Harriet Sutton-Kirkby, a client services director at Embryo

Long-Form Content

Most people know that some form of content strategy is important for your marketing efforts. After all, if you haven’t got words on your website, blog posts, or brochures, how on earth is your audience expected to understand what your business is?

However, did you know that there is another level of writing available to any brand, in any industry, for any topic, which can help them rank higher in search engines and achieve business goals? It’s called ‘long-form content’ and it might just be the thing that propels your brand’s search engine optimisation (SEO) to new levels.

There is still a lot of apprehension about publishing work on a website that exceeds 1000 words. “No one wants to read loads of words on a page”, “People will get bored easily”, and “They don’t have the attention span to read all that”, are just some of the ways this apprehension manifests itself.

At Embryo, we’ve heard these complaints a thousand times, thankfully, they tend to be abated once one of our digital marketers shows them the benefits a long-form piece can have on a brand’s websites.

Here, we’ll be explaining why we firmly believe that long-form, in-depth articles, blogs, and landing pages are the way to go. The benefits of more on your website always prove to be a positive thing, especially in light of Google’s Helpful Content Update and other moves from search engines to promote high-quality pieces of work, thus demoting shorter pieces that aren’t as in-depth.

Daunted by the Idea of Thousands of Words on Your Site?

Don’t be, Google loves long-form content, and so do we. Get in touch and let us convince you.

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What Is ‘Long-Form’ and Why Does It Work?

Long-form content is work that exceeds a thousand words or more and can be up to around seven or eight thousand, after that, you get into goliath content – a term coined by our Head of Organic Andrew Holland in a recent LinkedIn post. Opting to go long in your content essentially gives you more opportunity to rank for a greater number of keywords, provide answers to more search queries, and cover more areas of a particular topic, all while keeping people on your website for longer.

Interestingly, things such as webinars, virtual events, and even eBooks are also things that come under the umbrella of longer pieces of content.

Essentially, comprehensive content is just anything that is in-depth, has a high average word count, and looks to explain a niche or broad topic in as much detail as possible.

So now we’ve established what it is, let’s look at why it works, after all, in a world where people’s attention spans decrease, seemingly, by the second, surely the idea of giving people more to read – in the form of a long-form article – would be counter-productive.

Successful long-form content works because it provides you with a platform to educate, add more ontology (a term we’ll look at in depth in a second), and showcase to Google and your target audience that what you’re long-form writing is better and more knowledgeable than your competitors. That last point will, by proxy, illicit greater trust in your business and thus lead to customers feeling more comfortable paying for your products and services over a competitor who hasn’t provided any effective content or shared any knowledge.

From Google’s point of view, it wants to provide its users with the best possible service (to avoid people using other search engines) and provide them with relevant, contextual answers to their search queries. By giving Google a four, five, six thousand word piece for it to index and rank for the search terms you want to rank for (the ones that are being searched by your target audience, for instance) you’re giving it no choice but to award you page one rankings, especially if you operate in industries that have been slow on the uptake regarding longer pieces of work. When looking at your work, its ‘spiders’ takes into account the context of the page and your website as a whole. If you’ve displayed that you know what you’re talking about – via long-form blogs, guides, and landing pages – your authority as industry experts in the eyes of Google will increase.

At its core, a content strategy centred around big pieces of work is all about increasing trust. Think about it, who do you trust when learning about a topic, the professor that has studied it for 20 years or a user on a forum who has written one post on it – you’re going to trust the professor.

Long-form content makes you look like the professor, not the forum user.

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What is Short-Form?

Shorter types of content then, are not bad, they are just better in some contexts. But what even is ‘shorter content’, well we at Embryo see it as mostly work that can be anywhere between 280 characters and 600 words, examples of short forms of content include:

  • Tweets, Instagram captions, and other content such as paid advertisements that appear on social networks
  • A bullet-point list summary of a report
  • Email marketing is generally considered a short-form copy
  • Captions for images, graphs, and data charts
  • Brand names, slogans, and mission statements
  • Product descriptions followed by a list of reviews
  • Some types of landing pages can be short, often featuring a broad outline of what users can expect before they download a piece of content such as a report
  • Direct mail advertising such as pamphlets and letters
  • An FAQ, i.e. a list of questions and answers
  • Graphical content such as an infographic (which you can create on Canva, for instance)

People or businesses often default to shorter-form content because of a belief that people’s attention spans prefer it and that longer-form content pieces don’t look as good on mobile devices. This latter point is true but the key is to utilise attention-grabbing introductions and immediate calls to action that can convert users without them having to scroll through lots of content (also, very often, poor web design causes longer pieces of work to look bad on mobile and slow its performance right down. If its designed right, longer pieces of work can look beautiful on a handheld device).

