Your approach to content marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) must be more strategic than ever in 2018, and embracing long-form content is one of the best weapons you can add to your strategy. SEO and ranking studies find that time and time again, longer content in the range of 1,500 to 2,600 words tends to outperform shorter blog posts.
Why does long-form content perform better? We can only speculate. But working from what we know about other technical SEO and quality-driven search ranking factors, that speculation can likely hit very close to the mark. Understanding the traits that help long-form excel can also help you approach your own content creation with the right mindset.
So, to help you pivot your content marketing strategy to include long-form content formats, here are five SEO benefits it can provide that increase your potential to earn higher rankings.
Long-Form Content Gets Engagement That Serves as a Strong Ranking Signal for Search Engines
The internet has matured significantly over the past 20 years. While early websites were all pretty much on the same footing, now there is a huge gap between the types of websites that earn the most traffic versus ones that quickly scare people into hitting the back button.
Among the better-constructed and more authoritative websites, content quality is considered precious. Each piece of new content contributes to people’s image of the brand, and content that is lacking can hurt their reputation. Content writers are therefore encouraged to go the extra mile, which usually leads to more in-depth coverage of topics.
Put simply: content quality and content length tend to be strongly correlated. The more content people can dig into, the stronger the ranking signals that get sent back to Google. As an example, one page of Grasshopper.com’s guide to starting a small business “saw substantial improvement over other pages on our site.” The company claims that “people stayed on the page 40% longer than on the average page, and they looked at 25% more pages than the average visitor.”
According to one of the most comprehensive SEO ranking factor studies available, search engines weigh engagement signals like these heavily when deciding which websites to rank first.
The search giants naturally want to pick a site that people seem to enjoy. Having a large volume of visitors who read multiple pages, spend lots of time on the site and rarely hit the “back” button all serve as indicators that people are having a good time and appreciating the quality of content the site provides.
In this way, creating great long-form content rewards you with eager engagement that can later reward you with a boosted ranking presence.
Long-Form Guides Can Provide Utility to Multiple Persona Groups
Logically, long-form content can cover more bases than a short-form blog ever could.
If, for example, you wrote a guide about selecting a used car, a short blog post would gloss over many of the most critical deciding criteria. On the other hand, a longer blog post will dive more deeply into each area. The extra time and attention reveals a greater complexity to the information, allowing people to make better decisions.
Having multiple paragraphs about inspecting for body damage gives people more tools to make a smart decision compared to a throwaway sentence advising you to “check for rust and signs of damage.”
Approaching content from this direction means that you cover a broader variety of topics in a way that can answer more people’s questions. As a result, you can earn more links and shares.
Links from authoritative domains are one of the strongest ranking signals. If you can write content that earns consistent links because it does a great job of explaining important concepts or describing things well, you are more likely to rank higher.
Perhaps more importantly, you are also spreading out your potential to appeal to multiple user groups. Say, for instance, that someone is in the market for a classic car and they want advice on how to inspect for the type of damage that happens cumulatively over thousands of miles. An in-depth used car buying guide could easily touch on those important concepts.
Or, say you have someone who wants to buy a newer SUV. The same guide could explain how to compare prices in general so that people can find the best deal.
In this way, long-form content can achieve broader appeal and provide more universal value, which effectively multiplies your opportunities for engagement, shares and traffic.
Longer Blog Posts Provide More Metadata for Search Engines to Index
This one is simple: longer blog posts leave a bigger data trail for search engines to latch onto.
You gain more opportunities to mention contextually related long-tail keyword phrases. You also gain more chances for creating internal links to your content upon an appropriate anchor text phrase.
On top of that, search engines simply get more text to “grab” onto. You may have noticed that summary descriptions on search engine results pages (SERPs) have gotten longer. That’s because devices have gotten better, and search engines like Google realized that people prefer having more information up-front before they click on a link.
Similarly, search engines are churning out “featured snippets” at a higher rate. These special results take information from a piece of content, highlight the most important phrase or graphic, and return a SERP result that is both larger and more graphically appealing than the average text-only result.
Earning a featured snippet has become very important in an era of increasing mobile search and all but essential as voice search grows in use. When someone performs a voice search on their smartphone or smart speaker, often the featured snippet is the only result they encounter.
Writing longer posts provides more “meat” within your content for search engines to pull these snippets from, making you more likely to become a highlighted website in an era where being near the top of results is more critical than ever.
Writing in Long Form Forces You to Think About Argument and Structure, Resulting in Better Work
Expanding your typical content word count beyond 500 words forces you to become a better writer. You’ll end up paying more attention to your craft.
You’ll also be forced to organize your content and structure it so that people aren’t being forced to read giant blobs of text. That approach often means you’ll rely more upon:
- Topic subheadings
- Shorter paragraphs
- Lists (like this one!)
- Other navigation tools, such as a table of contents
All of these devices can turn a 2,000 word blog into a post that is very easy to skim. People in it for the long haul can digest the entire article rather quickly. Those who wanted to read the article to get just the juiciest bits of information can skip to the part most relevant to their interests.
In many instances, working in a long-form format also enforces more demands on your creativity. You end up thinking about how to reframe the subject matter so it will be more inherently interesting.
When IBM wanted to talk about their big data capabilities, for instance, they decided to resort to storytelling rather than cold, hard facts. To accomplish this, they covered how their data analytics capabilities helped a specific police department solve all of their pain points.
“IBM understood that producing a bland, corporate puff piece wouldn’t win them any customers or pique people’s curiosity about predictive data analysis,” observes WordStream. “Most people don’t care about how the technology works – they’re more interested in what it does. By showing how its technology had a direct impact on the lives of Memphis citizens, IBM highlights the potential of predictive analytics and grounds the story in the lives and struggles of real people.”
Advice for Adding More Long-Form Content to Your Ranking Strategy
The keys to creating good long-form content can be found in all of the above benefits we just listed:
- Think carefully about how you structure your posts so that they are digestible.
- Consider opportunities to frame your subject in a way that is inherently interesting.
- Rely upon graphics, subheadings and design elements to break up your text visually.
- Research how you can add more structured data and markup so that search engines can index specific nuggets of information more readily.
- Try to cover all of your topic bases in-depth so that your content can appeal to multiple personas or need cases.
- Aim to make your content engaging and interesting so that you can earn better ranking signals.
- Look to your own data as a signal for what content people seem to like and get the most value from.
Above all else, approach long-form content as if you were a passionate journalist, publisher or industry insider.
“Don’t create content just because you think you have to,” waxes content expert Neil Patel. “Create content because you want to provide your audience with expert advice on a given subject.”
If you can put the effort into your content that the subject matter deserves, then your audience—and, by extension, search engines—will sit up and take notice.