Go big or go home. Does size matter when it comes to content marketing?

According to some marketing experts, 500-word blog posts are dead.

This theory isn’t new; inbound marketing software providers Moz found evidence as far back as 2012 that there was a direct correlation between the length of content and the links it was likely to attract from other websites.

What is long-form content?

While there is no one particular format when it comes to creating long-form content, typical examples could include whitepapers, blogs, videos and guides. By its very nature, long-form content takes more effort to create. Supporters argue however that the benefits of 2000 + word resources are clear:

  • The longer content is, the longer people need to spend reading it. That’s more time spent on your website
  • If people have invested their precious time reading your epic novella of a piece, they are far more likely to want to share it with their connections (taking us back to long-form content being more link worthy).
  • There are proven SEO benefits to longer content, particularly since the introduction of the ‘in-depth’ article Google algorithm in mid-2013 ( although it seems some tinkering may be afoot by Google on this feature – watch this space)
  • It takes a lot of effort to write and therefore it must be chock-full of valuable insight and information (quite a big assumption I’m sure you’ll agree!)
  • You simply can’t create something truly educational/interesting in just 500 words (and you know what they say about assumptions)
  • Long-form champions argue that despite the effort, the resulting ROI is worth far more than the combined value of a number of shorter articles.

Who are we writing for?

But hold on a minute. Haven’t we been told for years that no matter how elegant our content is, people don’t actually read very much of it? Hasn’t it been drilled into us that today people scan rather than read? That the key to engaging our readers is to identify what they want and meet this need as quickly as possible?

And there’s the crux. Shouldn’t everything we write be about meeting our readers’ needs?

I can’t be the only person who has become bored 10 paragraphs into a massive blog piece, no matter how much I wanted to find out about the subject matter in hand? Likewise, I know I’m not alone in finding myself frustrated when researching a subject only to come across a lot of short posts that essentially tell me nothing. Surely good content, just like good people, comes in all shapes and sizes?

While it does appear that longer content is ranked higher by Google, before you invest all your resources into creating your version of War and Peace, ask yourself one simple question: is it what your audience wants?

The fundamental rule of any good copywriter should be to never forget who they are writing for. Robust, precise copy targeted at your primary audience wins over long rambling content designed to attract search engines every time. In short, write for humans first.

It is, of course, a double edge sword. Visitors come to your site via search engines and there is no point in writing good copy if no one can find you. However a good copywriter will find the balance.

Google doesn’t prefer long-form content simply because it is longer. Instead Google uses content length as one of its many quality indicators.

How to write content that engages your reader

When looking at your content creation plan there are a few simple rules that will help you resonate with your target audience and those bothersome search engines:

  • Write good quality content that makes sense for your business.
  • Consider the keywords that your target audience is likely to use when researching the subject at hand and incorporate these into your content. Make sure however that in doing so the content doesn’t become unreadable.
  • Don’t force content over a certain word limit. If you only have 700 words to say on a subject, but they are good words, just say them.
  • Do consider which subjects you have to talk about that could generate long-form content.
  • Don’t assume that just because you’ve written a 4,000 word article it will instantly find its way to the top of Google.
  • Whether you are producing a 200 word blog or a 2,000 word whitepaper, respect your readers’ time.

Whatever you write put the effort in. It’s not about long-content it’s about Big Content don’t you know…more about Big Content here.

The thing about content marketing is that the rules are always changing. Just when we think we’ve found the perfect formula for creating a piece of content, Google pulls the rug out from underneath us.

However if you strive to create content that is genuinely interesting and, just as importantly, you know what to do with it, you’ll always stay ahead of the game.




Comments

  1. Anupam Bonanthaya

    I think you need both – the long form to have a base (google rankings is a plus), and the short form to continuously do drip feed.

    • Deborah Stuttard (Author)

      Agreed Anupam. I in no way think we should forget about long-form content. Just that we should never create something in long-form just because we’ve been told we must. It’s all about context.

  2. Nice piece Debs.

    I’ve been reading around in-depth articles quite a bit as Google has confirmed they are now live in the UK (after launching in the US last year). I’m still getting my head around the workings of it, but one thing it got me wondering is where to place long-form content.

    Usually if we write a whitepaper (or something similar), it will be done as a nicely designed, downloadable pdf on a landing page – sometimes with a contact form to gather leads, sometimes without. However, in-depth articles (the Google version) tend to be on accessible webpages, like blogs or journalistic articles for instance – not hidden behind a landing page.

    It raises an interesting question as to where you should put your content once you’ve written it. In-depth articles could give you an SEO advantage by being placed prominently on the first page of search results. A web link of a pdf probably won’t rank well at all on its own, especially as landing pages tend to be quite sparse and direct. Although it may guarantee you a lead’s contact details if you require them to fill out a form before they download your content.

    Ultimately, both options should provide you with qualified leads if you’ve done the important bit right and written engaging content. But with clients now so used the content marketing tactic of ‘payment with contact details’ model, I think it will be interesting to see which clients are brave enough to plump for the in-depth article style instead.

    • Deborah Stuttard (Author)

      Really interesting point there. And one that I think I’m going to have to go away and consider in more depth.

      Are clients brave enough to forgo the data capture element and instead focus on social and other ways of engaging with their target audiences? I suspect with some alternative KPIs in place some might well be. However I still face concern from some clients about giving away information for ‘free’ at all.

      With everything I agree that a mix of content forms is probably the best approach. Food for thought indeed.

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