long-form content

An Argument for Long-Form Content: Why it Works, What Lengths to Create, & 5 Long-Form Creators That Win

There’s no way around it, if you want to publish content that truly works for your online presence.

Long-form content is more valuable, more exciting, and more relevant to readers than shorter-form content. It’s also less common.

While it might sound insane to start creating long-form content while we’re living in a world of increasingly short attention spans, swimming upstream is sometimes the only way to the goal.

Here’s some real inspiration for you on the subject.

Joe Pulizzi, founder of Content Marketing Institute, and a leader in content marketing, wrote this in an exclusive CMI subscriber email this month (read the actual email here via PDF):

“…Nearly every marketer we talk to has run to shorter posts, shorter social media updates, shorter videos, shorter podcasts … thinking that audiences don’t have the desire to invest themselves in content for a longer period of time.

But they absolutely do … if the content is worthwhile.

Those marketers who take a longer­ form approach can immediately position themselves and their stories as differentiated simply because of the length. When all your competition is going small, maybe it’s your time to go big.”

In the same email, Pulizzi points out that:

  • Huffington Post has recently doubled down on its efforts to create long-form content.
  • All-star Youtubers are creating videos that are 10 or 12 minutes long.
  • Tim Ferriss’s recent bestselling book, Tools of Titans, is a whopping 671 pages.

Today, long-form content is the best way to stand out online.

But why, truly, long-form content–why does it work?–and how can you create it for your brand?

Let’s discuss this timely topic.

argument for long form content

Long-Form Content, by the Numbers

Long-form content isn’t just important because it’s different – it’s important because it works.

By providing more space to include relevant information, and giving audiences a chance to settle in and get comfortable with your brand, voice, and content, long-form material manages to convert at higher rates, provide a higher ROI, and earn more engagement. Here are a few fast stats to prove it:

  • The average length of posts in the top 10 spots of Google is 2,000 words. While it’s possible for short-form content to rank well, long-form content is the winner when it comes to front-page results.
  • Long-form content gets people to stay on pages 40% longer. Kissmetrics reports that, in addition to staying on their long-form pages longer, people exposed to long-form content also viewed 25% more pages than other visitors.
  • Long-form content earns more social shares. When it comes to social media, long-form content earns more shares and engagement than standard blog posts.
  • Longer content helps position you as a leader in your industry. It’s tough to bluff your way through 10,000 words, and readers know that. When you create quality, long-form content, you position yourself as a leader in your industry, standing out even further from your lazy counterparts who would rather get by with 300-word blurbs.

The Long-Form Guide Revolution 

One great place to see the power of long-form content is in guides. Today, long-form guides are doing incredibly well. While it’s tough to earn great results if you’re not writing specific, targeted, honed guides, ultimate guides are another thing.

Instead of rambling and losing readers, these guides target in on one topic and dominate all facets of it. Covering things like InDesign and landing page lead generation, these guides are killing it in the online world right now.

Because they’re extensive and in-depth, these long-form guides have longer lifespans than other forms of content. This is because they can be reused again and again. After they’re researched and published online, it’s easy to make a large book from them, for example, or break them down into a long-form SlideShare presentation.

Need a real-life example?

Consider Joanna Wiebe, who wrote a guide to copywriting formulas. It’s called “The Ultimate Guide to No-Pain Copywriting (or, Every Copywriting Formula Ever).” The piece sits at 5,000 words and takes more than an hour to read! It also includes a table of contents to follow:

joanna wiebe table of contents

Useful, extensive, and helpful to readers, this piece has earned more than 6,000 shares and 151 comments. It also ranks well at the top for “copywriting formulas” in Google.

5 Examples of Bloggers Rising Above with Long-Form Content

Now that you know why long-form content is so critical, let’s take a close look at a few prominent bloggers who are putting out excellent long-form content today.

1. Tor Refsland

Tor Refsland, the face behind TimeManagementChef.com, has been featured on top sites like Lifehack, JeffBullas.com, Ahrefs, Post Planner, and Blogging Wizard.

