Understanding Long-Form Content
There’s a good chance your website doesn’t have enough long-form content on it.
It might sound harsh, but it’s likely true, and if it is, you’re going to want to think about adding more of it to your business’s site in the coming months if you want to improve your presence on search engines such as Google.
Whether it’s the opportunity to become a trusted voice in your industry, be the go-to resource for your target audience or encourage users to purchase from your e-commerce website, the benefits of long-form pieces are endless.
On this page, we’re going to further discuss and explain why this feature should be the jewel in your marketing strategies crown. We’ll explain what it is, why audiences love it, how to do it, and speak to our experts about why they love long-form content writing.
What is Long Form Content and Why is it so Important?
Let’s start by defining the phrase that this page is all about.
A typical long-form content piece is something, often a blog, guide, or article that exceeds a word of 1,000. This figure is relatively subjective and there is no scientific exact word count but the general consensus is that longer-form content can be classified as such if the word count is between 1000-2000+ words. There is of course long-form video content but for the purposes of this page, we’re just going to focus on the written word.
Typically, longer work will go into a topic, or even a sub-topic, in great detail with the aim of educating a reader.
Long-form content creation comes in many forms, from ebooks and whitepapers to guides and pillar pages on a website. They all, however, have one thing in common, and that is length.
Audiences have questions and inquiries about almost everything, including the topic or industry in which you operate. Work which has depth and insight has a higher likelihood of answering those questions. In an SEO context, this translates to more search engine rankings for a greater variety of relevant terms that can attract local search engine users or international visitors.
So, why is it necessary?
Having extensively worded pieces on your website is necessary because you’re operating in a congested SEO market, be it one that is local to you or one that is international, involving multiple foreign competitors. Daily, millions of new pieces get uploaded and indexed and doing, for example, long-form blogs is an effective way of standing out, meeting multiple intents behind a search query, and creating a link architecture that shows Google et al your site has context and is experienced in its field.
It’s necessary also because of something called E-E-A-T, an acronym standing for Expertise, Experience, Authority, and Trust. This concept was created by Google and forms a foundational part of their organic search engine ranking factors. They have explicitly said that they will reward work that demonstrates a combination of those factors, with an explicit emphasis on ‘Trust’.
With that in mind then, it’s clear how longer pieces of work, those whose word counts go into the thousands will be able to demonstrate E-E-A-T more than those who just write a standard 500-word piece.
Internal Links and Long Pieces of Work, a Match Made in Heaven
We touched briefly then on link architecture but it’s worth spending some time discussing how a content strategy involving longer pieces of work can drastically improve your website’s performance thanks to the opportunities it provides regarding internal links.
Think of a website as a series of circles, each page representing a circle, internal links are the bonds that connect these pages together. These bonds help give your website something essential in SEO – context. As Google indexes (a more technical word for reading) your work, it scans your words and the links that are included in your work.
If done well, and there are plenty of tools that can help you do it well, Google will understand how page X relates to page Y and page Z and see that your website as a whole is a place full of expert insight about a specific topic.
This technical aspect of SEO is going to ensure that your work is as effective as possible when it is set live.
Further to this, internal linking should be done with something called ‘Link Shingling’ in mind, a term that we explore on pages 40-41 of our fantastic SEO A-Z, a 55-page guide written by James Welch, our Chief Innovation Officer.
Here’s what he had to say about link shingling (to read the full A-Z, head here to get your free download): “When linking to pages within your site, I strongly advocate using something that I call ‘link shingling’. When linking to a page from multiple others, you should ensure the anchor text is different (whilst still relevant) each time. This will help Google to understand the target page more, as well as the site as a whole.”
Proper link shingling provides crawlers (the bots that scan through content) with an even wider scope of context about your content. By writing more, and creating longer pieces of work, you can add more context, more links, and more opportunities to go deep on a topic, thus proving to Google you have the A in E-E-A-T, authority.
What Is It About This Type of Work That Audiences Love?
It may seem odd to state that audiences love longer forms of work, especially when so much of SEO is centred around mobile, but they do. Despite dwindling attention spans and the rise of short-form video content, going long remains a powerful tool in a search engine optimiser’s arsenal.
Audiences love longer work for a variety of reasons – some which are practical and material and others which are more subconscious.
There is a Greater Depth
The first one is fairly obvious. Audiences like bigger pieces of work because they cover more of the topic in more depth and detail. You have a greater opportunity to offer a full and comprehensive answer and thus help audiences find a solution or fill a knowledge gap.
