Marketers have wondered for years how long the ideal blog post should be. Finally, we have an answer:
That’s probably not the answer you were looking for, but it’s the truth. The simplest explanation is that content should only be as long as it needs to be to deliver the message and serve its purpose.
Sometimes, you can do so in as few as 500 words. But other times? That’s when long-form content is key.
Of course, long-form writing isn’t easy. By definition, more words = more work, but that doesn’t mean you should be intimidated. With a well-planned (and well-written) long-form piece, you can take your content marketing game to the next level.
Table of Contents
What is Long-Form Content?
It might seem obvious, but once again, it depends on who you ask. Some people define long-form content as anything beyond 1,000 words. Others say any post in excess of 1,800 words puts you in long-form territory. For the sake of argument, let’s meet in the middle and declare long-form content as any piece of 1,500 words or more.
In the past, the recommended length of a blog post was between 500-800 words. Most marketers stuck to this rule of thumb, but this has changed dramatically over time. According to Orbit Media’s research, the average length of a blog post in 2022 was 1,376 words. Here’s a chart that demonstrates how that compares to past results:
On average, blogs are 70% longer than they were in 2014. Bottom line: You can expect to read and write bigger pieces in the future.
Some popular types of long-form content include:
- Blogs (such as the one you’re reading now!).
- Pillar pages.
- White papers.
- Case studies.
Long-form content isn’t merely about hitting a word count. Aside from this benchmark, longer content must also have depth. In other words, it has to dive deep into a topic, share useful information and provide value to the reader — otherwise, it’s just a block of text.
Check out this pillar page about social media marketing:
This is a great example of what long-form content should look like: engaging, knowledgeable and rich with actionable insights that can actually benefit the reader.
Short- vs. Long-Form Content
There are several factors at work that you ought to consider when deciding which vessel will best carry your message.
Generally, shorter content is:
- Quick and easy to digest: Not only are short pieces faster to write, but they’re also easier for readers to consume. Think of them like a taco — you can scarf it down in just a few bites, just as readers will quickly breeze through a short blog.
- Great for brief, simple messages: Short-form is ideal for communicating simple concepts and surface-level values that don’t require much explanation, but do drive interest.
- Limited in space: There’s only so much you can say when you’re up against a tight word count, which means keeping your content focused is important.
On the other hand, long-form content:
- Requires more effort: Reading and writing longer content is like cutting into a steak. You need a fork and knife to break it down and make it more digestible, or you risk biting off more than you can chew.
- Allows you to go in-depth: With more room to work, you have the freedom to dive below the surface and explain key ideas in much more detail.
- Has a daunting amount of space: On the downside, writing long-form can sometimes feel like trying to stretch pizza dough to the edge of the pan. If you don’t have enough, you’re stretching yourself thin. Likewise, juggling multiple messages at once can also be a complicated challenge.
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Why Write Long-Form Content?
Let’s divide the value of long-form content into two categories: thought leadership and search engine optimization (SEO).
Thought leadership is about establishing credibility, thereby establishing your brand as a trustworthy source in its industry. The problem? It’s hard to do with just a few hundred words at your disposal.
In contrast, long-form content can help you become a thought leader in various ways:
- Authority: In-depth pieces, such as a white paper or pillar page, are a great way to jump on a popular topic of conversation relevant to your audience. Speaking with authority about a subject and breaking down complex ideas will help build a trusting relationship with your brand.
- Earned media: Knowledge-driven content like reports and studies may also obtain free media attention — a great, inexpensive way to generate brand awareness.
- Lead generation: Marketers can turn long-form pieces into gated assets. Placing high-value content behind a form fill is an easy way to acquire leads.
- Education: Deeply researched content can help nurture prospects down the funnel and inch them closer to conversion.
According to Google’s Senior Search Analyst John Mueller, word count is not a ranking factor for SEO.
Despite this confirmation, longer content does tend to outperform shorter alternatives — and in fact, it has for a long time. In 2012, serpIQ studied the correlation between content length and search engine ranking. The analysis, as shared by Search Engine Land, found that even back in the days when 800 words was the norm, the top 10 results for most Google searches were between 2,000 and 2,500 words.
Why? Let’s discuss:
- More value: Search engines prefer to rank longer, comprehensive and in-depth material above shorter content. That’s because it provides more value to the reader through details, context and clarity. Google understands that users don’t want to search for bits and pieces of information, gleaning tidbits of knowledge from numerous pages. They want everything they need in one place.
- More backlinks: Long-form content also tends to have more backlinks, which are crucial for improving domain authority and ranking. According to Backlinko, the average top result on Google has nearly 4 times as many backlinks as those in positions 2-10.
- More keywords: Longer pieces have more opportunities to include keywords and phrases Google rewards (just be careful not to overdo it!).
- More time: Denser content holds the reader’s attention, keeping them on the site longer. This is a positive signal to search engines that the content you’re providing is actually relevant and valuable.
Clearly, there’s much to gain from adding long-form content to your marketing strategy. But actually producing it? That’s easier said than done.
To make it a bit simpler, let’s break the process down into three basic phases: researching, outlining and writing.
