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Hearty Meals vs. Empty Snacks: The Need for Long-Form Content

It’s natural to think that long form content is passé – a relic of the newspaper and magazine era. A 4,000-page article on the internet? It sounds daunting, but the truth is long-form content works. It’s useful, profitable, and worth the effort.

Even for the most experienced of writers, creating long-form content can seem intimidating. But if done correctly, the results are definitely worthwhile. So, how do you create a long-form article that not only makes a profit but also engages your readers? Well, that’s what we’re about to walk you through.

What Does Long-Form Even Mean?

Simply put, long-form content is content that offers depth of information on any given topic. A long-form article will have a minimum length of 700 to 2,000 words. As for the maximum length – the sky’s the limit. Deciding how long an article should be depends on several factors: topic, range, business goals, and, of course, audience.

Hearty Meals vs. Light Snacks

Think of a long-form article as a hearty meal as opposed to the light snacks of short-form content, which usually range between 400 and 600 words. Long-form content is intended to be read as opposed to skimmed. And if you’re thinking long-term, long-form content is well-suited for legacy pieces, rather than mere current events.

Don’t get us wrong – light snacks can be a delight. But it’s the hearty meals that keep us full and satisfied for longer. (Is anyone else getting hungry?)

The Benefits of Long-Form Content

Sure, creating such long articles is a challenge, especially in today’s world of “snackable content.” But nothing worthwhile comes easy, right? The challenge of creating long-form content pays off, as you can see with this list of benefits:

  • Improves search engine rankings for your site(s)
  • Increases reader engagement and social shares
  • Increased time on page
  • Builds your brand(s)
  • Offers backlink opportunities which builds trust in search engines
  • Increases chances of CTAs
  • Encourages conversations and commentary

A Little More on Search Engine Rewards

Long-form content gets rewarded by search engines. On average, the top 10 results of a search are greater than 2,000 words. In other words, longer content is an attribute of a page that will rank highly and get your sites bumped up.

Search engines are focused on context, and long-form articles create greater context for the topic at hand. With more depth, the content can be connected to a larger number of related topics. That’s why search engines value content that is broader rather than concentrated.

Google’s (almost magical) algorithm ranks articles higher if the content has added value and a good user experience. In this case, longer is better, but ONLY if you get to the point. A long article that rambles on and on endlessly would only be a waste of time (and might even be penalized).

Photo by David Espejo / Getty Images

Readers’ Attention Spans: We’re Becoming Goldfish  

With all these numbers, stats, algorithms and rates, it’s easy to forget that people are the ones reading all this content. We can’t ignore the fact that people have natural attention spans that tend to wane after a certain amount of time. According to a 2015 study by Microsoft, the average attention span has shortened from 12 seconds in 2000 to a mere 8 seconds in 2013 (the study also stated that goldfish have an average attention span of 9 seconds…).

The goal is to create long-form content that is actually interesting to read. It’s easy to blame human attention spans (or the lack thereof), but that’s missing the point, which is to make great content! If an article is good, people will keep reading. Period.

Making Your Long-Form Content Worth Reading  

The end goal is to provide value to your audience while also meeting your business goals. This requires planning, which involves three pivotal items: choosing your topic, defining your goals, and knowing your audience.

Choosing a Topic

Choosing a topic relies on many factors, such as the theme of your site(s) and the data your content provides (i.e., what topics get the most page views/CTR). You can also take a peek at your competitors to see what content they’re creating; are they sticking to trending topics/SEO keywords?

Defining Your Goals

Without goals, you’re just treading water. Figure out what you’re aiming for. Are you making long-form content to build brand awareness? Are you trying to build a community or get shares? For example, a study of 100 million articles (by Buzzsumo) found that infographics and listicles get the most shares across social networks.

Knowing Your Audience

Who makes up your target audience? What are they looking for? In another online study, it was found that articles that answer the question “why” get more clicks than others. Is your audience looking for answers or just passing time with listicles of cats in pajamas?

Don’t forget to add photos where needed, because we all like to have visuals when reading a story. The end goal is to provide quality content for the most people possible. But, remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day.