If you run a website, you probably have heard the advice to write longform articles – that is, write pieces above 2,000 words. The idea is that the longer a piece of content, the better it performs.
But, is that really the case? Is there truth to that statement, or is it just passed-down advice that’s become a rule of thumb over the years? And, if so, how can you consistently produce content over 2,000 words?
The truth is that yes, while longform does perform the best on the web, both short-form and longform content have their place in your content marketing strategy, and both need to be done right in order to be effective. We’re here to shed some light on longform content, when to use it, how it performs, and most importantly, how to write it.
What is Short-Form Content?
Short-form content is typically considered to be content fewer than 1200-1000 words. Think of the standard 600-800 word blog post as a perfect example of short-form content. It is typically quick and easy to digest content that covers a specific niche area of a topic, rather than going too in-depth or detailed.
When thinking of short-form, think of news posts, short update posts, articles, social media content, and marketing emails.
The goal of short-form content is also to get a single message across quickly and effectively. It is all about sharing one idea and keeping things simple. This type of content isn’t too heavy on your audience, won’t take long to consume, and is typically quick to create, too.
It’s also great for social media. A short post, perhaps highlighting a product feature or update, is perfect short form content for your social media page. It helps communicate to those with a short attention span who are scrolling social media and have several options all competing for their attention.
The problem can be difficult to fit a lot of content into a short post, or to create something that is easily skippable by your audience if it doesn’t seem too worthwhile to dig into. It may be one of those situations where users don’t read past the headline.
Most short form content is also time-sensitive and only relevant when it’s posted, which won’t do any favors for its performance long term. It’s an important tool to use, but it shouldn’t be the only way you produce content.
What Is LongForm Content?
Longform content, then, would be content over 1200 words, but typically, it’s 2000 plus words. Those 1200-1500 word posts are really just a gray area of long-ish blogs with some in-depth content, but perhaps still narrow in scope to be truly considered longform. Most longform content is seen online as guides and tutorials, comprehensive blog posts, evergreen pages, ebooks, trainings, and more.
This is the type of content that truly engages audiences due to the depth of the topic that it covers.
It is not intended as quick-to-consume content but rather as content aimed at educating and informing those who are looking for answers to a specific question or to learn more about a topic.
One great example of longform content that we love is Moz.com’s deep dive into machine learning called “The Machine Learning Revolution: How it Works and its Impact on SEO.” Moz tackles the complexities of machine learning in an excellently formatted longform feature that truly addresses each the complexity of machine learning, the author’s personal journey with the subject matter, and its implications across various industries. It’s one of those posts you may want to keep open in your browser for a few days and digest it in chunks, returning to read pieces in a lunch break or between emails.
On the other hand, it takes far more time and resources to produce longform content, which usually means a larger financial investment on good quality content. This can mean that the returns need to be significantly greater than short-form content, which may take some time. However, when used as part of a solid strategy that uses longform content appropriately, these returns will typically come.
Is Long Form Content Popular?
In a word – yes. Longform content is popular for typically one main reason: it’s length.
Readers take longer to consume this content, as it takes time to read through all the nooks and crannies of a topic. And the longer a reader dwells on your pages, the happier search engines become. To search engines, this means that the content is informative, engaging, and entertaining, so the search engine sends more traffic your way.
Additionally, there are naturally going to be more keywords used in a longer piece, so those hits also help the popularity of the page.
In addition, longform content typically earns more backlinks, further increasing the page’s performance and rankings.
Semrush’s State of Content Marketing Report 2019 revealed that pages that are 3,000+ words in length earn 3.5x as many links than those of an average length of between 901 and 1200 words.
Another study done by a site called Conversion Rate Experts found that when a landing page increased in length by more than 20 times, the conversion rate on the page increased by more than 30%.
So, less is not always more. To search engines, more means you might just be the expert. And of course, it is only natural that your audience sees you as a market leader if you regularly produce content that educates, informs, and helps them make decisions.
How Do You Write a Longform Article?
Creating longform content might sound daunting because it requires time, brainstorming, and motivation to write such long pieces. You might also think it’s hard to cover a topic in so many words when a few paragraphs may be enough.
Actually, you can make a big deal out of an apparently simple topic by adding new valuable elements and information. It’s just that it requires more research and time from your side to write a complete article.
