Long-form Content in 2019: Why it’s Crucial – and How to Write Quality Posts

how to create long form content
In April 2016, study was published after the authors studied one million Google search results. As part of their findings, they wrote the following (bolding theirs): “we found that longer content tends to rank higher in Google’s search results. The average Google first page result contains 1,890 words.” They also analyzed 10,000 of the URLs in their study for “topical authority,” concluding that “comprehensive content significantly outperformed shallow content.”

Meanwhile, Kissmetrics.com cites a serpIQ study in which they “found that the top-rated posts usually were over 2,000 words.” More specifically, content that ranked number one for a keyword averaged approximately 2,450 words; pieces of content ranked number two for a keyword were slightly longer – and then the length incrementally dropped for results on Google’s page one, down to where the average length of content ranked number ten for a term was slightly above 2,000 words.

A correlation, therefore, exists between the length of content and its rankings, so we decided to explore and share why well-written, appropriately-optimized content performs as well as it does—and then focus on techniques for creating this type of content for your own site.

For the purposes of this post, we’re going to talk about ungated content that needs no password or other special credentials to access it.

Why You Should Write Long-form Content?

Ten benefits of creating quality long-form content include the following:

  1. This strategy will position you as an authority on the subject, which will be a topic of interest to your customers and prospects. When people have a question on a subject, they tend to turn to the experts (in this case, you), which is just what you want.
  2. Longer posts tend to rank more highly and therefore be more visible online, as the studies discussed above demonstrate. Longer content sometimes appears in Google’s in-depth content feature; here is schema-related help and other guidance if you’d like to have your content become more likely to be selected.
  3. People tend to engage more deeply with long-form content, therefore spending more time on your site. If you include relevant internal links within the content, site visitors will likely view more pages. And, as people engage more fully with your site, this user behavior will likely have a positive impact on your rankings.
  4. Longer pieces get more social shares. One of the master’s of the long-form, Neil Patel, shares six different studies in this post that demonstrate that point.
  5. Longer content tends to gain more inbound links, and these links still play a central role in Google rankings.  
  6. You can include information for people who are new to a subject as well as information for people who are further along in knowledge. This is especially useful if you are writing a piece of content that you want to be useful for multiple groups of people along the buyer’s journey.
  7. You can use this piece of quality, in-depth content to reach out to influencers and ask them for input. Ideally, some of them will like it well enough to share it with their own networks.
  8. This content can form the basis of an email marketing campaign, where people who sign up to receive emails will receive even more supplementary material on the subject.
  9. This will provide you with material for social media posting for quite a while.
  10. As you regularly publish this type of material, you will naturally be building a community of like-minded people who want to discuss the same topics. As you become known as a source of quality information, increasing numbers of people will link to your posts and share them because they’ll trust you.

Now that we’ve listed multiple reasons why you’ll want to create long-form content in 2018 and beyond, here are tips to help make that happen.

How to Write Long-form Content

Think back to elementary school when you were told to write 500 words about your summer vacation, and you cleverly wrote how it was “very, very, very, very hot outside.” And, when your paper ended up at 499 words, you simply added another use of “very” and turned in your homework assignment. You didn’t fool your elementary school teacher then, and that tactic sums up everything you shouldn’t do now when creating long-form content. Instead, you need to provide value throughout the post. Here’s how.

Choosing the Right Topic – and Right-Sizing It

It’s crucial to choose a topic of interest to your target audience, so:

  • talk to people on your team who have in-depth knowledge of your customers and what they want and need
  • check your analytics to see what posts have performed well in the past
  • Use Google Trends to brainstorm further

Then, taking into consideration what you’ve learned through those methods, review your site to see what gaps can be filled in within those areas of interest. As broad ideas for topics are starting to coalesce, conduct keyword research to gain more insight into what information people are searching to find. By this point, you should have a list of topics.

It’s now important to make sure that your idea isn’t too broad (while Everything You’ve Ever Needed to Know about SEO might initially capture people’s attention, can you really deliver that in one long-form post?). And, while you may have a passion for crafting the perfect title tag, do you think you can write 2,000 or more words of value on the subject without becoming repetitive and/or boring your audience? Right-sizing a topic means finding the sweet spot between a concept that’s too broad and one that’s too narrow.

Better Than Competitors

The good news is that you don’t have to create content that’s literally better than anything else available on the internet, only what’s in your industry. After all, if you’re writing about luxury fishing poles, it doesn’t matter how much depth the used auto parts business goes into with its blog posts about batteries and brakes. What does matter is that you aim to create something better than what’s out there in your space, particularly ensuring your content is better than the posts your competitors are writing.

As one example, let’s say you want to position your company as the one in-the-know about affordable home maintenance strategies.

You’ll want to note, then, this DoughRoller.net post from 2017: 32 Super Easy Home Maintenance Tips That Will Save You BIG Money. What could you do to create something more useful? More comprehensive? More targeted to your specific audience? Perhaps you could create a series of four posts, one for each season, each containing 35 tips. As long as you have enough valuable tips to share, this makes your post both more comprehensive (35 versus 32) and more niche (broken down by season). Plus, you’ve got four posts for Google to rank.

