With decreasing attention spans and everyone using small screens, it makes sense to publish 300 word blog posts, right?
You may argue – this content strategy works for Seth Godin. Just look at the number of shares on his posts.
But you are not Seth Godin and you should consider long form content of short form content.
And the data on Google’s top 10 results also show an allergy to short content (unless you’ve a very authoritative domain).
Web users are becoming smarter every day. They want specific answers to specific questions. The number of long-tail searches performed are increasing every day. Your content strategy needs to match their increasing savvy.
So as a blogger, you’ll have to laboriously compose more words for search engine optimization and conversion rate.
Let me just say the words:
I am a big believer in evergreen long-form content pieces. They perform better and add immense value to your audience by going beyond just scratching the surface.
Many bloggers suffer from little traffic and decide to kill their blogs. But don’t jump the gun!
Do you want to further optimize your inbound marketing efforts?
Then long form evergreen articles can give you that edge over your competition who focuses strictly on short form content.
- The majority of blog posts published are 500 words or shorter. You can stand out in the noise by putting an extra 1500 words worth of work.
- Longer articles generate business leads for a longer timeframe. This is because they attract backlinks and organic traffic from Google timelessly, organically making it evergreen content.
- You’re perceived as an authority in your industry. Your audience appreciates comprehensive posts that delve into intricacies of their pain points. They won’t need to jump on 10 different websites to get the same information.
- Long form is sustainable. You can launch a marketing campaign solely by repurposing these epic content pieces.
Buffer experimented with not publishing any new content for a month and distributed their existing content in a value-packed email course. It garnered 18,185 signups within 6 days, a great conversion rate on a counterintuitive content strategy.
Here at NeilPatel.com, all of my articles are 4000+ words. And, in a year, I’ve already crossed 100,000 visitors/month.
But creating long form content does not mean cranking out irrelevant and repetitive words.
Rather it’s all about Providing Value.
That should always remain your major blogging goal – even if you were focusing on short form content.
In this post, I’ll break down creating high-quality long form content step-by-step. I expect that you’ll feel confident in your ability to create 3000+ word articles by the end of the post as well as trust that this is at least a good option to test against existing short form content you may have in play.
6 data backed reasons for inspiring you to create long-form evergreen content
If you’re wondering if long-form content will fit your niche, then look no further than BuzzFeed.
Another brilliant example is Wait But Why – a blog that publishes long insightful content (1500+ words) once per week.
These examples have proven sustainability compared to the old short form content mill formulas popular a few years ago. Search engines reward long form content.
Are they even sustaining their current traffic at such a low posting frequency?
Nope. They’re thriving with this content strategy.
Their articles go crazy viral earning hundreds of thousands of shares compared to similar short form content. Their post on Generation Y got more than 2 million shares.
Their research-backed piece on Artificial Intelligence impressed Elon Musk.
Good primer on the exponential advancement of technology, particularly AI http://t.co/1c30ZwJ8Y5
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 23, 2015
//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsIn fact, Google has dropped hints about favoring in-depth content by providing it a special place in its search results over short form content. Still, these are currently hints, right? I know of something that’ll interest and inspire you to take action – hard data. Here are 6 studies on how long-form content affects your search engine rankings, backlinks and social shares. 1. Average number of referring domain links for articles greater than 1000 words increase (from 6.19 to 9.53) – BuzzSumo and Moz teamed up to analyze 1 million articles this summer. They found that 85% of articles are less than 1000 words long. A major reason can be the effort required to write longer evergreen content. But, longer content consistently gets shared and linked to a greater extent. Look at the correlation numbers for shares in long-form content versus short form content. The strong correlation of long form with links isn’t new. Look at the data from content that get links 2012 version. Even in 2012, less long-form posts were written, but they got more backlinks. 2. HubSpot’s analysis of 6,192 articles found 2000+ words articles got more backlinks and social shares 2500+ word articles on HubSpot earned the most links. 2500+ words articles also earned the most social shares. And articles between 2,250 – 2,500 words earned the maximum organic traffic. Short form content wasn’t nearly as competitive. But this is one side of a content strategy coin. 3. BuzzSumo’s analysis of 100 million articles shows that in-depth articles get the most shares on social media In their sample of 100 million articles, short form content (less than 1000 words) was shared 16 times as often as the long-form work. 3,000-10,000 word posts averaged the most social media shares (8859). 4. Quick Sprout blog posts longer than 1,500 words get 68% more tweets and 22% more likes than shorter ones My analysis of 327 blog posts on Quick Sprout showed that longer posts get more social media engagement. Posts greater than 1500 words averaged 293.5 tweets and 72.7 likes, whereas posts under 1500 words averaged 174.6 tweets and 59.3 likes. Data shows this as a powerful content strategy. At my start-up CrazyEgg, we noted the same trend – long form content on the homepage converted 30% higher than short form content. 5. CoSchedule’s Analysis of 6 long-tail keywords shows that long-form content ranks higher in Google Garrett Moon analyzed the first page rankings of 6 keywords. He found that the top 5 results averaged more than 2,000 words. Google gets more search engine fodder and you’ll rank for more long-tail keywords. 6. WordStream increased their on-page time and user engagement by incorporating long-form content on their blog. Initially, the WordStream team was skeptical of the long-form content strategy and published articles over 1000 words. They only focused on search engine optimization. They changed their blogging and marketing strategy. A major factor that increased their average on-page time from 1:35 to 4:33 was long-form content. Their most popular article for 2013 was 2300+ words – Find Your Old Tweets: How to See Your First (Worst?) Tweet. Writing insightful and detailed content will also rank you for many long-tail keywords and increase your search traffic and conversion rate.
