How many times have you heard the old web wisdom about capping articles at 800 words? On first pass it seems to make sense. Reading off a backlit screen can be tiring. All communication is becoming more visual. The popularity of social has made everyone easily distracted.
Microsoft even claimed in 2015 that human attention spans had sunk to Dory from Finding Nemo level. That’s been firmly de-bunked, but the idea has still taken hold: when it comes to content, shorter is better.
Sure there’s something to be said for online brevity. People are time-constrained and inundated with information. Lots of brands condense their messages into digestible info-chunks that max out at 500-800 words.
But avoiding longer-from content stops you from taking advantage of deeper organisational knowledge. Consumer, B2B, or B2C, all companies have communications assets they take for granted:
- People (gurus)
- Expertise (advice and best practice)
- Successes (case studies)
- And insights – e.g. the ability to draw from business experience to interpret events, spot market trends, or make intelligent predictions about the future.
Turning ideas and knowledge into compelling content can position a brand as a thought leader, while building trust with people looking for credibility and expertise. That can’t be achieved with a snappy 400-word post and funny gif.
It’s time to bang the drum again for articles, blogs, eBooks and even web pages where the standard length is 1500-2000 words — and get to the bottom of why long-form can add power to SEO.
The advantages of going long
First and foremost, people do actually read longer content.
A study by Medium says that 7-minute articles capture the most reading time; working out to ca. 1,700 words. While people are still reading shorter pieces, it seems they’re also willing to stick with a longer article if they find it valuable*.
They also share longer content more frequently.
If you think about the last time you shared an article or blog post, I’d bet it was a well-researched piece of analysis, some credible author’s fully fleshed-out industry opinion, or offered some in-depth advice beyond ‘5 ways to do this thing you want to do even better’.
I’m obviously guessing based on a personal focus group of one, but research backs it up.
Moz and BuzzSumo analysed the links and shares of 1 million articles back in 2015 and found 85 percent of online articles were less than 1000 words, and most of those sub-1k pieces pulled only a few external links or shares. Articles of 1,000 words or more received notably more shares and backlinks, with research-backed articles and opinion-based journalism pieces doing especially well.
Google rewards it
It’s in Google’s interest to surface the very best-quality content related to search terms. If content with more words gets more links and likes, Google’s algo receives the signals it needs to validate credibility and popularity.
They’ve said as much themselves. Pandu Nayak, creator of the Panda algorithm for promoting high-quality over shallow content, once said that people ‘turn to Google for answers to quick questions, but our research shows that up to 10% of users’ daily information needs involve learning about a broad topic.” That says loads about the format SEO experts need to focus on.
The data supports this too. Studies on optimal content length reviewed by Torque found that the top-ranking articles often have a 2000-plus word count. Of the millions of pages Google ranks, those with deeper content consistently rank better.
How to create it
So if longer content has value, how do we go about creating it while still keeping an eye on SEO?
Start by asking what is it your organisation can write about with authority. Are there industry conversations you should be part of? Are there success stories you need the world to know? Do you have practical, best practice advice (beyond 3-5 top tips) that could help prospective customers address a business pain?
When choosing a topic, start with keyword research. This will help you understand how people are searching.
You want are topics that …
- Aren’t so broad that it’s impossible to rank on the first SERP
- Aren’t so specific that nobody searches for it
You’re looking for topics that strike a balance between search volume and specificity.
Make more time for writing
Longer content naturally takes longer to write. Orbit Media found in a survey last year that bloggers were spending about 3.5 hours per article, up from 2.5 hours in 2014. Bloggers also reported significantly better results when they devoted six hours or more to a piece of writing.
That suggests that the best, SEO-optimised content about a particular topic could take 2-3 times longer to write.
Compose a title that uses your search terms
Everyone likes writing clever headlines including me, but the internet rewards directness where display copy is concerned. Using important keywords in titles, headers, and image captions almost always means more clicks. When Google sees that your content matches search terms, it helps move you forward in SERPs.
For example —which article headline would you expect to pull more clicks:
- The best UK savings accounts in 2019
- How to treat your cash like more than a stash
If you answered B, you were wrong /-).
The deeper and newer, the better
In long-form content, originality and substance count for a lot. That Orbit Media survey mentioned above also found that bloggers who conduct original research for posts reported better results.
It made their posts more credible — and more link-worthy when they acted like journalists: conducting interviews, running surveys of their own, backing up statements with data and findings not widely seen before.
“Longer form posts usually perform better on every level – Neil Patel.“
We are still talking about online media consumption so it is still important to think about structure and format. Longer form pieces are comparatively text heavy so they benefit from sub heads, tables, bulleted lists, and other forms of media like images, videos or infographics to break them up.
Choosing the right embedded video or infographic can add both weight and visual interest to the content. For those who find the topic interesting but want a boiled down version, or simply prefer to listen rather than read, creating your own short video where you simply discuss the article’s key points can provide another entry point of readers.
Integrate long-form content across your site
While most of your long-form content will probably live in your blog, you may want to use some of it elsewhere on your website. If posts sit siloed in one area of the site, with no connection to other content on your website, they might not gain as much traction.
Remember that Google treats your content like you treat your content. So evaluate your integration opportunities:
- Look through your website for opportunities to mention article topics.
- If you one blog post really makes the business case for what it is you offer, turn it into a static page linked in your menu or home page.
- Add a link to the page using the key phrases in the blog post
- Link website content back to relevant blog posts.
The more content is emphasized throughout your website, the more attention you’ll get from search engines—and audiences looking for that information.
Group content into clusters
Content needs to organised in a way that makes sense to both search engines and your readers. Many writers have done this successfully by creating topic clusters.
To win organic traffic from search, writers typically research a list of keywords they want their articles to rank for, then optimize articles accordingly. Then when they write a new article, they link to relevant existing articles on the blog. The end result is usually a blog of many articles that are optimised for a set of keywords, but not sitting in larger, logical categories.
With topic clusters you organise articles into neat topical groups on your blog. Each group or cluster should have a main page that covers the main topic (often a competitive short-tail keyword like Snapchat marketing) and supporting articles that cover sub-topics (or long-tail keywords). Clustering simply means linking the main page and supporting articles to one another.
Promote your long-form content in newsletters and social posts. Wait a few months then promote it again. Ask customers, partners or influencers to comment on what you’ve written.
If the piece you’ve written has a strong call-to-action, it may be worth investing in Google Ads based on related keywords. Remember though that Google punishes content hidden behind a registration/lead capture form.
If your organisation has experts, opinions, experience, and successes, long-form content is an excellent way to connect with audiences and build your brand. The alternative is bog-standard short form content that, by itself, makes it harder for your website to found. Of course keep short pieces in the content calendar, but balance them with deeper, lengthier, more original posts.
Because you’ve read this far:
*This post clocks in at 1493 words, and you’re still here.