How long is long? Marketing and SEO experts believe that long-form content (a minimum of 1,200 words and upwards of 20,000 words) can be a great way to build awareness, appear in searches, and establish thought-leadership in a category.
Long-form content isn’t just limited to blog posts, ebooks, infographics, and other written materials. It can also apply to webinars, videos, and dynamic media like surveys, quizzes, and other interactive content.
Gated content (content that requires the prospect or customer to give up an e-mail address before accessing it) can be a great way to build a database, enabling ongoing communication and sales. Remember, however, that many consumers and businesses do not want to share personal information unless they need what you’re promising.
How can your long-form content break through the noise?
But the reality is that people today are often time-pressed, and some experts believe that although COVID-19 opened up minutes on many people’s calendars, it also resulted in a massive uptick in online content (because live events are impossible). Plus, anxiety and distractions can “bork” one’s attention span, as The Spinoff, a global intelligence source for journalists, contends.
Some SEO gurus analyze Google’s algorithm and make definitive statements about the ideal length of online content. Remember that quality and relevance are also always essential for readability and engagement.
6 tips for creating excellent long-form content
Content should only be as long as necessary to engage, educate, and inspire the reader to take action. Know your keywords and know your audience and their interests before you put fingers to keyboard or camera or engage a writer/producer to churn out content.
1. Begin at the end.
The key to creating high-quality, high-engagement content starts with asking yourself three simple questions:
- Who will be reading/watching this? Invest in thorough persona research to gain a clear understanding of your market.
- What problem will this solve or questions will this answer? Think too about all the other “places” the reader/viewer might find this information.
- What do you want the individual to think, feel, or know after they’ve consumed your words and images?
In other words, after reading this article, I would like content writers and businesses that purchase large volumes of content to think, “Now I understand how to create great long-form content, and I’ll share those tips with my team and/or engage ClearVoice to create my content.” Perhaps they will also think, “I’d love to read more of Nancy’s blog posts,” which would be fine with me.
Readers will also come away with some practical tips for making their content less tedious and more visually attractive, resulting in more traffic and engagement (#2).
All content — short or long — should have a clear objective and stand out from the millions of other tidbits people can find online.
2. Hire well and don’t bargain-shop.
Content writers abound these days. Teamlancing is the best way to assemble a group of subject matter experts who know your industry and create different types of content across a range of media.
Your content has a long life and reflects your brand and business, so make sure that the people who are creating it will present your expertise and information in the best possible light.
3. Create a solid outline and compelling headline.
Writers/producers are at risk of rambling if they don’t start with a cohesive and logical roadmap. Knowing your thesis and subtopics at the onset will help your content flow better. The task of writing is also less daunting if you break that 1,200-word post into specific sections.
As you plan your content, gather current and credible sources of statistics, quotes, and facts.
Sometimes the headline will write itself once you complete the article or other media. Again, put yourself in the viewer’s shoes (or WFH slippers). What will stop them in their tracks when they face multiple options? But be sure that the content itself pays off on the promise. In other words, if this article only gave you three tips or was more theoretical than practical, you might feel misled. It would reflect poorly on the publisher and the brand.
Media today sometimes uses alarmist headlines to grab attention, but everyone has had that experience of clicking on an article only to be bombarded with ads or irrelevant prose. You want prospects to view you and your business as a trusted source over time, not just a click-magnet.
4. Make it “scannable” and “snackable.”
When laying out your content, divide it with headlines, images, charts, and other graphic elements that break-up large text blocks, and draw the eye from one section to the next.
Bullet-points and numbered lists are another great way to keep your written content from appearing like a big blob of words. Some content management systems will also calculate reading time, so the viewer knows before consuming your content how much time they need to devote to it.
You should also divide your content up with highly visual CTAs (calls to action), like the one above. But don’t over-do it. Your readers will feel as if they are being bombarded with sales messages when they really just want to be informed or entertained.
Long-form content is so powerful because, if done well, can have tremendous long-term and broad-based marketing value. That leads to Tip 5.
5. Divide and conquer the social media world.
You want your content and your brand to be viewed by as many qualified prospects and customers as possible. Great long-form content can be divided-up into snippets for sharing and highlighting on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and other media your target market views.
For example, an eye-catching chart within a white paper that contains powerful and unique statistics can be turned into a LinkedIn post. Think of these excerpts as “trailers” for the longer media.
In addition to charts, graphs, and surprising facts, human stories and quotes can be compelling in driving views and qualified traffic. For example, a major conference company created a series of white papers to which multiple subject matter experts contributed perspectives and quotes. Each quote was turned into a meme, including a photo of the expert. Professionals are likely to share their own wisdom, directing additional traffic to the publisher.
Think broadly about how to use your content across multiple media too. For example, a white paper or ebook topic might lend itself to a webinar or an explainer video. As you plan your content calendar, start with the audience, the objective, and the topic. Then, consider the multiple ways that content can reach the greatest possible qualified audience. Some professionals prefer to read, while others like more dynamic and interactive media.
If your content includes original and proprietary research, it can also be used as part of a press announcement. Giving journalists unique and highly visual content is a great way to build credibility for your brand and to give the media “pre-packaged” items for sharing with their own audiences.
Multiple posts or other content can also be packaged into ebooks or themed collections. Great content can live on for years — in many forms. Repurposing is not only efficient, it ensures the greatest number of people consume your content.
6. Measure… learn, and apply.
How do you know if your content is “working”? Views and clicks are a topline and superficial indicator of how effective your headline and marketing are.
Many sophisticated marketers today invest in systems that gauge:
- Who viewed the content?
- How many times was it consumed?
- What links generated the most click-throughs?
- How did prospects find the content?
- Did viewers share it?
- How much time did readers spend reading/watching before leaving?
- What times of day/week/month/year are best for posting?
Content marketing is both an art and a science. Analyzing the effectiveness of your program and of individual posts is easier and faster than ever, thanks to automation. As with most marketing programs, patience is a virtue. Give your content enough time to reach the targeted audience and for your sales team to follow-up on qualified leads.
That said, respond quickly to data and trends and experiment with a wide range of media, topics, and content combinations to unearth what works best for your category, product, and audience.
Count your words, but stop when you’re done.
Today’s consumers and business readers are savvier than ever and will quickly see through a long-form post that was created simply for traffic-building and SEO value. Keyword stuffing and repetition result in confusion and boredom, not long-term results.
If you have a clear objective and target, the right teamlancing creators, unique and compelling topics that appeal to your market, and visuals that attract the eye and the brain, you’re well on the way to being an effective long-form content star.
When you’ve made your point, simply add that final period or exclamation point, get busy sharing your amazing content across targeted media, and watch those new prospects and sales emerge!