Shorter pieces of work are ideal when you’re targeting people that have high purchasing intent. If someone is Googling, for instance, ‘Nike airforce ones white size 9’ they’re not after content that goes into the history of the AF1 and how it came to be a popular shoe. The therefore short, punchy copy might be better in this context than a 5,000-word post called ‘The Definitive Guide to the Nike Air Force 1’.

Content is not just defined as stuff that is written, though, it includes things such as videos, images, and webinars. The short-form nature of things such as TikTok, Instagram Reels, and YouTube Shorts means there is certainly space in your wider digital marketing plan for this type of content creation.

A final pillar of what makes this type of work ‘short’ is the time it takes to create. This is a double-edged sword really, on the one hand, creating this type of work doesn’t take long, meaning you can publish more. On the other, the amount of insight and value in a short piece of work over a longer one is going to be significantly less. Again, it’s about weighing up what is the most appropriate in that specific context.

Why Does Long-Form Content Work?

Anyway, enough about smaller pieces of work, let’s get back to the point of this page, our bread and butter, long-form posts. We briefly touched on how this type of work works earlier but let’s go into it in a bit more detail. We have a smorgasbord of results relating to work that is six, seven, eight, nine, and even ten-thousand words. These epic posts rank for a focus keyword and also a number of keyword variations, have extremely low bounce rates, and have high levels of organic traffic. Why? Well, it’s mainly because of the following five reasons.

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    1. Bigger = Better (Rankings)

    Long-form content is, by definition, bigger and longer than your average blog post. This result of this is simply more opportunity to include mentions of the key phrase you’re looking to target and all the keywords that relate to it. When Google et al go to index your wonderful piece of work there is a greater chance they’ll rank it for far more keyword variations than if you just wrote a generic 500-word piece that mentioned one keyword once.

    Let’s say you wrote a piece about conservatories for your business’ website. A bog standard piece of work might attempt to rank for one keyword – ‘conservatories’, ‘conservatories for sale’ etc – and ultimately fail because they don’t have the authority to beat their competitors.

    However, by expanding the piece of work and having a bigger word count goal you can aim to rank for other relevant keywords such as ‘what’s the best conservatory for a semi-detached house?’ or ‘how warm do conservatories get in the summer?’

    Ok, enough about conservatories, you get the idea.

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    2. There’s a direct correlation between content length and authority

    The best way of appearing authoritative in the eyes of Google is spoiler alert, being a genuine authority on a topic. And, one of the best ways to express this authority is to talk about your chosen topic or industry in the longest, most contextual way possible. Long-form content is an opportunity to show off and show to Google, search engines, and your specific audience segment, that you know more on X topic than all your competitors.

    It’s very simple – the greater the word count you give yourself the greater opportunity you have to talk more about your topic and the various minutiae, sub-topics and quirks that the average competitor hasn’t even thought to talk about.

    Another reason why length = authority is because of the lack of long-form content pieces that are being written by your competitors. Whatever industry you’re in, you can be fairly confident that your competitors haven’t developed a long-form, long-term strategy centred around writing thousands of words.

    Google doesn’t necessarily care if one business has been around for 100 years and another has been around for 10, it will deem whatever website provides the best, most relevant, in-depth answers the most authoritative. This reason is why educational content can be used by new start-ups, or companies that are trying to compete against larger, legacy businesses, to leapfrog them in the search results pages for numerous target keywords.

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    3. Thousands of words have a greater shelf life

    You can bet that creating large pieces of work regularly will last longer than smaller efforts. Because you’ve said more, the work remains relevant for longer because your answers are more in-depth and more contextual. An average blog post or article that covers one topic, and maybe has one focus keyword, is going to decay, become irrelevant, or be surpassed by fresher copy.

