Content is king.
That phrase has been around the block a few times, eh?
Once catchy and clever, this proverb demonstrated an important concept in early Digital Marketing: Content was here to stay, and it could lead you down the yellow brick road to online success. Today, it joins the ranks of meaningless words and clichés digital marketers might want to avoid. While we’re at it, let’s agree to stop using “low-hanging fruit,” “bandwidth,” and “ping me.”
So what’s wrong with content?
When this phrase first took hold, content exploded onto the digital scene. Businesses took the "content is king" advice and began implementing it like wildfire. With most people caught in the content marketing rat race, a problem arose:
There's a ton of content out there.
How do you stand out?
Today, customers and website visitors are experiencing content fatigue. Unfortunately, "content is king” is not enough, because everyone's doing it. Sure, distributing and promoting content helps. But it won't create success out of thin air. If your content is lackluster, all the promotion in the world can't save you. You need the right type of content to make an impact.
Enter long-form content.
Why Long-Form Content Works
Referencing kings and queens seems effective for us Digital Marketing nerds. (Or maybe Game of Thrones has us all fired up.) Either way, let's use an analogy from the Middle Ages.
History books are scattered with epic and tragic stories about kings. There are tales of kings that were benevolent, kind, and revered. There are also stories of dictators who were loathed, some even overthrown or killed.
Some were good leaders and others were bad. Which qualities did each possess? As you might imagine, favored monarchs treated their people with respect and kindness. Laws were fair, commerce boomed, and the common folk under their rule prospered. Dictators, on the other hand, lied, oppressed, harmed, neglected, and treated their people unjustly.
It's the same with content.
You can prove yourself a poor leader by creating short and superficial content, usually for self-centered reasons like improving search engine rankings or bringing in more business. You can create content that doesn't do anything extraordinary for your readers, let alone solve their problems or even entertain them.
Or, you can take the approach of a good leader. A leader that's loved and respected.
You put the reader first and your benefit second. You create content only if it provides value, even if that means creating less often. Content that adequately answer's readers questions and is more comprehensive, helpful, or actionable than your competitors.
This is long-form content in action.
What is Long-Form Content?
Opinions differ on the exact definition of long-form content. While there aren't any hard and fast rules, long-form content is - you guessed it- longer than average.
It could be a full-page or multi-page magazine ad, or a TV commercial that runs longer than thirty seconds. When it comes to writing, it may be a 2,000-word blog post or a 4,000-word e-book. One thing that most agree on: long-form content usually exceeds 1,200 words.
And it takes some serious effort.Most people don't bother with long-form content. Maybe they don't have the time, desire, or motivation. But one thing's for certain: Short content goes unnoticed, while long, in-depth, or meatier content soars to the top of SERPs and straight into your reader's hearts.
Don’t get me wrong: quality still counts. Writing 1,200+ words of subpar content just to fill space isn’t going to help anyone. So now let's dissect three important reasons why long-form content is the new standard.
1. It Helps Your Readers
Have you ever been searching for information online, only to find yourself hitting the back button because result after result is inadequate?
Each option offers the same useless content, while the information you're hunting for remains elusive.
That's super annoying, isn't it? Well, that's how readers feel most of the time. Granted, there are many instances in which queries are short, simple, and easy to answer in a few words.
But many user queries take the form of long-tail keyword searches and questions.
In fact, Google has stated that approximately 50% of all searches have never been typed in before. This means most of what's being searched isn't so black and white. While Google is getting better at deciphering these queries, they’re not quite there yet.
Think about this for a moment: what would you rather do?
- Land on a webpage that provides almost everything you need to know about your search query,
- Navigate back and forth between ten different webpages to find all the answers to your questions.
The answer is obvious.
You may be asking yourself, “Why are you so sure this works?”
Other than my years of experience working with big brands, small businesses, and everything in between, I’ve seen the power of long-form content first hand.
Let’s take a look at a personal blog I started as a hobby.
A Quick Case Study
Primal Pooch is a blog that appeals to the health-conscious dog owner. It’s something I work on in my free time, but my free time is rare these days. To tell the truth, I don't promote the website very much, and it’s far from perfectly optimized. What I do have is lots of positive response and engagement from writing long-form content.
One of my earliest articles, “The Great Debate: Do Dogs Need Fruits & Vegetables?” is 3, 315 words long. You might think that would discourage readers. Just the opposite: it garnered 45 comments and over 1,380 social shares.