8 steps to create an engaging long-form article
Every word you write must be contextually relevant and add value to your target audience. You can’t ramble on and publish a massive 3000 words article. And you’ll want to ensure that any long form article is formatted properly, so that your visitors can read comfortably. It has to captivate them unlike short form content that is easier to scan and complete. Here is a step-by-step method you can use to create a lengthy masterpiece for your content strategy.
There’s little use of writing in-depth content with a limited shelf-life. It will attract readers, shares and links for a short time., but has no evergreen effect. Look at websites like Wikipedia, About and IMDB. You want continued, sustained success like them. Chris Fielden experimented with an evergreen content strategy posting. It saw 6,000-9,000 monthly visitors (in 2013). Here are some evergreen content formats you can start with. You can read more evergreen content strategy ideas in this blog post at Buffer. After you jumpstart your creative process and come up with evergreen ideas, it’s time to check them. If a subject hasn’t got interest, you should ditch it. Run your list of collected ideas (or keywords) through Google Trends. You can pit two subjects against each other at Explore Trends and determine the subject that’ll be fruitful for you to target. Here is the comparative interest, shown over time, between “Facebook”, pitted against “Google+.” You can even refine your search for a particular region. Here is a plot of “cupcakes” vs “macaroons” for North Dakota. Cupcakes win the battle, at least in North Dakota. If your graph for a particular keyword is a flat line with diminishing searches per month, then don’t go after that keyword. The subject should have a stable run over the last few months, at least. It’s great if it’s on an upward spiral, like the phrase “content marketing.”//www.google.com/trends/embed.js?hl=en-US&q=content+marketing&tz=Etc/GMT-5:30&content=1&cid=TIMESERIES_GRAPH_0&export=5&w=500&h=330
The queries tab will give you a list of related keywords. You should ideally target the top and rising queries.
You can also use BuzzSumo for drilling top performing content pieces in your niche.
For finding evergreen popular content, filter your results for the “past year” or “past 6 months.”
Chris managed to get a wider audience for his writing (more book sales on Amazon and Lulu) with his evergreen content experiment.
Step 2 – Do intensive research, gathering data and scientific studies.
Effective research is critical to writing high-quality content.
Even if you’re well-versed on the subject you’re going to write about, performing research won’t hurt. You can discover a new angle to make your post more interesting or a case study that supports your arguments.
Have a look at ConversionXL. They are known to publish only high-quality evergreen content. The backbone of their articles is intensive research. Their posts are loaded with data.
Want to carve a niche for your blog so a search engine loves you?
Then write research backed posts.
Start with Google. You’ll get autocomplete suggestions as you start typing.
You can dig for more keywords from the ‘Searches related to’ section at the bottom of search results.
Here are some searching tips by Matt Cutts.
You can dig deeper if you use these 25 search operators to deep-dive into any website.
Do you want to include different types of content in your post?
Then use these other avenues.
You should reference scientific research in your posts, if possible as part of your content strategy. It will improve your credibility. Google Scholar is a good starting point for digging up scientific studies.
Here are the search results for ‘improve memory.’
Don’t believe everything written in Wikipedia articles. The information is not as reliable. Only use it for expanding your understanding of a subject.
You can directly search for data around your subject by searching “[your subject]” + data. You’ll find websites for sourcing statistics.
Here are results for “online marketing” + data.
It’s easy to get distracted, so time your research and don’t allow yourself more than an hour to gather information.
Step #3 – Create a robust structure: Outline your ideas
How can you write a long article without defining its structure?