    Writing big chunks of work will provide more useful to a greater number of people because there is more for a wider audience to pick from. This alone means your rankings remain in place because Google can see that the organic traffic to that web page remains steady, as does dwell time and the number of external links it receives.

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    4. Greater number of shares and links from third parties

    Backlinks are a search engine’s currency and act as endorsements from established, authoritative websites that your business is worthy of high rankings and authority. Social shares are social media’s equivalent. What’s more of an endorsement that a piece of content is good and filled with info than a website going to the trouble of referencing your brand, the content, and adding a link in their blog to yours? (After all, they don’t have to do any of that, they could just take your content, reappropriate it, and never mention you).

    By writing more on a topic you’re giving yourself a greater chance that someone, somewhere, will be writing about something similar and reference your beautifully written 5,000-word post because you spoke in depth about a sub-topic which related to what they’re doing.

    Longer pieces of work tend to be more useful because they’ve had to have been written by an expert, or very good digital marketers, and can’t be done on a whim by someone who doesn’t know enough. This usefulness leads to people inherently wanting to share it with others and show their audience that they have done their research.

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    5. Higher levels of ontology, a huge ranking factor

    A final reason why our content marketers love creating vast pieces of content for our clients is because of one word – ontology.

    We define ontology as “a catch-all term that describes the words and phrases which help the keywords to rank”. Why ontology is so powerful is the context, authority, and force it provides your content.

    It’s the most nuanced and meaningful way to create authority because it cannot be faked or imitated. Either your content has ontology or it doesn’t.

    Ontology goes back to the old professor vs blogger thing we spoke about earlier in this section, the more of it you have, the more Google is going to presume you’re the most authoritative source for any given topic and thus an industry leader. It goes beyond a focus keyword and is more about groups of words and phrases that, on their own, won’t rank but relate to the keyword variations you’re wanting to rank for.

    Here’s how we described ontology in a blog we wrote toward the end of 2020:

    ‘…imagine if you knew nothing about football and were tasked with writing a 1000-word document about Manchester United Football Club. Your 1000 words would cover the big broad information points (i.e. they are based in Manchester, play football at Old Trafford and their most famous manager is Sir Alex Ferguson).’

    ‘However, if you were a Manchester United superfan, your 1000-word document would look a lot different. It would naturally be far more complex, and feature certain details that only fellow experts/fans would know about (i.e. they won the Champions League in 1999 thanks to a last-minute goal from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Pierluigi Collina was the referee of that match). This level of detail, this ontology, if you will, is something that Google, and other search engines, is starting to deem far more important in 2021 and beyond.’

    After the recent Helpful Content Update that took place in 2022, ensuring your work has high levels of ontology has never been important. It’s clear that Google is on a mission to promote high-quality, authoritative content, i.e. work that has a lexicon which relates to the keywords it is intending to rank for.

Should It Be Long-Form Content?

Longer pieces of work have the power to transform your online visibility, truly. That is no understatement. But, the key to making sure you’re leveraging all its benefits is to make sure you’re using it in the right context.

Before creating any content, think of the channel, the search intent, and the average time a user might have spent searching prior to landing on your page. Not everything has to be longer pieces of work and that is what makes successful long-form content, successful. Matching the work you create to the intent of your audience is the fastest way of converting them from a customer to a sale.

Those searching for an item of clothing by brand name and size aren’t wanting to hear about the backstory of the product (though they may appreciate seeing a list of reviews, interactive content that allows them to understand how the product fits them, or maybe even a shorter article detailing how to style said clothing), they want a great user experience which allows them to check out in minutes.

Alternatively, if someone is using a long-tail keyword there is a good chance that they want to be informed and educated about something . This is precisely where bigger, informative content comes in.

So, as well as asking the following questions, ask yourself should what I’m about to create be long-form or short-form content?

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What’s the Reader After?

Examine the intent of the search term that you’re trying to rank for, once you’ve deciphered that (it doesn’t take long) you can then work on creating a piece of work that gives what the reader wants.

Broadly, there are three types of search queries, all of which have different intents, understanding these is key.