What's more, when I didn’t keep up with comments quick enough, readers began demanding answers.
How’s that for engagement?
Another piece of pillar content, “Canine Liver Disease: How a Raw Diet Can Help,” addressed a real problem many dog owners face. At a whopping 4,142 words, it generated 105 comments and 935 social shares.
That’s not all. This post drove nearly all the traffic to my website for two years, and still brings in boatloads of visitors.
One of my latest articles, “Where to Find Unbiased Raw Feeding Research,” was published after a yearlong hiatus. That didn’t seem to matter. 1,689 words later, it has 15 comments and 967 social shares.
Now, I understand we’re not talking about hundreds or thousands of social shares here. But I’ve worked with multi-million dollar brands with huge social followings that don’t get that kind of attention or interaction on their blog posts.
Because their content was short, unhelpful, and probably churned out daily by a bunch of people who don’t care about the bigger picture. What’s more, there are only 28 posts on Primal Pooch to date. Here’s the kicker: it’s been live for four years. The long form content, while infrequent, generates 20,000+ page views per month, and it’s still growing.
So what’s notable about that? This is traffic and engagement for a site that’s not updated regularly and is mostly neglected.
What did I learn?
That well-constructed long-form content can not only do the heavy lifting of drawing traffic to your website – it can also be entirely self-sustaining.
But don’t take my word for it.
Learn from the best like Brian Dean, who shares regular case studies that will blow your mind. He’s a pioneer in the long-form content world. Bottom line: when you create long-form content that goes above and beyond, you breed satisfied users. And that should be your number one goal.
Here's what else long-form content can do for you:
2. It Establishes You As An Authority
When a reader is satisfied, something happens. You immediately gain street cred, or as we call it in the Digital Marketing world, authority.
Authority comes from two main places:
- Search Engines
Long-form content not only resonates with search engines (more on that in a minute), it resonates with readers. When readers are satisfied, they talk. They share information with friends, family, or other like-minded people.
You've probably noticed this Facebook phenomenon: You post a question, ask for advice, or request a recommendation, and people flock to answer it. Asking a question lands in the top five Facebook engagement tactics of all time.
People love to talk and share what they know. When you help someone or solve a problem they have, you can bet they’re willing to recommend you.
What happens next? They feel more connected to you. They behave differently. This can include spending more time reading your content, sharing it with their friends, or linking to it on their own websites.
We call this engagement, my friends.
3. Google Rewards You
At this stage in the game, we know Google's primary goal is to best serve the user.
Even their Webmaster Guidelines say:
- "Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines."
- "Create a useful, information-rich site"
- "Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging.
- “Make your website stand out from others in your field."
So it behooves your business to follow suit, don't you think?
When you do, you get a big old pat on the back from Google, in the form of positive ranking signals.
Remember that “user behavior” we were talking about earlier? Well, it leads to some important factors Google tracks like:
- Authority - I mean, only an expert would provide a 3000 word blog post on topic X, right?
- Engagement - helpful content is consumed, not ignored. How do we know? Through engagement metrics like time on site, average page time, dwell time, bounce rates, and so on.
- Social signals - A comprehensive, actionable piece of content is more likely to be shared and discovered socially.
- Backlinks - As content is shared and discovered, people choose to link to it as an additional reference within their own content.
- CTR- Engagement, social signals, and backlinks positively influence click through rates (CTR).
From there, it snowballs into better rankings, more traffic, improved visibility and boom! Next thing you know, you're an authority on the subject matter.
How do we know? Testing proves it.
SERPIQ found that longer content is preferred to short articles and that the length of content correlated with SERP position.
SEOs are discovering comprehensive content outperforms shallow content.
Data from SEMRush shows longer content tends to rank higher in SERPs, with the average first page result containing approximately 1,890 words.
BuzzSumo also concluded that longer content generates significantly more social shares.
There’s Only One Thing Left to Do: Put More Effort Into Long-Form Content
Not long ago, content creators believed long-form content was a bad idea in the digital world
No one wants to read long pages of text on the Internet, right
Today, there’s compelling evidence to the contrary. Long-form content ranks and converts. Now, through data, tests, and case studies, many are coming around to the idea that long-form content is here to stay. It’s extremely valuable for users, search engines, and most importantly: your brand.
Long-form content could be the ticket you’ve been waiting for. Use it to stand out from the crowd, grow your authority, improve your rankings, increase traffic, get more referrals, and ultimately more sales.
What are you waiting for?
It’s time to get creative and beef up your content game.