Much has been said about internet users and their short attention spans. And much of it is true. For many years, just about everyone said that 300 to 500 words was the ideal length for blog posts and online articles, and that going longer was a sure way to lose almost all your readers. And yes, 400-word posts are ideal for a lot of purposes.
But there’s been a noticeable trend in favor of long-form content over the last two years or so. Popular blogs are regularly publishing pieces that top 1,000 or 2,000 words. In fact, 1,200 to 1,500 words has become a widely recommended target length for long-form blog posts, articles, and other web content.
To clarify, we’re talking exclusively about content like blog posts and informative articles, not your website or sales copy. Also, this isn’t to say all—or even most—of your content should be this long. Standard pieces of around 400 words are still the foundation of content marketing, and many well-written posts don’t need to be longer. In general, say what you have to say on one narrow topic as concisely as possible. But there are definite advantages to including occasional lengthier pieces in with the shorter ones.
Long-Form Content and Search
Keywords—especially long-tail keywords—are important. They aren’t quite as important as they used to be, though. Google and the other search engines have gotten really good at figuring out what published pieces are about. Their complex ranking algorithms are also continuously improved to take into account that natural writing created for human readers contains synonyms and a variety of predictable related terms, rather than the same words and phrases repeated over and over again.
The more words a blog post or article has, the better the picture it paints for search engines and the more words and phrases it can rank for in search engine results. A recent Backlinko study even found that the average content ranking on the first page of Google is 1,890 words long. It was also clear from the study data that lengthier, in-depth, focused content significantly outperforms short overview-style posts and other cursory handling of subject matter.
It’s also worth noting that, much to the researchers’ surprise, they found that traditional title tag keyword optimization had little correlation to search engine result rankings. Which speaks strongly to the point made two paragraphs up.
Long-Form Content and Users
While there will always be people out there who tend to flee at the sight of a long article (a tendency that actually long predates the internet), there will always be lots of people looking for in-depth coverage of a topic that provides valuable, well-developed information and insights.
A major benefit of content marketing is building your brand’s authority and strengthening its relationship with consumers by generously giving them answers, information, and other things they’re looking for. Long-form content does this very effectively.
When you cover a topic in a comprehensive, helpful way—as opposed to just saying the same basic stuff that’s already on 50,000 other websites—you’ve created a valuable resource page that will earn you backlinks and social media shares.
A BuzzSumo study found that the most widely shared content is usually long-form content; plus, the longer the content, the more shares it tends to get. More backlinks and more social media shares boost your SEO, your referred targeted traffic, your own social media following, and your brand visibility and credibility.
Tips for Writing Successful Long-Form Content
Of course, to achieve SEO and branding benefits from long-form content, you have to do it well. For starters, extended pieces still need a tight focus on one clearly defined subject. Google needs to know what you’re writing about, and so do your readers. An individual blog post or article should be about an individual topic, exploring different areas of it without venturing off into tangents.
Have a plan for how the post or article will play out. Many people find it helpful to create an outline first. This lets you organize the piece logically—something readers greatly appreciate—and ensures you cover everything you want to say. It also helps prevent you from wandering off topic or becoming repetitious as you work through your thoughts or try to extend the length.
Although there’s too much emphasis on this idea that web readers only like short content, the emphasis on their preference for easily scannable content is well supported. People are turned off by large blocks of unbroken text. Keep your paragraphs short and use bold subheadings between every few paragraphs to facilitate scanning. Take a look at the structure of this piece for an example. Images can also be interspersed to break up lengthy text and add greater appeal to long-form pieces.
As a final word of advice, consider having in-depth pieces written or at least edited by a professional. Writing 400 words well is difficult for many non-writers, and writing 1,400 or 4,000 words well is even harder. Your long-form content can be high-value to you and your readers, but you undermine that if it has multiple spelling or grammar errors, if it’s disorganized, or if it’s unclear. The quality of the writing matters a lot.
Make Long-Form Content Work for You
Stretch out and explore in depth the subjects that are important to your customers or clients. Rely on your expertise, but don’t shy away from research and giving your readers supporting sources. If you turn your website into a go-to resource that’s known for its usefulness and reliability, you’re turning content marketing into a truly powerful branding tool. You’ll also see your site climb in the search engine result pages, attracting more organic targeted traffic as well as referred traffic via backlinks and social media shares.
The same truth applies to your content as to your products or services: deliver value and your brand will grow.