On his own blog, he’s famous for consistently publishing 10,000-30,000-word monster blogs. Thanks to the time, energy, and effort these blogs take, he’s been recognized as an award-winning, top blogger who was first invited to speak at key events just 18 months into blogging.

For an example of what Tor Refsland is capable of with a blog, check out this piece, titled “Business Coaching, 20x My Revenue and Being Slapped by Frank Kern.” It clocks in right around 13,000 words and features so many segments and sections you’d think you were reading a novel!

While the piece is long, though, it manages not to be overwhelming. This is because Refsland does a few things beautifully. For one, the entire article is broken into highly digestible segments and short paragraphs, so you’re never faced with a brick wall of text. Example:

refsland

He’s also funny, and his humor feels like a trail of bread crumbs, leading you through the story step by step. He’s a pro at using punctuation, formatting, and headlines to help usher people through these monster blogs, so you never get bored or discouraged.

Try this post: How To Attract the Right Clients By Doing Business Nude. 

how to attract clients

It’s seriously funny.

Tor’s incredible copy is a large reason he was on my podcast last year!

2. Adam Connell

The founder of Blogging Wizard, a site that helps people learn to grow their sites “like magic,” Adam Connell has made a name for himself in the world of long-form content.

For an example of what he and his team create, check out this recent blog, titled “How I Got 8k Followers on Tumblr in 5 Months Without Logging in Once.”

Written by Eli Seekins, this blog is just about 3,000 words long. While this piece isn’t as massive as Refsland’s aforementioned blog, it’s no less important.

blogging wizard

Here are a few things this blog does right:

It visualizes almost every step.

If I had to guess, I’d say this post has an image every 300 words or so. In addition to the custom cover they’ve created for this post, the piece is also littered with in-depth screenshots,

Blogging Wizard Screenshot 2

overviews,

Blogging wizard screenshot 3

and tutorials.

blogging wizard screenshot 4

Without these images, readers would be facing a dense stream of text, which would be intimidating and off-putting. With these images, the long-form content feels like a picture book, which is welcoming and informative.

It uses catchy headers and subheaders. The title itself is a great example of this. “8k followers? On Tumblr? In 5 months? Without logging in once??” You can’t help but click once you’ve gone through that mental process. Beyond the title though, his headline mastery is evident throughout the piece. Each subheader is descriptive, succinct, and compelling for readers. This helps move people through the piece and keep them interested.

It encourages reader engagement. The last subheader in the piece reads “Over to You.” The author uses this segment to ask audiences about their Tumblr blogs, follower numbers, and actions they’ve taken to drive traffic to or from the blog. With 24 comments and more than 700 shares, the approach seems to work!

3. We Live What We Preach at Express Writers

Here at Express Writers, we’ve always been dedicated to long-form content. It’s been the name of our game since I launched the site with a $75 out-of-pocket investment, back in 2011.

Throughout the six years that have elapsed since then, content has always been the #1 source of our revenue, marketing, and leads. We’ve never invested in PPC marketing (that’s right – not once) and we’ve always created our content without a thought to a sales funnel.

As a result, we outrank all of our major competitors on Google by 5%.). We claim more than 4,100 keyword rankings in Google and have organic traffic worth about $13,200. To top it all off, we also serve upwards of 1,000 clients around the globe and write more than 300 pages each week. I broke exactly how in my case study last year:

Of the more than 785 blogs we’ve published on The Write Blog since 2011, the average word count of just one of my posts is 1,500.

Some are longer, at around 3,700, while some are shorter, clocking it at more like 800 words.

Curious about how we use long-form content to drive results? Here’s a breakdown.