Here are some of our pointers for writing a longform article:
Find the right topic
First off, find a topic that is of interest to your readers and that allows for depth of thought. Keyword search for popular topics and think about an angle from which you want to approach the topic. After these two are set, think of a post format that would best showcase your intentions. You can go with a tutorial, a roundup, a comparison, a review, an editorial, a listicle, or whatever format that could put your topic in the best light.
Think of what information is most useful to your audience
What do they already know? It’s important not to fill your article with fluff or generic information to hit a 2000-word mark. This often requires getting into an expert-level of detail. If you already have a niche audience, then ask yourself what your article will bring to your readers and why they need it. What does it add to the discussion that would convince people to take the time to read it?
Write an outline
Next, write down the structure of the article. Outline the sections you want to include and what you will highlight in each section. Think of a working headline that’s clickable, a potential layout, and other elements that you think might bring value to the post. Think of using headers and subsections, bulleted lists, and many paragraphs. When writing longform, use more paragraph breaks than normal – it helps the article not look congested and overwhelming, and can actually make the article feel longer.
Start with research
Based on what format you choose, it’s good to plan ahead a bit and think about how you’ll gather your information. Write down what you already know and what might take longer (such as waiting on information that comes from other people). If you can dig into case studies and examples, you will sound even more like the expert and find tons of useful examples to fill a meaningful article.
Backlink to your own site and also out to the research you find. Make sure you’re not linking your competitors or out to the top hits on google only – it’s not going to do any favors for your own post on the subject! People want real facts, so every time you’re stating something that leaves room for interpretation, make sure to link to the original source of the research or study that you’re citing.
Plan your visuals
Any article of such a length has to use imagery to make the text more engaging and easier to follow. Beyond relevant images, think of how you may want to convert some data into tables, graphs and charts, or even an infographic. Think of the tone, too – is it more appropriate to communicate via graph or gif? Which one matches the tone of your article and the personality of your niche?
Sum it up
Since it’s a long piece, readers will appreciate the opportunity to review what you’ve presented. Readers may have also skimmed sections looking to get down to a conclusion section to find the main takeaways. If a reader has made it down that far, reward them! Give them rich takeaways that will stick with them after they leave your site.
After writing, think of your sections. Are they in the right order? Are your examples clear, or do you need more information? What’s repetitive? Don’t be afraid to cut something if it’s not working. If it means you’ll dip below 2000 words, that just means you’ll need to find another area to expand with more depth or clarity. Your piece will be better for it.
Once you’ve published a longform article on your site, it still lives. Check it regularly to see if the research is still up to date. People don’t find value in an article with links over seven years old and will leave your page in search of relevant and timely information. We suggest refreshing your longform posts at least once a year to maintain relevance.
When Should I Write Longform?
What makes an article cross into longform content is how deep it goes into a topic. Think multiple sections, tables of content, even charts and figures. If you’ve got a topic you’re itching to break down into multiple sections and highlight new information, you’ve got a perfect longform article on your hands.
Think of what your company or site does exceptionally well. Outlining complex concepts can create the basis for multiple longform pieces.
You can also write roundups for longform articles.
Giving your audience plenty of examples for inspiration can help you hit a longform word count and still help you seem like a thought leader.
Also, check what your competitors are writing about. What topics are being covered as longform? Search certain keywords and see what post lengths are on that topic.
If you’re wondering how long a blog post should be, know that you’re not alone. Our recommendation is to examine what you know well, see what your competitors are doing, what keywords are ranking, and think about a fresh new perspective you can bring to that topic.
The length of content needs to be just right to serve your purpose. It’s important to understand how to choose the right format for different purposes. If your goal is shareable content on social with one specific focus, a short form piece is the way to go. If you’ve got subtopics and research to share, consider longform. Remember: longform isn’t just meant to be long but well-written and engaging as well. Commit to a longform piece when you know you can do it well.
Using the tips above, try out longform content and watch how it performs. If you create a longform piece and it doesn’t perform, analyze your data, figure out why, make changes, and promote that piece in its updated form. Use the insights to inform your strategy and acknowledge that there is no set length that your content should be.
And finally: don’t fret too much. Focus your efforts on creating content that is the right length to serve the purpose that you need and want to serve.
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Rachel Kolman is a freelance writer and editor. She is a new resident of the Pacific Northwest, after spending the first three decades of her life on the East Coast. She has an MFA in Creative Writing and enjoys infusing storytelling elements into her content writing. She has written for a variety of publications across the web, in addition to helping clients edit and polish professional documents. In addition to writing, Rachel loves board games, good coffee, too many podcasts, and a long walk, preferably in the mountains.