Long-form content is a hotly debated topic among digital marketers. Many believe long-form content has a dramatic impact on SEO, while others can’t seem to justify the costs of producing thousands upon thousands of words worth of content on a regular basis.
With this debate in mind, we’ve turned to content marketing experts to learn what long-form content is, whether it's beneficial for most organizations, and how marketing teams can use long-form content effectively.
What Is Long-Form Content?
“I tend to think of long-form as any piece of content that exceeds a 5-minute read length,” defined Kevin Groome, Founder of New York, N.Y.-based CampaignDrive by Pica9. Based on the average reader, that’s anything over 1000 words, but many long-form pieces can be much longer than this depending on its purpose and target audience.
Long-form content can come in many forms, however, from long blog posts to eBooks or whitepapers. “The primary goal,” explained Irina Weber, Content Marketing Specialist at Palo Alto, C.A.-based SE Ranking, “is to provide your audience with a lot of useful information, value, and entertainment.” That means most long-form content is in-depth and has many visuals that capture the reader’s attention.
The Benefits of Long-Form Content
After studying one million web pages, SEO software vendor Moz found that long-form content, which they classify as being over 1,000-words, consistently gets more shares and links when compared to short-form content.
Nate Masterson, CMO for Farmingdale, N.J.-based Maple Holistics, concurs, “The debate about long-form vs. short-form content is never-ending, but there is evidence indicating that longer posts rank higher on search engines,” Masterson explained. He says most top-ranking posts are over 2,000 words because this promotes users to spend more time on the web page and there’s likely more keywords included in the content.
“But there's another benefit to long-form online,” suggested Groome, “which I believe will endure: it gives you the opportunity to create "placeholders" in a customer's mind.” This means that even if they don’t read the entire article, they may bookmark the post for future reference. Long-form content, therefore, is more evergreen than Snapchat or Instagram posts.
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The Drawbacks of Long-Form Content
“The main con of long-form content as a marketer is the time investment that it takes to create,” stated Kyle Douglas, SEO Manager at Cremorne, Australia based Revium. Content marketers need to research keywords and relevant questions to answer for each segment of their lengthy article, research the topic in-depth, as well as actually write and edit the content. It’s a time-consuming process that could have a poor ROI if it’s not done correctly.
On top of the additional time and possibly money needed to create long-form content, there are other hidden pitfalls that brands should be aware of. While longer content that’s high-quality can improve search rankings, poor-quality long-form content can have a negative impact on SEO. “Stuffing posts with boring or poorly written content will tank your reader engagement,” explained Masterson, “so it's crucial to find the sweet spot of long enough to rank but short enough to remain interesting.” You shouldn’t choose topics that have limited information or add “fluff” just to achieve a longer word count. These tactics are detrimental to both your search ranking and brand image.
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How Can Companies Use Long-Form Content Effectively?
Long-form content is an investment, and the process of promoting and adding to the content shouldn’t stop once the content is published. An effective long-form content strategy needs high-quality content to begin with, but companies should also continuously refresh and repromote the content to improve its impact. “My rule of thumb, when delivering a long-form piece of content,” added Groome, “is to provide a post/repromotion of the content one time for each ‘page’ in the piece.” This may seem like a lot, but the content may get lost in the customer’s download folder if you don’t repromote frequently. Groome recommends that you extend your promotion over many months though, so you don’t risk oversaturating your audience.
Douglas suggested that you “never, ever create content just for the sake of it.” Long-form content is expensive, so you need to target a specific need for your audience or you’ll waste time and resources on a saturated topic. That means you should target niche keywords that haven’t been covered much yet and create a “one-stop-shop” in-depth post around the topic. “Long-form content, based around longer tail keywords,” he added, give content creators an avenue to create unique, valuable content that hasn't been covered 1,000 times before in other content pieces.”
“Long-form document types (playbooks, whitepapers, et al), also seem to be more effective as CTA material,” Groome said. You can take parts of a long-form piece and use them as teasers or lead magnets for the actual content. Groome added that its “a great way to engage in a helpful way to put that content into an individualized context.”
Weber concluded that brands should, “make sure to monitor the results and keep improving the content.”