  1. Transactional: The first type of term is very simple and straightforward, the user is searching for a specific product or service. These types of searches tend to be short, to the point and charged with buying intent.
  2. Navigational: A navigational term tends to involve the name of a specific website, brand, or company. Users who are using these terms often know which website they want but may not want to purchase anything, they may just want information or content from that brand.
  3. Informational: The final type of search term is the one that long-form content has the most impact on. People with informational search intent are hungry for information about something, anything. From how to make the perfect flat white to the history of the Egyptian empire, they are open to reading work from any website, they just want to find the work that satisfies their intent.
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Is Your Mammoth Piece of Work Actually Ranking for Anything Relevant?

Anyone can wake up one morning and start writing 4000 words on a random topic, but if it’s not focused on ranking for one target keyword, and a subset of other, often long-tail, keywords, it’s not going to be seen anywhere. All great content creators know that each page starts by finding that keyword.

This term needs to be relevant to your business and what it does, sells, or offers and it will shape the length, style, and depth of your work. If you’ve already tipped your toe in the long-form world and you’ve found that your work isn’t ranking for anything don’t panic. You can turn the ship around, you haven’t wasted your time, you just need to optimise it.

There are two types of content optimization that you can carry out – technical and cosmetic. The former includes things such as using a keyword research tool (such as Ahrefs), adding keywords throughout the content, writing alt tags for images, and reformatting the H2 and H3 tags. The latter – the more cosmetic stuff – is still important and will improve the user’s time on the site. Adding a table of contents, switching up the media on the page and adding videos, infographics, and other graphical content, introducing TL;DR sections, and creating bulleted lists are all cosmetic ways of increasing the time people are on your page.

If your mammoth piece of work isn’t ranking for anything that’s bringing you revenue think about the optimisation practices mentioned above and also whether or not it should be a long-form piece. The entire article might be trying to rank for terms that don’t match the intent of the user.

Tips On Long-Form Content

We understand, creating long pieces of work on a consistent basis can be both hard to do, and daunting. After all, it takes a long time and involves a lot of planning, a very detailed outline, and critical thinking for it to be successful. And while all that may be true the benefits that long-form articles, blogs and content can have on your inbound marketing and search rankings far out weigh the effort involved.

Truly investing in the content on your website is up there with technical SEO as the most effective long-term way of dominating search rankings and having an online presence befitting your business.

The best way to do this is by writing and creating more than your competitors at a level that is of a higher quality than theirs. Swaths of content on your site are your opportunity to show Google and your audience that you’re more authoritative and more in the know than any of your competitors.

If you want assistance in creating longer pieces of work that will cause a real dent in your competitors’ search rankings, to the benefit of your own, then why not get in touch with us here at Embryo? We have a bank of content writers and SEO technicians that have, collectively, decades of experience creating work that not only ranks but brings with it leads and revenue.

Not only will we write your work, but we’ll work to ensure it is presented in the most user-friendly way, so you can enjoy all the SEO benefits of the work, without sacrificing your audience’s enjoyment of reading it or satisfying their search intent.

Having carried out long-form content marketing for nearly a decade, we think we know a few tips, and have one or two musings, on what you need to do to be successful in the pursuit of high-quality content.

    Here they are, in brief:

  1. Not everything has to be lengthy: Lots of elements of your website will require short, punchy copy. Find the places that would benefit from longer work, and triple down on them.
  2. Avoid being just ‘meh’: Don’t fall for the trap of thinking your 500-word blog is going to dominate the rankings, the key to long-form is in the term – ‘long’. 1000 words minimum.
  3. Don’t write for writing’s sake: Word garbage is going to get overtaken in the rankings pretty quickly by better-quality work. Plan your work, and answer user intent over a long body of work to win.
  4. Be clever, reading your work doesn’t have to be a slog: There are a bunch of dynamic ways you can map your web page so house 10,000 words in a way that is engaging and fun to read.
  5. Learn to love a list: If you’re new to this way of SEO content, lists are a great way to start as they provide a natural structure for you to write loads.
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All Content Shouldn’t Be Long-Form Content

As we’ve detailed in length, not everything on your site has to be thousands of words, short-form content has to form a part of your strategy and it is a perfectly valid way of getting your brand’s message out there, it’s just that it’s not the way to go if you want to come across as industry experts or rank for certain phrases.

