For years there have been differing views on how to create the best type of content for search engine optimisation. While the weight has mostly been in short form’s corner, long-form content appears to be having its turn. Marketers are once again realising the value that long-form content provides. It can increase your brand’s authority, establish you as an expert in your field and strengthen trust with your consumers.
We tend to assume that content optimised for search engines must be concise, so producing long-form content can seem counterintuitive. But long-form content is just as effective at achieving a high ranking, driving website traffic and improving conversions.
Long-form vs short-form
Long-form content tends to be anything over 1,000 words. Any less than 1,000 is considered short-form and just enough to be recognised by search engines. Long-form content takes the form of blog posts, guides, e-books and research documents. Short-form content tends to be infographics, video, social media, email and landing pages. Using short-form content is mobile-friendly, allows you to communicate a strong message and increases virality.
Previously, marketers have frowned upon long-form content. If you can get your message across in a succinct way, why would you make it longer than it has to be? Marketers have been convinced that users have short attention spans and consume content as quickly as possible. Users are now looking towards long-form content to learn about a subject in depth from industry experts. This is an opportunity for businesses to communicate without being limited by a word count.
It’s important to remember that content can be poor quality regardless of its length. A piece of content that’s 600 words might be easy to read but never reach its point. A 2,000 word post may demand more of your time but provide greater value. Always prioritise the quality of your work rather than its word count. Google has made it clear that good quality, long-form content can achieve a higher ranking. It’s likely to have credible sources, authoritative information and answer the topic in depth.
How to write long-form content:
1. Choose your goal
If you’re writing a piece of content, you want to achieve something from it. The goal should guide your content and keep you on track to achieve it by the end of the piece. Without a clear goal in mind, it’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole and write content that’s neither useful nor effective. Your goal could be to guide users through a new product launch, raise awareness of a trending topic or showcase your company’s expertise. SEO will be improved with quality long-form content so this shouldn’t be your main goal.
Your goal should be guided by your target audience and how they consume content. Choose which audience persona you’re writing for and keep them at the forefront of your mind. If your audience prefers reading blog posts, stick to this format throughout your piece. If your audience enjoys guides, ensure you use plenty of subheadings and images. This will ensure your content is consistent and increases the likelihood of audience engagement.
2. Identify your keywords
The topic of your content should be based on the keywords and search terms your audience is using. Use SEMRush or Google Keyword Planner to identify the search volume and competition of particular keywords. The search volume refers to the number of people searching for that keyword. The difficulty determines how many websites are publishing content on that topic.
The ideal scenario would be a high search volume with low difficulty. This means a lot of users are searching for the keyword and there isn’t much competition to rank. Put your keywords in Google to identify the terms and questions users are searching for. You can also see if your competitors are ranking for this topic and if there’s an opportunity for a featured snippet.
3. Choose your topic and subtopics
Use your keywords to guide the subtopics of your content and ensure you reach your goal. For example, by writing this blog post we want to increase awareness of the value of long-form content. We searched ‘long-form’ as a keyword and found it had a high search volume and moderate difficulty. We identified related keywords including ‘long-form content benefits’, ‘long-form content SEO’ and ‘long-form short-form’. From this, we decided a title and subtopics based on the keywords to maximise the opportunity to rank.
Your heading should be punchy and say exactly what your audience is going to gain from the content. Numbered lists are popular with Google so consider titling your content ‘3 benefits of…’ or ‘Top 5 ways to…’. Use powerful language that can evoke a reaction from your audience; for example, ‘7 reasons long-form content is terrible for SEO’. You could use instructional language in your headings; for instance, ‘How to write…’ or ‘When is the right time to…’. Ensure your main heading is H1 and your subheadings are H2 or H3. This helps Google identify the main topics in your writing.
4. Include quality sources and links
The length of your content doesn’t matter if the quality isn’t there. You want your content to be well-researched and inform your audience. You’re not expected to know everything about your topic so find quality sources discussing your topic. Look for blogs, news articles, journals, whitepapers, podcasts or webinars from industry experts and professionals. This will boost your credibility and ensure your audience trusts your long-form offering.
The longer your content is, the more links you can include in the text. Include internal links to encourage users to consume valuable content on your website. This will help improve your average time spent on site. You should use external links to other websites that enrich your offering. As long-form content is more authoritative, you’re likely to receive backlinks from other websites too. This boosts your domain authority (if the backlinks aren’t toxic) and improves your ranking.
5. Optimise your meta-data
Meta-data is a key part of SEO. Your title tag and meta description refers to the title and short description users see when your website appears on SERPs. The title is your punchy heading and includes the keywords you want to rank for. You can use Headline Analyser to score your heading, see if it’s the right length and how it will be viewed on SERPs.
Your meta description should be concise, to the point and entice users to click on your page. It should be a short description of what the user will gain from reading your content. Don’t duplicate the content in your post. It might be easy to copy and paste your opening sentences into your meta-description but this won’t optimise your content. Include keywords to ensure users know how you will address the topic.
6. Include imagery and infographics
Don’t forget to include imagery throughout your long-form content. Images help to break up long text and keep the reader engaged. You can use charts, graphs and diagrams to illustrate statistics and figures. This will support your text and help readers visualise numbers. You can use stock or authentic imagery related to your topic to illustrate your point further. Pick a featured image (if you’re using WordPress) that will be the post’s thumbnail and represent the content’s theme.
Infographics are a visual way to summarise your long-form content. Condensing your content into an infographic with key facts, figures and graphics will communicate your message concisely. Infographics help you repurpose content into other mediums and increase shareability across social media, email, video and web.
Long-form content is a great way to boost your SEO. You can drive website traffic, establish strong consumer relationships and gain authority for your brand. This isn’t to say that short-form content is less effective. Both types of content have their place in your marketing strategy and should be used where appropriate to achieve your goal.