It’s the obvious next step to ensure that your writing flows well.
When a reader jumps sections in your article (which he will), he must not get lost.
You can also use Google Documents for both outline and writing.
The outline should include these elements (choose relevant ones based on the subject of your article).
And, it should follow an inverted pyramid structure.
You can write the introduction and conclusion for your post in the outline itself. The introduction will establish context for your main body. The conclusion should end with a strong call to action. You can use ideas from the articles, studies and data collected in step 2.
Then, create sub-topics for your body and bullets to list your main points. Here is a rough outline created in Evernote by Michael Hyatt.
Feeding irrelevant or outdated information is likely to create a bad user experience. It can tarnish your brand image.
Ask these questions before adding an argument to your outline. It ensures context.
- Will your target audience be interested in the sub-topic you plan to cover?
- Does adding a particular research study in your outline present your idea convincingly?
Have a final look at your outline. It must follow your content creation goals and add value for your readers.
Step #4 – Draft the article without any critique
Once you’ve structured your ideas on screen, start writing.
But only write. Don’t worry about adding hyperlinking or multimedia. Try not to press backspace in your first draft.
You take care of trimming your article later, when you edit.
Blog posts at Boost Blog Traffic are terrific long-form evergreen content examples. They publish less frequently, but only present high-quality stuff.
They guide you to think of long-form content the correct way on their editorial guidelines page.
As you’ve performed intensive research on step 1, you’ll be brimming with ideas. Hopefully, you won’t need to stretch your first draft to somehow touch the 2,000 word mark.
If you always end up messing around with your ideas in first draft, consider timing yourself.
Step #5 – Editing and SEO: Break long sentences and paragraphs into two or more shorter sections. Integrate keywords and implement schema markup
There are 3 critical elements for editing and optimizing your article for SEO. Let’s look at them one-by-one.
#1. Compelling Subheadings
Long-form articles will attract readers for a diverse set of keywords.
But, once a visitor lands on your website, will he be interested in reading your complete article?
I don’t think so.
Visit-durations follow a Weibull distribution. If you are not impressing a user within the first 10-20 seconds, he won’t hesitate to press the back key.
So you need to craft curiosity-peeking sub-headlines like Jon Morrow.
You see, subheadings are the guiding light for a visitor looking for specific information from your article.
If he can’t find what he’s looking for, he’ll get disappointed and leave your website.
Follow these 5 steps to create compelling subheads.
Brian Dean recommends crafting benefit oriented subheads to increase the perceived value of your articles.
He regularly uses such sub-headlines in his long-form blog posts.
It’s Copywriting 101. Your customers always think from a WIFFM “what’s in it for me” perspective.
Using benefit-oriented subheads is your ticket to creating a customer-focused memorable experience.
You can start with 25% benefit-oriented subheads as Brian Dean recommends.
#2. Cut short your sentences and paragraphs
Which version of the post would you rather read in the screenshot below?
The right one has huge chunks of text. It will require more concentration and is unappealing to the eye, even before you start reading.
Don’t commit a similar mistake in your long-form article.
Go for the left version – it looks polished and formatted properly.
You should also use shorter paragraphs running between 3 to 6 lines. Like Jeff Goins.
Leave extra space between your paragraphs to offer breathing space to your readers.
Next you can make the article digestible by cutting down the long-winded sentences into shorter ones (between 10 to 15 words).
This is especially valid in the introduction, because you need to hook the reader right inside your article.
Where possible, you should also use bullets and lists. They help in processing information faster than clustered paragraphs.
Along the way:
Don’t be worried if you’re breaking some grammar rules.
You can start a sentence with a conjunction – And, It, Or.
Use contractions. They equate to how we speak in everyday life and your readers will appreciate a conversational writing tone over a formal one.
#3. Implement schema markup and optimize for SEO
Check your article’s SEO and ensure it’s optimized for your target keywords.
A plugin like Yoast will be helpful.
To attract long-tail traffic, you can integrate long-tail keywords into your article.
You should also add relevant internal and external hyperlinks to credible sources.
These are the basics for optimizing your article.
Do you want to take your SEO to the next level?
Then use schema markup – it’s an underutilized SEO strategy.
Using schema, your entry in SERP will have rich snippets.
As we’ve already seen, 2000+ words long-form articles are highlighted as in-depth content in Google.
Simon Penson explains the nuts and bolts of implementing schema in your article.
Pro Tip: Crank up your post’s UX by creating a table of contents.
It was received very well by the internet marketing community. The post received 36,000+ page views, 953 email subscribers and 256 trial signups for his product.
Matthew Barby also uses a table of contents for his in-depth blog posts. Clicking on a subject will jump you directly to that section.
