Over the past handful of years, long form content as a marketing focus has stepped onto the main stage of content marketing. As a recent chat with industry peeps on Twitter pointed out, however, there’s a tad bit of misinformation following on its coat tails.
To be blunt, not every type of marketing is for everyone, and long form content is no exception. So, while you may be seeing a slew of articles, Tweets and posts out there talking about “your word count needs to be x to rank,” it’s pure speculation. Here’s why.
What is Long Form Content?
Long form content, loosely, is any content longer than an average blog post. It’s a full color brochure over a single direct marketing postcard. It’s the 15-minute explanatory video instead of the 3-minute white board. The exact amount of words needed to fit the mold is up for grabs, but most agree that it’s more than 1,000 words.
In its extended definition, it’s meant to provide in depth information on a specific topic. When someone says, “It is written,” you want it to be known that “it is written here”.
In some circles, it’s even touted as “the” answer to getting a jump on the competition.
But is it?
Unfortunately, the short answer is no. If ranking were purely a matter of word count, a lot more people would be at the top of the SERPs, struggling to stay there.
Ranking is a matter of co-dependent factors. There has never been a singular activity that guaranteed your site to rank and there still isn’t. Whenever you see the next “the answer” to ranking, always take it with a grain of salt.
What is Long Form Content Used For?
First and foremost, long form content is used to reach the visitor. The KPI metrics include things like extending the average time on site, average time on page, and user engagement.
Beyond the numbers, it allows your visitors to experience your brand. For example:
- An in-depth case study about how your product helped businesses to survive and grow during a pandemic. Most people just want to know how your product is going to directly impact their business bottom line.
- Timelines, for businesses that have been around for several years, is an opportunity to let prospective clients learn about your company in a unique way. As you go through the years, it also helps impress upon them that you’ve been around for a while, and maybe that’s because you have a good product. Maybe that’s because you’re a reliable company. This builds on the important impression of authority in your field.
- A true-life story about how a woman and her friends mountain climbed in Iceland can go a long way for an adventure brand. Stories that help people relate to the company or the company spokesperson, can be genuinely compelling. It creates an immersive experience, while also establishing credibility.
- Comprehensive guides are a very popular reason to use long form content. They provide information to the reader and authority to the author. These guides can be 2, 5, or even 10 chapters or more long. The idea is to provide as much detail as you feel is necessary for the task to be done correctly. Instead of pigeon-holing yourself into a post the length of a blog, for instance, you’re free to pull as much information into the piece as you want to.
When Should I Use Long Form Content?
So how do you know when long form content is a good idea? Well, not every topic takes thousands of words to cover. If you find yourself pushing to fill up a word quota, stop. Ask yourself why you’re writing it. If it’s just for ranking or to get traffic, rethink your content marketing strategy.
Questions to ask yourself:
What is the intent of the search query you’re trying to cover?
Does your visitor just want a quick answer, or do they really need the book you’re writing? Look at what they’re search for; do your keyword research.
When we wrote “How Does SEO Work,” for example, we looked at creating a comprehensive guide. Is it basic? Yes. But will someone who doesn’t understand SEO have a much better understanding when it’s over? Yes, they will. The 2300-word guide isn’t meant for experienced SEOs; its target market is people who want to know more about our industry.
What are your competitors doing?
We’ve often used SEMRush for this; you put in your key term and SEMRush crawls the top 10 pages in the SERPs, the averages out the word count. It also provides the links to the top 10, so you can go see what format the content is put in.
We’ve found this helpful in a few ways. One, if all the content is long form, you might be able to locate a type of content that hasn’t been used, or a few ways to offer additional value. Two, you can develop a short-form version that can quickly answer specific questions.
Can you write long content in a way that is interesting?
Dry facts can be boring. Poorly written content can be a hard read. Do you have the ability to write content that can pull people in and connect with them? Structure is important here. Mixing facts or tips with stories has often been a good content development strategy for long form.
To use long form content or not, that is the question. The ultimate answer is, compare the idea of long content with your goals for the piece, the search intent of your target term, and the audience you’re writing for. What do they want to know, and does it make sense for you to inform them in 1000 words or more?
Less is not always more, but more is not always less. Our content marketing services can help you create the content you need to make the right impression on your audience. Contact us today to discuss your needs.