What is long form content?
People have different definitions of long form content. In plain English, long form content refers to articles, blog posts, eBooks, white papers, guides and other types of copy with a high word count.
What’s the minimum word count for long form content? Some say 1,200 to 1,500 words, others say you need a minimum of 3,000 words, and still others suggest a word count over 4,000.
However, it’s not all about the word count. By definition long form content requires a lot of volume, but it’s not simply a matter of quantity over quality. You can’t crank out a couple thousand words and pat yourself on the back for a job well done.
Reasons to choose long form content
Sometimes you want a quick answer to a quick question. Is it good SEO practice to put all your words into graphics? No.
But sometimes you want more than that. Sometimes you would like to understand an issue fully and get thorough knowledge that allows you to make informed decisions. Longer articles or blog posts, and even longer pieces of content like white papers and ebooks, can provide more value than a quick answer.
Google knows this, so longer posts may rank ahead of shorter posts, assuming they contain useful information rather than just fluff. However, Google’s John Mueller said, “For web search, we don’t care about the length of articles.” Length on its own isn’t a ranking factor.
People also know this, so they may be willing to trade contact info and contact permission for a valuable white paper or ebook. This kind of long-form content is not used for SEO — it’s used to get an opportunity to share your marketing messages with willing readers.
Reasons not to choose long form content
Some people contend that long form content is counterproductive. We consume media faster than ever before. Our attention spans are entering the goldfish zone. We want bite-sized articles for fast consumption — snippets we can read while waiting in traffic and walking into the office. We’re living in a world of 280 character communication, soundbites, snapshot stories, and communicative multitasking. From here on out all content needs to be clear, concise, and to the point. Unnecessary words should be cut; make it punchy and get on with it.
Is this true?
Sort of, and also not at all. We checked out a number of research reports on the subject. The studies mostly use large sample sizes, which is good, but they also usually make no effort to control variables like the topic or type of content, the industry, the quality of the post, and all the rest of the very important characteristics of web content. If you’re only looking at the number of words in a post, that’s all you’re going to see.
The clearest conclusion of research shared around the web is this: short pithy copy does well and long form content does well. It’s the no man’s land in-between length copy that struggles.
Dive into the data
Moz has a 30-page research report with serious analysis of 1,000,000 articles, and they conclude that long form content is more likely to be shared and more likely to get links. On the other hand, they also acknowledge that most articles don’t get shared and don’t get links. Even the most famously popular stuff, like how-to articles, listicles, and videos, usually doesn’t get any shares or links.
BuzzSumo has a workmanlike summary of reputable articles on the subject, and they also conclude that longer articles perform better in search and in social media.
Check your own data, too
Here’s a quick experiment to try. Go to your Google Analytics and check the Behavior> Site Content > All Pages data to find the most popular content at your website. Check the word counts. We did this for the web site you are currently visiting, and found that the top 10 most popular posts for the past 30 days all have word counts from about 350 to 850 words, and there was no correlation between popularity and word count. Three of the 10 had less than 600 words, three had 600-800 words, and three had over 800 words. We have longer posts, but they weren’t in the Top Ten this month.
We repeated this little experiment at a website where we know for a fact that we have a number of posts with 1,900 words or more. The Top Ten posts, however, were all between 350 and 850 words.
What’s more, as we looked at the popular posts, we could see that many were posts that had been shared in social media, suggested by related content plugins, or on topics recently mentioned in the news. Others were evergreen posts that are usually in the Top Ten lists. We didn’t see any 2,000 words posts surprisingly popping up.
In fact, since we did a bunch of analytics reports at the beginning of the month and every single one included the most popular posts of the quarter and analysis of that Top Ten list, we can say with confidence that we just don’t see posts that are popular only because they’re long. We do this type of report every quarter for lots of websites. We’d have seen that by now if just having a long post was the key to popularity.
Succeeding with long-form content
Sometimes your long-form content isn’t about SEO or about popularity. White papers and ebooks are not supposed to show up in search — they’re valuable content to swap for contact permission. And long, detailed articles giving full information on specific subjects are often intended to answer specific questions, which may be less popular.
If you decide to invest in long-form content, you should make sure that it performs as well as possible.
Dense 500 word paragraphs can scare people off. You still want your copy to be easy to read and visually accessible. Breaks help give people the opportunity to pause and save the rest of the article for later. We often see individuals come back to a post repeatedly, maybe reading your entire post throughout the course of the day. Use subheadings to help categorize and give people a convenient stopping point.
View sections like chapters in a book. Correctly used, headings can help people scan your copy and find the information they want to read or re-read quickly and easily.
If you’re creating ebooks rather than long posts, you will have chapters. Use layouts like books or magazines to make them easy to read.
Promote your long-form content
When you’ve made the effort to create something more substantial, put effort into promoting it, too. Email people you think will enjoy that new article. Share your ebooks in email blasts and social media posts. Ask for links from webmasters whose readers will enjoy what you’ve made.
This is always a good thing to do. It’s more important to get the maximum ROI from your investment in long form content.
It’s not just the word count
You won’t be penalized for a high word count. This doesn’t mean that you should have an eye on the word count as you write. Adding words for the sake of running up the word count is a bad idea – that’s called fluff. If it’s not useful and it doesn’t contribute to your message, don’t put it in.
First priority any time you or your team write copy for your site should be providing useful, well written, and engaging content that’s optimized for search. Always produce your best quality work.
Skimping on your content is like buying cheap building materials; you’re setting yourself up for failure. Consider professional SEO copy writing services.
Writing long form content isn’t an exact science, but the elements that contribute to successful long form content are normal writing habits for professional SEO copy writers: understanding your audience and how to engage with that audience, providing clear answers to the questions that people are asking, communicating information in an accessible way, implementing head keywords and longtail keyword phrases, high quality content, etc.
These things don’t come naturally to everyone. Haden Interactive has professional writers on the team. Our articles get shares and links. Our clients have links to their websites — to our content on their websites — from Psychology Today, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, educational websites, government websites, influencers’ websites, Wikipedia, and many more valuable properties.
The length of our posts typically is based on how many words it takes to answer the question we’re answering. The results speak for themselves. Contact us to discuss your content marketing needs.