Each month, we post about 32 long-form pieces across the web. It takes five people, including myself, to make that happen (myself, three of our writers to assist me with editorial deadlines, our designer, and our Social Media Manager Rachel to social share everything). That doesn’t include the writers that periodically guest blog on our blog, including my staff, like Tara Clapper. These include posts on our own blog and posts on my various guest post columns. Here are the standards that allow us to maintain that level of content:

  • Research. I use Quora, BuzzSumo, and SEMrush for research. I’ve even created a Twitter chat (#ContentWritingChat) to find out what people on that platform are talking about and what they’d like to see in the coming content. Finally, I always pay careful attention to the comments I receive on my blog, and the conversations I have with other people in the comment threads of other blogs, as well as the conversations I have in LinkedIn and Facebook groups. Many times, these serve as the basis of my research or learning for a coming post.
  • Scheduled posting. In recent years, I’ve ramped up our publishing schedule to include a blog each day except for the weekends. That’s five blogs a week. I schedule each to post on WordPress at midnight the day of, and I tend to stay one week ahead. This allows us to stay consistent and high-quality, no matter how busy things gets.
  • Custom images. We create custom visuals, screenshots, and GIFs for each of our pieces. As you saw in the Blogging Wizard example, lots of visuals help readers stay engaged in long-form content, so we use them to help guide people through our posts.
  • Content audits. Every month, I audit our content in SEMrush. If the content there is showing as low-quality or low-engagement, it gets updated and improved immediately.

While this all takes a lot of work, I’ve found that content is the single most valuable source of online traffic, and that paying careful attention to building and maintaining it is a smart way to boost your online business and earn incredible leads.

4. BuzzSumo

The BuzzSumo blog is authored by the team at BuzzSumo, including Susan and Steve Rayson, and others. What this team is great at is specificity. Unlike so many other places on the web, they consistently publish exclusive statistics, which is a fantastic way to win at blogging, as well.

They’re also great at ultimate guides.

In fact, their guides are frequently my go-to sources of research for material I publish on The Write Blog, and virtually any piece you click on has dozens of comments, and hundreds of shares. Take this piece, for example: “Ask the expert: Mari Smith Answers 56 Questions About Facebook Marketing,”where author Susan Moeller asks the so-called “Queen of Facebook” about how to increase Facebook reach and improve presence. Exhaustive, exciting, and interesting, this piece hits it home on many levels. Or, one of my frequently quoted pieces, “The Future is More Content.

buzzsumo future of content

BuzzSumo levels up continually and gets hundreds to thousands of shares per post, because they’re able to add exclusive research to their content performed using their insightful software.

5. Neil Patel

Ask virtually any expert content marketer for an example of a long-form king or queen, and they’ll mention Neil Patel. His company, QuickSprout, is the online leader for super in-depth guides and his blog on this topic, why long-form content matters, is a go-to for content in general.

Within this blog, Patel breaks down why he thinks long-form content is valuable. He quotes this powerful serpIQ study:

serp iq content length

He also breaks down how his about page is 2,000 words long, and how values like substance, style, frequency, purpose, and format all help inform his company’s long-form content strategy.

When you visit QuickSprout, here’s what you can expect from their long-form blogs:

  • Organization. His posts make any Type A personality happy. They’re organized, well laid out, meticulously formatted, and incredibly easy to navigate. Between his relevant headers and subheaders, and his use of bolding, italics, and bullets, you never have to worry about getting lost in one of his posts.
  • Information. Like BuzzSumo, Neil Patel is a great source for original information. He publishes his own research, his own statistics, and his own findings. All this contributes to a truly unique content experience readers can’t expect to find anywhere else.
  • Personal voice. Neil Patel is great at making people want to work through these long blogs with him because he’s so conversational and approachable. He addresses the reader as “you” and calls out their personal struggles and difficulties. He also shares many of his own!
  • Visuals. Patel’s blogs are highly visual-dense, featuring screenshots, overviews, and charts and graphs to help readers grasp his points and synthesize the information he’s offering.

Because of these things, Patel has consistently stood out as a leader of long-form content, and he continues to dominate the web. A great person to look toward for an example of why long-form works, or how much it matters, Neil Patel promises to continue his charge as a leader in long-form.

How to Create Long-Form Content

So, long-form content matters.

It converts better, differentiates you from the competition, and puts you in the ranks of some of the best bloggers out there. But how do you create it for your site? While the task may seem daunting, long-form content isn’t as tough as it might seem. You simply need to have a plan of attack.