If your company wants to position itself as the experts on herbal remedies, you’d want to take a look at posts like this one: 100 Best Herbs for Your Health and Wellness. You could write about 102 herbs, sure, but also consider how this post doesn’t have images. You could create something better simply by adding eye-catching visuals. Many of these herbs are attractive (or at least interesting) in appearance, and images would help to keep site visitors on your site. You could also offer ways that site visitors could use these healing herbs in practical ways, such as offering recipes for teas, salads and more that contain them.

Evergreen Versus Cutting Edge

Typically, when you’re writing a piece of long-form content, you’re creating an in-depth piece that provides value to a reasonably wide spectrum of potential readers. This may include the history of the topic (perhaps the earliest use of the Internet of Things or how healing herbs were used in the Middle Ages) and how usage has been developed over the years. You will conduct research and link to multiple credible sources so readers can find all they need to know within your article’s scope.

Occasionally, though, when the stars align just right, YOU can be the first person to realize that a fad is turning into a trend or that pieces of an emerging technology are coming together in a way that people aren’t talking about yet, so that subject needs its very first longform piece of content written. If you can be the first to notice and/or take advantage of this opportunity, you may well find yourself showered with inbound links, given that the topic is of interest to enough other people and you promote it well enough.

Gather Information Strategically

Depending upon your topic, you may gather information for a long-form post in one or more of these ways:

  • Talk to customers about their needs
  • Talk to members of your team about customer needs
  • Collect customer testimonials and reviews
  • Conduct surveys
  • Explore Google Analytics for trends and patterns
  • Merge two or more previously conducted studies in a way that hasn’t been done before
  • Interview experts in the field, found:
  • Study what other bloggers are saying about the subject online and quote the best of what’s available; your post can also serve as a rebuttal if you disagree with what’s been published on the topic

Quality long-form content is often a mixture of information gathered through primary sources (original interviews, surveys, studies and so forth) and secondary sources (what’s already been published). In the past, some pundits claimed you shouldn’t interview other people within your own industry (meaning, your competitors) because you would be drawing attention to them, but automatically taking this stand cuts you off from a rich source of information and industry insights.

Determine What Pieces to Include

No two long-form posts should use the same format, but elements commonly included are:

  • History or context of the subject
  • Timelines or overviews of the topic
  • FAQs
  • Interviews and quotes from industry experts
  • Data/survey results
  • Relevant images, original whenever possible
  • Checklists
  • How-to videos
  • Predictions for the future
  • Additional resources (from your site and others)
  • Already-written tweets to share, with hashtags

Note: don’t feel the need to always present the information in a strictly chronological fashion. If you were writing a piece about the Internet of Things, to use that example again, you might start out by sharing the latest technology to capture readers’ attention before moving into a chronology that allows them to see how all has progressed to date. Or, you might write about cutting-edge research that shares how the beliefs of Middle Age-era herbalists were, in fact, correct about a particular remedy.

Assembling the Pieces

Writing a long-form piece of content is, in some ways, like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. In one key way, though, it’s different: you can put the pieces together in multiple different ways, depending upon your purpose.

Let’s say you want to build your email marketing list. If so, you could include high-level statistics of a survey that you took but then include a clearly visible button where people can sign up to get the entire report.

Or, let’s say you’re a smaller player in an industry and you really need more visibility. In that case, you might decide to include every single piece of valuable data you have in the article and then promote it heavily to gain visibility and inbound links.

You might take the information you’ve gathered to create a pros and cons piece, such as when we examined the good, the bad and the ugly with Google AMP. Or you could juxtapose information in a way that hasn’t been done before, like when we talked to international boomerang champions to see what we could learn about conversion optimization. Or you could create a 101 guide, such as what we did with our digital marketing blueprint for startups. You might smoothly take readers along a path or you might include opposing opinions.

Nuts and Bolts

  • Use plenty of sub-headings for people who need to scan the post and only want to read certain sections.
  • Optimize the post and tags in a way that reads naturally.
  • Proofread your post carefully. Also, have other people on your team (chosen because of specialized knowledge and/or because they are killer proofreaders) read the content before you make it live.
  • Make sure all of the links work.
  • Are there other internal links that you should include to add more value?
  • What is the most compelling title? Use tools such as Buzzsumo to discover what types of titles have worked well for the type of post you’re writing. Ideally, it will also include a keyword often used by your target audience.
  • Make sure your promotion plan for the piece is already established and not an afterthought. How will you use social media to promote this post? Paid or organic? How will you use this post in email marketing campaigns?

Now What?

At some point, you’ll have to declare this piece “done” and get it live and promoted. But, “done” in this context doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t ever be changed. Instead, as information about this topic grows and evolves, you can add to the piece. As you write additional posts (long-form or more average in length), consider if it makes sense to link to the original long-form post. Conversely, would it be helpful to your readers if you linked from the long-form post to this new post?

If this is an evergreen piece, you’ll have multiple times in the future when it makes sense to revive promotional efforts for the post. What are those times? Have you incorporated that schedule into your editorial calendar?

Or, if this piece is an example of when you were an early spotter of a trend, can you reverse engineer how you spotted this trend before other professionals did? Even though you can’t always catch lightning in a bottle, you may be able to articulate methodologies to monitor industry happenings to create other long-form breaking-news-style posts. As you gain a reputation for being able to do so, your inbound links, shares and site engagement will likely skyrocket.