With depth and detail, you’re able to address more subtopics with nuance and offer greater insight with your first-hand knowledge.
Helps Them Navigate Through The Messy Middle
A purchase journey is not linear which is why Google has coined the term The Messy Middle to describe the evaluation and exploration phase that an average customer will go through before they are ready to purchase.
Opting to write in-depth gives you the chance to answer all the questions a customer may have and speed up this ‘messy’ process, ensuring a faster sale.
Trust between Consumers and Business Can Grow
Having long-form content that has depth and detail also imbibes a sense of trust between your brand and your customers.
You have the ability to engage them for longer and let them become more familiar with your brand and high level of knowledge. In a somewhat subconscious way, customers will trust a brand that has far-reaching work that is full of insight and depth as opposed to one that is surface-level.
Your Customer Doesn’t Need to Go Elsewhere
Your work can offer a complete solution to a person. Rather than having to visit three or four websites (some of which could be direct competitors, don’t forget) and piece together a full answer to fill their knowledge gap, they just go to one page, yours, learn everything they need and remember you for being the place where that happened.
Long-form Has a Longer Life-Span
Owing to the fact that long-form content covers more, the usefulness and lifespan are far greater than a flash-in-the-pan post that doesn’t attempt to go deep on an issue. Also, there is no bad time to publish longer work because it won’t date as quickly as lesser pieces. Provided the sections that are sensitive to dating are updated a user can land on this content a year, or more, after it has been published and still find it as useful as the day it was published.
Long-Form Content or No? How to Know If You Should Write Thousands of Words
We love writing a beautiful piece of content that is two, three, or even four thousand words long. However, it’s important to ask questions about the content you’re going to write even before you put a metaphorical pen to paper.
Sometimes there are instances where longer-form text isn’t the most appropriate type of writing and if done wrong, or in the wrong setting, you can run the risk of decreasing conversion rates, overwhelming people with information, or leaving them scrolling endlessly to find the right answer.
It’s all about deploying content that matches the intent of the user’s search query. If the query has higher buyer intent (i.e. Nike Air Force Ones white size 9) the chances of them wanting a history of that product is slim, meaning 2,000 words may not lead that person to convert.
Below are three questions you may well want to ask yourself before you start committing time and effort to impart your wisdom. These three questions are used by our content marketing team here at Embryo before they write for clients’ websites.
What Is the Reader After from Their Search?
This first question goes back to that all-important intent. What does the user want as a result of searching for a topic? If they’re looking for the age of a particular celebrity, or want to know when a particular public holiday is in their country the chances are that they aren’t looking for a topical deep dive into the history of that celebrity or public holiday.
They want an immediate answer, quickly. Google knows this, which is why it has, in the past few years, ramped up its ‘Zero Click Searches’ so that users never even have to click on a page to get a short, sharp answer and move on with their day.
However, some other phrases and search terms are more nuanced and offer clues as to what users want to know. These are the terms that can be met with effective, structured long-form content.
Example case study
Let’s take a client of ours that operates in the vaping and e-cigarette industry as an example. To educate and build trust our content marketers created long-form blogs targeting long-tail keywords such as ‘vaping for beginners’ and ‘how many cigarettes in a vape’ (those which didn’t have high buying intent but were informational in nature and typed by people who were looking for in-depth answers) which then linked back to the relevant product pages – where thousands of words wouldn’t be appropriate.
The result of this was a 250% increase in keywords ranking in positions 1-3 (87 to 305) and a 1,142% increase in engaged sessions (16,726 to 207,847).
As you can see, when you target key phrases that are being searched by people who want to read a comprehensive blog or article and are unfamiliar yet interested in a topic, the effects are enormous.
Is Your Topic Layered and Nuanced?
Is what you’re writing about a topic that is layered, multi-dimensional, and something that elicits multiple opinions? If so, just writing a blog post that’s a few hundred words long may not be the most appropriate approach to satisfying the user’s intent, this will likely see them immediately exit your page and visit a competitor’s.
Going deep on an intricate topic allows you to explore it in full which is most likely what users are after.
Let’s take that vape client as an example again. Our team wrote ‘Vaping for Beginners: Your Ultimate Guide’ to target key phrases such as ‘best vapes for beginners’ which is a term that is nuanced, subjective in some ways, and one that requires depth and insight.
This need was reflected in the word count which clocked in at 3,103 words.
Are Larger Pieces of Content Ranking in the Top Ten?