Before you write anything, ask yourself ‘does this need to be long-form?’ will what I’m about to write satisfy the user if it was a list of items, bullet points, or a short paragraph? What we’re saying may sound counter to everything on this page but the power of longer pieces of work comes from the depth and effort that goes into them. Unless you’re superhuman or hire a digital marketing and SEO agency that is an expert in doing it day in, day out, you can’t be spending every day writing long-form content on everything.

Not all the parts of your website are long, you’re going to have headlines, summaries, calls to action, captions, directions, addresses, and all sorts.

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Avoid The Middle

One of the big things about adopting this type of strategy for your output is not going all the way with it. Too often, people think that ‘long-form’ is maybe 500, 600, or 700 words – NO! Being in the middle is the last place you wanna be. If you’re going to commit to going long, literally, go long. 1000 words should be your minimum.

Your ultimate goal is to create something that is longer, more in-depth, and covers more topics than whoever is ranking in positions 1-5 on the search engine results page for the given key term that you want to rank for. Best way to avoid the dreaded middle? Get the average word count for all the websites that rank for the key term you’re targeting and just add 30% to the count – there’s your target.

Going for the middle is doing a disservice to your marketing strategy because you’re not giving yourself the opportunity to write about all the possible topics, sub-topics, nuances, and minutiae that there is virtually every subject going. Another great way to avoid the middle is to plan your page and ascribe word counts to sections until you’ve got enough sections to hit your desired count.

Jamal is a web developer at Embryo

Remember Quality Over Quantity

This header, in fairness, maybe a false dichotomy, what we’re saying is that within your quantity should be consistent levels of quality. We’re not saying sacrifice quantity for quality.

Once you’ve got your target word count don’t just waffle and fill to achieve the desired goal. To keep quality high you’re going to want to plan each section out and know what you’re going to say in each, from top to bottom. Treat each sub-section of your page as its own page, very quickly you’re 7,000-word piece won’t feel like 7k, it’ll feel like 10 to 12 sub-sections that are 500ish words. By treating them as individual pieces of work you’ll apply more strict quality checks to them.

The importance of this cannot be understated. No one is expecting a user to read all 7000 words they’re going to land on your page, read your table of contents and go to the section that satisfies their intent. Featured snippets, and their increased prevalence in SERPS, is another reason to keep quality high through your body of work – you never know which bit of work Google might decide is an appropriate snippet but you can bet it won’t be in the first 300 words that act as your introduction.

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Longer Pieces of Work Don’t Have to Take Long to Read

Whether it’s long-form or short-form content you’re putting on your website, it’s important to remember that it’s only half of the battle. The way you present your work on the web page will determine how good reading it feels. Dumping a load of work words on a page is going to take ages to read if the user even reads it at all. By being clever with user design and interfaces you can introduce elements that make the reading experience fast, and more enjoyable.

Having a list of contents at the start will allow users to jump to the sections they want to read, having the option to listen to the page being read is another way for people to consume the information, plus it’s a more inclusive option for those with sight issues.

Introduce TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read) sections at the bottom of each section, or a ‘Need to Know’ sentence or two at the beginning to make the copy quicker and easier to read. When it comes to longer pieces of work, you want to create the quantity for Google and the quality for the reader.

Emma and Danny working in Embryo's head office

Listicles Win

’27 Incredible Ways to Write Long-Form Content That You’ve Never Heard Of!’ would have been the title of this page if we were writing it as a listicle. This portmanteau has become synonymous with places such as Buzzfeed but listicles are genuinely useful ways of cracking three, four, or five thousand words if you’ve never done it before and are a bit daunted.

They work so well because they are set up for you to succeed. Creating the list gives you however many sub-topics to write about which gives you the framework to go ahead and write lots of words. In a way, listicles allow you to do all the other tips we’ve just mentioned really well – they make content easy to read because of the number of sub-sections, it avoids the ‘middle’, and ensures quality remains high because you’re focusing on multiple parts of a piece, not just one chunk of text.

Long-Form Content Works When It’s Written By Experts Like Us.

For more on how rich, ontologically relevant content can improve your business’s online revenue, get in touch.

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