There’s no real consensus on the web for just how long “long-form content” should be to qualify as such. For our purposes let’s say anything above 1200 words or so. But what’s at stake is not our exact word count – what matters here is the fact that long-form content has a much higher ROI (return on investment) than any other type of web content – and that means you should invest in it.
If this is news to you, it’s important to note that things weren’t always this way. The web has changed a lot over the years, and content has changed right along with it.
Keep reading to learn more.
How Web Content Has Changed
When I started writing content for the web back in 2011, you could easily get away with posting 400 – 500 word blog articles on your company website, and you’d likely see some decent traffic and online visibility in return. But as the years went by, Google tweaked their algorithm, and that changed how content was indexed and analyzed for good (and really, for the better).
This didn’t happen all in one update (although the first Panda update had a major effect on many websites with “thin” content), but rather took place over time, transforming the web content landscape a little more each day.
Business owners, bloggers and content writers began to post longer articles on websites – more often than they had before. Ebooks and white papers began to show up everywhere. It wasn’t just a select few people doing this – the entire web industry began to follow suit. What seemed like a hot new trend quickly became a web best practice.
Breaking out of the 500-word article rut was a little scary to most marketers and writers. Many people questioned whether it would be worthwhile. Would all this really help boost web traffic and increase user engagement?
We crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. As it turns out, we were right.
The Turning Point
By 2013, the new standard for blog articles became 700 – 800 words. This was a beautiful thing for content writers, as more words meant more opportunity to say something of real merit. It gave you more space to connect with your audience, more room to offer helpful advice, and more of a chance to elicit an emotional reaction from those who read your content – which all added up to better user engagement.
These 800-word articles were a much bigger deal – they were taken more seriously by those who wrote them, those who read them, and those who needed them written for their websites. These articles took longer to write, required more research, and offered genuine, fact-based information – they were pretty far off from the typical 500-word fluff piece that was popular before 2011.
Web content didn’t stop evolving from there, either. Today, in 2016, the average blog article length varies according to the type of website you’re visiting and the type of industry it’s in. While long-form content is King these days, not every published article must be a long-form post.
One thing remains certain amidst all these changes: long-form content will give you more of what you want for your website – more traffic, better user engagement, and more online visibility – in any industry.
Read on to learn why.
Long-Form Content Has a Better ROI
The number one reason to create and invest in long-form content is to get a better return on your investment than you do with shorter content.
Sure, it’s easier to spend $100 on a 500-word article in the short-term – but you will get a lot more value out of it if you spend $500 on 1500 words. The success rate of your content grows exponentially with the word count. That’s just how web content works.
Want to know what you’ll get for your money?
Here are 5 reasons long-form content is worth the investment.
- It’s prioritized by search engines. High quality, long-form content ranks better in search results than shorter content does. That means, if someone searches for something closely related to a piece of long-form content you’ve published, your piece is likely to show up higher on the search results page than a piece of shorter content (with respect to quality of course).
- It has better user engagement. The online marketing firm WordStream reported that when they began posting more original long-form content in 2012, their average time spent on site tripled by 2013. It wasn’t just the long-form content that helped them do that, but coupled with good promotion and hot topics, their long-form content took them a long way down the path to better user engagement.
- It gives you something to promote. If you promote your business through digital channels like social media and email marketing – and let’s face it, you probably do – you need something more than just your static website or a blow-off article to promote. You need good, solid, long-form content. Publish something worthwhile that you are proud of and spend time promoting it – you’ll be reaping the rewards for many months to come.
- It increases your authority. Why publish any blog articles or original content on your website at all? Because that’s how you show Google and the rest of the world that you’re an industry expert. It’s how you establish your authority in the specific industry your business is in. Basically, it’s how people will learn to take you more seriously.
- It draws your target market in closer. Long-form content may have better user engagement in general, but it also helps you pull your target market in closer than just any old blog post. Users within your target market will find your content particularly interesting and worthwhile – and they’ll remember you for that.
Now we know why long-form content is worth the investment, so let’s discuss what long-form content actually looks like on the web.
Often, long-form content is published in the format of ebooks and white papers. But what’s the difference between the two?
Below is an example of each.
Ebooks vs. White Papers – What’s the Difference?
The difference between ebooks and white papers is subtle. In fact, these terms are interchangeable for the most part. Several years back, I would have defined an ebook as a “big article” – something that could be put together using a few smaller articles from your blog that might end up being around 5 pages long. White papers were longer and more technical. These days, ebooks can end up 25 pages long and white papers may only be 3 pages. There really is no hard and fast rule.
Similar to blog articles but much more in-depth and worthwhile, ebooks and white papers do the job of delivering highly informative content to readers while being really nice to look at and interact with at the same time.
Ebooks and white papers tend to be very lead generation forward – they encourage readers to further engage with additional content through strategic links and strong calls to action.
Arguably, the ultimate allure of both ebooks and white papers (in addition to everything I’ve mentioned above, like increased user engagement and a better ROI) is the fact that the company offering the content can easily gain valuable information about the person consuming it.
Wondering how? They simply use a “gate”, like in this example of a white paper from Ion Interactive.
You’ll see in the example just mentioned that you must fill out a form to “Get the PDF” (the PDF is the full white paper). You are only shown a small part at first to entice you into filling out the form and downloading the rest.
Here’s the rub – the entire purpose behind this white paper is really to get that information from the reader in the first place.
It’s just a very nice extra to provide people with highly relevant information in a great-looking format. It also helps the case with those things I mentioned before (authority, user engagement, something to promote, etc.).
Here’s a great example of an ebook from the web geniuses over at Moz. You’ll notice that you don’t need to fill out any form to access the entire PDF. The purpose behind this ebook is more to educate Moz’s target market than anything else. I myself can vouch that this tactic works extremely well – I’ve learned a lot from consuming Moz’s content over the years and would recommend them to anyone looking for online marketing help.
It’s easy to see that long-form content provides a large amount of value. So, what are you waiting for? Start creating today.
Sold on long-form content? Not sure where to go from here? Wondering if the Cubs will ever win a World Series? Leave a comment at the bottom of the page and tell us what you think.