Before you go ahead and write two and a half thousand words, look around you and assess what the competition is doing. Visit the top ten websites that rank for a search term you’re targeting and get an average word count from them, this will give you a great idea of how much time and effort you should be putting into a piece of work.
We were very interested in working out how much content you’d need, on average, to rank on page one for a given term. So in 2021, we analysed over 24,000 phrases and found that to rank position one, page one for a term page should contain 2,855 words.
While it’s important to stress that there are instances where longer pieces of work aren’t appropriate, it’s interesting that our expansive word count study, the biggest since a now-defunct agency carried out a similar experiment in 2012, yielded this figure.
Assessing the SERP landscape for each phrase you want to rank for will give you a mix of short-form and long-form content to create for your website.
3 Expert Tips for Great Long-Form Content, from Our Content Writers
So you know you need comprehensive content, work that tells a compelling story and helps you achieve your business goals. Now, how do you go about doing so in a way that will make it worth your while?
Below are just three of many tips that any writer should follow if they’re to carry out this type of content. For more insight, our Brand Content Strategist has written a guide to creating longer pieces of work.
- Be Careful with Your Chosen Topic
- Create Great Work or Work with Writers Who Can
- Keep the User Experience in Mind
1. Be Careful with Your Chosen Topic
As we’ve discussed, not all types of content need to be long-form. Terms that have high purchase intent or those that require a short answer aren’t going to need a definitive guide or an epic post. So, our first tip is to choose topics for long-form posts carefully.
Think about what you want out of your content, and don’t write for the sake of it. Beyond that, there are several material things you can do to find a topic that would benefit from a great deal of content. The first one is keyword research, find what your target audience is searching for and look for those broad keywords that indicate a knowledge gap that needs filling.
“You know your audience better than anyone, or at least you should do, so take time to harness that knowledge and think about what really makes them tick. Put yourself in their shoes – what would they want to know in order to be further persuaded to purchase your product or service?”, says Shona Worsman, our Lead Writer.
Looking at the content you already have is another good place to start. Look at your top-performing blogs, for example, and find the ones that perform well. Those that attract a lot of traffic could excel even further if they were optimised and flooded with new, enriching content.
And finally, if all that doesn’t yield a topic or two, see what your competitors are doing, view their in-depth content and long-form articles and do more. Create original content on the same topic and go one step beyond that and add in a whole host of E-E-A-T features, these unique elements will help you stand out.
2. Create Great Work or Work with Writers Who Can
When the time comes to writing your content you have two good options and plenty more bad ones.
Bad content can be fixed, it’s not like you have one shot to nail great content, however, it is strongly advised that you write, or get someone to write, the best work possible from the outset. Not only does it need to be well written, informative, and useful to the reader but they also need to be built with some essential SEO principles in mind.
So, you can either learn some search engine optimisation and merge that with your first-hand experience of your industry to create something that is packed with unique insight and depth (something that can take a great deal of time) or if you’re time-poor, there is another option.
The second good option is to hire really, really, talented writers who act as an extension of your marketing team to create, at scale, long-form work, baking SEO principles into the work from the outset.
On this, our Senior Content Editor Danielle says: “Ultimately, the goal is to create quality, which is a red line that can’t be skirted around. So if you have the time to create truly unique work that satisfies algorithms and search intent then great but if not, a team of content marketers is just a few clicks away.”
3. Keep the User Experience in Mind
It can be easy to get lost in the thick of writing and forget how your beautifully crafted article or guide will actually look to a user who has landed on your site.
The appearance and how easily navigable your work is as important as the words themselves.
“If your page is slow to load, littered with pop-ups or just looks boring then your bounce rate is just going to skyrocket because people haven’t been given a good experience,” says Adam Chapman, our Tech SEO.
When writing, think about your sections, the narrative arc, and how users will travel around the page. A table of contents is a great starting point as it gives users the ability to jump straight to the section that is most relevant to them, and leads to faster search intent satisfaction.
Additionally, consider what you want users to do once they’re on your page. You don’t want to miss out on opportunities to attain qualified leads. So, consider CTAS such as sign-up forms, email sign-ups, social media links, and links to other relevant content that keep these new, interested parties on your website.
Done Well, Effective Long-Form Content Can Be A Game Changer
As we’ve detailed both in theory and with examples, where it can be used effectively, longer-form pieces of work, be they blogs, articles or guides, can be incredibly effective.
At Embryo, we have spent many years writing pages for businesses up and down the country, from our home in Manchester. To learn more contact us today by phone on 0161 327 2635 or email us at [email protected].