality. With long-form content, you foster trust and prove your authority and expertise. Copyblogger swears by it, as long-form "gives prospects a way to navigate a large volume of information and figure out if this product is something that will help them."
So if your brand really needs to increase organic traffic, start with increasing the length of your content.
Looking for more guidance for increasing your organic traffic? We increased organic traffic for our client, Atlantech, by 1096% in only 12 months (without spending that much on paid ads.) We'd love to show you how you can experience similar results. Just check out this step by step guide on how we grew this B2B website.
Sign 3: Not Enough Return Visitors
Even businesses with traffic from short-form blog posts need to overcome another content marketing hurdle: generating return visitors. A significant amount of first-time visitors aren't as valuable if they never come back. So many choose to invest in tactics such as retargeting, which can bring back first-time visitors. But what are you bringing them back to, exactly?
Imagine that you invite a friend over for dinner. They arrive on time, but you don't actually make them anything to eat. They're hungry, and you promised food. There isn't any, so they leave. You'd have a pretty difficult time getting them to come back over for another dinner, right? It's the same with website content. If a visitor doesn't get value the first time, it can be really difficult to bring them back.
That's where long-form content can be incredibly useful. Using long-form content, brands will bring customers back to their site because:
- They'll want to keep reading. If your long-form content is great, it'll get read. However, it won't always be in one sitting. It's the same as a really good novel - customers won't read it all at once, but they'll put it on their bookshelf (bookmark) and come back to it later.
- You've earned their trust. The Atlantic, The New York Times, HubSpot are all publications with really strong followings. Why? Because readers trust them to provide really great content. That kind of trust is built using valuable resources and training information, all of which can be achieved with long-form content.
- It covers more niche topics. Great long-form content doesn't just scratch the surface; it describes the surface, tells you how much it weighs, and exactly how you can crack through it. Basically, it's incredibly detailed. While a lot of content merely covers topics broadly, long-form content will provide specific insights to your reader.
- It's the best content they've found. There's a lack of helpful, long-form content. Many businesses are still producing shorter posts, which can be valuable, but lack depth. When you start producing longer, high-quality pieces, customers will come to you simply because the content is better.
Here's the final argument for long-form content and return visitors. When you provide such detail and expertise on a topic or subject matter, your readers will not need to go anywhere else to find it.
Struggling to increase leads and opportunities, even with great content? We're looking to 10x our website traffic, leads, AND opportunities by 10% month over month. Crazy, you say? Follow our progress and learn about why we decided to challenge ourselves so much in [Marketing Diary] Watch Us 10X Our Website Traffic, Leads, and Opportunities Growth.
Sign 4: Struggling To Stand Out As Subject Matter Expert
In business, a lot of entrepreneurs and techies use the terminology MVP.
MVP, or Minimum Viable Product, encourages companies to launch the minimum features necessary to win over early adopters. However, in the marketing world, this word has become muddled and transformed into terms like minimum viable plan, or minimum viable marketing.
Now, MVP is a tactic for getting work done faster, or learning as much as possible about customers with the least effort.
The definitions vary, and are applied to building a website, or trying out new marketing initiatives. However, it should never be applied to creating content. Consider any service provider you put tremendous trust in. Would you find value in a mechanic that "MVP-ed" an oil change, or a dentist that "MVP-ed" a filling? Of course not.
MVP-ing, or producing content for the sake of it can be a huge deterrent to positioning yourself as a thought leader. Thought leaders don't do anything for the heck of it. They put the work in. That's why content such as Moz's Whiteboard Fridays do tremendously well. In every video, Rand Fishkin, founder, and former CEO runs through marketing and SEO tips in a lengthy, informative manner. For each video, there's an incredibly detailed post and transcription. The posts are useful and require a lot of effort.
That's one of the reasons Whiteboard Friday is so successful. Followers of Moz expect a new video each week and know the content will be great. With one consistent content tactic, Moz effectively builds up their online community and positions themselves as a thought leader. Brands can use a similar approach to put their own spin on content creation, identifying a consistent way to provide expertise on topics within their niche.
Our favorite tactic for building trusts with peers and clients? Transparency. That word is used a lot in marketing, but extreme honesty can help you build your business while building rapport with the people that matter most - your audience. Check out our approach in How To Build Trust Based on Transparency.
Quick Tips To Great Long Form Content
Now that you're sold on long-form content, let's walk through how to create it effectively. Long-form content needs to go beyond just a high word count. A post that rambles on and on just to meet 2,000 or 3,000 words isn't going to be valuable. If you're putting the effort in, go all the way and deliver something awesome.
To produce worthwhile content, make sure you:
- Invest in good writers. Not every business owner is a scribe, and that's okay. Find a talented, experienced writer capable of writing engaging content. Upwork, Indeed, or Inbound.org are all great resources for finding these individuals. Ask for white papers, eBooks, or other long-form assets they've generated to assess their skills. Don't skimp on the hourly rate - if a writer is really good, the initial cost of their work will be well worth it later.
- Take the time to build the strategy. An exceptional content strategy is really the key to long-form content. Pillar pages, which are currently one of the most popular types of long-form, can be incredibly beneficial for brands. If you can select 2-3 broad topics that you're going to cover, one per pillar page, it can dictate and greatly enhance your overall content marketing strategy.
- Create goals for the content. Just like any other marketing initiatives, content needs to have goals. The goals of long-form content can include increased engagement, traffic, qualified leads, or return visitors. You can measure these goals using HubSpot and Google Analytics. Before producing one piece of long-form content, get your goals together, and set an objective for every piece.
- Make it easy to read. Don't just throw up a wall of text and expect it to perform well. Long-form content should also be well-designed and laid out. Break apart long paragraphs, create bulleted sections (where appropriate), use great imagery, and structure the post, so it's intuitive to scroll through.
We're not the only ones finding value in long-form. For additional context about long-form content, top influencers such as HubSpot, Neil Patel, DigitalMarketer, and more also offer in-depth guides about getting started.
In this article, HubSpot author Angela Hicks explains the value of designing long-form content. In many cases, Hicks uses the format of print books to provide thoughtful recommendations on designing content. The article includes specific design examples from top publishers to demonstrate how you should style and structure posts.
Neil Patel, who we've quoted in this article a few times, created an excellent resource for long-form content creation. After making the case and proving how effective the tactic was for his site, Patel gives examples and data from other influencers, such as Elon Musk and Google, to back up his theory. Neil also wrote a separate post with real-life strategies to get you started.
DigitalMarketer: Developing a Content Marketing Strategy
DigitalMarketer goes beyond content creation and builds a very strong case for developing a strong content marketing strategy. This piece explains the role content has within a marketing plan, walking you through each stage of the buyer's journey, and the objectives businesses should have for each. It's an extremely thorough guide that's great for beginners.
First Steps To Long-Form Content
While we've made a really strong case for longer content here, we also understand it's not feasible for every single business. If you're still struggling with your content marketing or inbound strategy, long-form content may just add another initiative on your plate. To get results from long-form content, you need to have all of your other ducks in a row. We can help with that.
Using our Game Plan Offer, we find potential partnerships and mentoring opportunities with a lot of businesses. If we're a fit, we can walk you through your current progress and challenges that you're facing. From there, we can outline some next steps for you to take to achieve the kind of growth you're reaching for.
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