Here’s a detailed outline to help you create your own long-form content in the coming year.

Step 1: Define your mission

Think of long-form content like a long, long sailboat trip. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re going to wind up somewhere you don’t want to be. More specifically, you’re going to wind up wasting time, money, and lots of effort, without anything to show for it. With this in mind, you must define your purpose first.

To do that, answer this simple question: Why are you writing the long-form content?

Got an answer? Good – now get more granular. Who is it for? What will “success” look like? What goal does this material need to achieve?

Once you’ve hammered these things out, you’ll have a functional roadmap with which to begin the long-form journey.

Step 2: To gate or not to gate? That is the question.

Long-form content basically comes in two varieties: gated and ungated. Gated content requires readers to give you something in return for the content, like an email address. Ungated content comes for free, on your website or in the form of a download.

Gated content helps you learn about your readers by collecting relevant information, like their names, ages, job positions, and email addresses. It also helps you build your email list and introduce people into your sales funnel.

Ungated content, on the other hand, may encourage more engagement since it comes with less commitment. Both approaches have their benefits and drawbacks, and the next step in deciding whether to gate your content is simply evaluating rather its smart for you.

Different influencers have different opinions about this. CrazyEgg, for example, advocates for un-gated guides, since they can help you build relationships without a “catch.” The final decision, however, depends on your business, goals, and outlook.

Step 3: Create a topic and reinforce it with keywords

The biggest battle in the process of creating long-form content (aside from the actual writing) is deciding on a topic and keyword strategy. Remember that long-form guides can be 5,000, 8,000, or 10,000 words, so it’s critical to pick a topic that leaves you plenty of room to run.

Having trouble with this step? Here are a few tips:

  • Pick a topic that allows for simple keyword optimization. You want to be able to align your long-form content with keywords people are searching for. Bear this in mind as you research and develop your topic.
  • Check out your Q & A section. If there’s a certain question customers ask repeatedly, consider expanding it into a long-form guide or post. This can kill two birds with one stone: providing an in-depth answer to the question and giving readers a place to turn before they ask it.
  • Do your research. As I mentioned before, I use sites like Quora and BuzzSumo to do the research for The Write Blog, and these are great resources to tap into. Look for trending content, questions your readers are asking on Quora, or any unmet needs your target audience may have.

Step 4: Write it out

Next comes the biggest part of the entire process: writing. Writing a long-form guide can take weeks or even months, depending on your purpose and channel, so it’s essential to leave yourself enough time to execute this properly. If you rush it, you’re going to wind up with unsatisfactory material that doesn’t fulfill its purpose.

If you don’t feel up to the task of writing the guide yourself, consider hiring someone to do it for you. A freelancer or content agency like our own here at Express Writers can manage the entire process, taking your material from outline to final draft in a reasonable timeframe.

Once you’ve gotten the guide written, you’ll also want to invest in design services to make it visually appealing, no matter how you intend to distribute it.

Long-Form Content: The Most Important Type of Content to Create in 2017

As 2017 wears on, long-form content becomes more and more critical. In addition to helping brands stand out from the content sea, long-form ranks better, earns higher ROIs, and gives you a chance to solidly position yourself as an authority in your niche.

While it may seem counterintuitive to create long-form content in a time when attention spans are shorter than ever and mobile is king, readers are hungry for something that provides them with real value, real passion, and real effort.

Long-form content is one of the only things on the web that provides all of this, all at once.

Do yourself and your readers a favor, and commit to long-form content in 2017.

cta expert content

2 replies
    • Julia McCoy
      Julia McCoy says:

      Michael, In the piece I’m citing, if you click on it, you’ll see Joanna Wiebe has a recommended read time: “59 Min Read”.

      It’s not just a 5k word piece. It’s a HEAVY 5k+ word piece! You’ll want to study and take notes as you read – at least I did 🙂

      I read super fast, so it took me less than an hour, but hey – I see why she says 59 minutes 🙂

      Reply

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