On WordPress, you can create a table of contents using this plugin.
Pro Tip 2: Color code your article’s sections to ease the text’s readability
You can also color code your article backgrounds by applying CSS to various sections. I explain such advanced formatting hacks in this article.
Step 6. Provide a rich multimedia experience by uploading photos and videos
It’s not 2008 anymore. The internet has gone highly visual.
Google favors multimedia results in its search results.
55% of all keyword searches in the US return at least one video.
For long-form content, visuals make even more sense.
How boring, if not painful, would reading a long 5000-word text article be?
You would run away screaming.
Videos and images break your content into readable chunks and they are easier to digest than text.
See for yourself – Which of the below versions do you process faster and remember longer?
Look at my posts here at NeilPatel.com. I write only long form content.
And to keep you engaged, I use relevant images, screenshots, videos, charts and infographics.
Here are some tips to help you choose the right visual elements for your blog post.
You can upload copyright free pictures. Here is a list of 17 websites with stock free photos. Attribution may or may not be required – please check before uploading.
Search for relevant videos on YouTube and embed them in your articles. First, click on the “Share” button below the video.
Then click on the “Embed” tab. You need to copy and paste the HTML code in your article.
Upload charts, graphs and statistical tables from relevant websites. Recently, I included the chart below in my post on Facebook Organic Reach.
Use custom hand drawn images like The Oatmeal.
I’ve also had great success with them in my $100,000 case study. The image below received 765 likes and 245 shares.
There are a couple of problems though. You need good illustration skills. Or, if you hire someone to create them for you – they can get very expensive.
Add short infographics or small parts from bigger infographics.
You can also add animated GIF images. They have an entertainment value and I found that animated graphics get shared the most on social media. They don’t perform very well in the B2B sector though.
Overall, visuals increase your post’s perceived value and optimize your content for social media. So, make sure you include them in your long-form posts.
Step 7. Double check grammar and spelling mistakes
Grammar and spelling slip-ups hamper your brand image. They make your content look amateurish.
You need to weed them out before your article goes live.
Start with a spell checking tool. They are a good starting point for cleaning up your article.
So, are we done after making necessary corrections through the spell checking tool?
Not just yet.
Don’t send the article for publishing.
These tools are based on algorithms.
They will not detect your homophone spelling error.
Or detect your misused commonly confused words.
And they’ll nag you to not start your sentences with a conjunction.
You are the best mechanism to ensure a conversational and engaging writing tone in your post.
So read your article aloud and correct your mistakes.
We tend to look at our own work with a bias. Ask for help from a friend in editing your content. The fresh pair of eyes will detect errors that slipped by you in proofing.
Step 8. Publish the article and promote the post like crazy
Writing on a subject that hasn’t got any demand among your audience sucks.
But long-form content created using the 7 steps I explained before this one will have proven demand. It will require a lot of effort as well.
But, once you’ve invested your time in writing, not promoting your content piece will waste all of those efforts.
To truly reap the benefits of long-form content, you’ve got to ensure that your article reaches key members of your community.
Brian Dean recently published a huge list of 131 SEO tools. And he reached out to every tool owning company (CEO or marketing manager) alerting them about his article.
The article attracted 14,000+ page views in just 3 days. It was largely due to his planned strategic outreach.
Start with promoting your long-form piece to everyone you’ve mentioned in the article. Draft an email inquiring if they would like to see your article. You can use Brian’s template for outreach above.
If they show interest in viewing your article, send the article’s link.
Don’t be pushy in the first email and ask everyone directly to share your article. That has a lower success rate, according to Brian.
Spend some time interacting with the influencer and adding value to their blog/company. They’ll appreciate it and, as they trust you, they’re more likely to share your content.
You should also distribute your post on social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and other platforms where your target audience hangs out.
I wrote in detail about 11 things you should do after publishing your post.
Once you’re done with promotions, you can sit back and enjoy the traffic influx for many months.
Long-form content isn’t new. It was used widely by magazines. But, Columbia Journal Review puts it aptly, “long-form has gone digital.”
Darren from Problogger believes that one long-form article is better than a series of short posts. In fact, the list of blogs that believe in long-form content is huge – Tim Ferriss, WordStream, MarketingProfs, Scripted, QuickSprout, WaitButWhy and many more.
Don’t worry about our shrinking attention spans. People like reading insightful long-form content (even on mobile).
Start integrating in-depth content in your blog by using the step-by-step method I demonstrated in this article. It’ll establish your expertise in the industry.
Do you like insightful data packed long-form content? Have you published any long articles and had success with them?