Long-Form Content: The Research Phase
Even if you’re a veteran content writer, you may not be an expert in all aspects of your industry. That’s why the research phase is so important: if you want to step into unfamiliar territory and speak credibly about a subject, you must lay the groundwork.
Think of research as gathering all the material you need to build your content from the ground up. It’ll help you find high-quality resources to support your message. But, if you start writing without a firm knowledge base, the content will inevitably teeter and fall apart.
Here are some tips I’ve learned that may help you start your long-form journey on the right foot:
1. Consider Your Goals, Audience and How They Benefit
Take a moment to think about what you’re aiming to achieve. Is it thought leadership? Are you targeting a specific keyword? Supporting a campaign?
Understanding exactly what you need to accomplish will help steer you in the right direction. That said, don’t forget about your audience, as they have wants and needs, too. Ask yourself:
- What does my audience already know? What answers are they looking for?
- How could this content help them in any way?
- How will it make their lives easier?
2. The Best Readers Make the Best Writers — So Start Reading!
I repeat: the more you understand your topic, the more stable your message will be. Plus, with a firm knowledge base, you can confidently stack more content on top.
3. Try a Variation of the “Skyscraper Technique”
The skyscraper technique is better known as a backlinking strategy, but it’s also a helpful metaphor when it comes to research. The idea is simple: taller buildings get more attention. Building off of what’s already out there can help make your content bigger and better. Here’s how it works:
Whether you complete step three or not, this is still a valuable exercise. Analyzing top results and comparing them to one another can help you identify:
- Must-have information: The points that everyone is making.
- Conversation gaps: Places where you can add to or structure content more effectively, thereby adding value in some capacity.
4. Experience Beats Theory
In other words, look for concrete resources, real-world examples, case studies or testimonials that actually illustrate a concept. This is more credible than merely discussing how it works in theory.
Long-Form Content: The Outline Phase
You’ve got all the pieces in front of you. Now, it’s time to start making a blueprint and building the foundation of your content.
Break High-Level Points Into Subheadings
Based on your research, you should have some semblance of what the content should look like and the major points you need to make. Insert these ideas into your document to create the bones of your piece.
Brainstorm Key Points You Need to Make in Each Section
Think of each section as a scene in the overarching story of your content. Every must-have point is a “beat” you have to hit for the narrative to make sense. This ensures you have a cohesive thread from start to finish.
Plug Research Into the Outline
This pays dividends down the line, as you can simply flow from one source to the next as you write, weaving together a neat web of information. Visually, this also makes it easier to review source material and weed out any ideas that overlap, can be combined or require further research.
Long-Form Content: The Writing Phase
You’ve already collected the dots. Time to start connecting them!
Write as if You’re Speaking to an “Expert Friend”
This is a great trick a Brafton colleague taught me: Imagine explaining your topic to someone you know very well, but isn’t completely familiar with the subject. Although it depends on your brand’s tone of voice and general writing style, this approach is a great way to communicate niche, complicated content.
Keep Paragraphs to Just 3 or 4 Lines Maximum
This tip is about readability. It’s challenging enough for a reader to work through a 3,000-word blog as it is, let alone one that’s just a solid block of text.
Limiting paragraphs to a few short lines will naturally help them consume the content in pieces. Keep in mind your audience may be accessing content on their mobile device. A six-line paragraph may look twice the size on a mobile.
Jot Down Possible Design Elements or Visual Ideas
One of the best ways to spice up long-form content is with snazzy, eye-grabbing visuals. Whether it be an interactive infographic, embedded video or even a GIF, design assets are great for boosting engagement and illustrating key ideas.
How To Avoid Fluffy Writing
Fluff isn’t just a marshmallow spread that goes great with peanut butter — it’s also the bane of a content writer’s existence. More importantly, it frustrates and drives away your readers.
In short, fluffy writing is copy that beats around the bush, includes unnecessary details, goes on a tangent or just isn’t useful to the audience.
Fluff can include:
- Filler words.
- Repetitive statements.
- Non-specific information.
- Personal opinion.
- Cutesy language and industry jargon.
Ultimately, fluff is what happens when you focus on quantity over quality. Writers are especially prone to fluff when they’re working on long-form content.
“The luxurious and verdant garden, filled with a profusion of resplendent and vibrant flowers, imbued the air with a fragrant and delightful aroma, enchanting the senses and transporting the mind to a realm of serenity.”
That’s a long-winded way of saying this:
“The garden was lush with colorful flowers that gave off a pleasant scent and created a relaxing atmosphere.”
Much simpler, right?
Tips to Avoid Fluffy Writing
Luckily, cutting the fluff is easy. Here are a few helpful tricks:
- Don’t use cliches and tired phrases.
- Use strong verbs and avoid passive voice.
- Avoid overly technical terms unless they are relevant to your content.
- Keep adverbs to a minimum.
- Ensure all sections are purposeful and push the conversation forward.
Embracing Long-Form Content
If you’ve ever written long-form content, you know how difficult it can be. And if you haven’t, now’s the time to start. Not only is it a staple to any SEO strategy, it’s also a great way to engage and nurture your target audience. Hopefully, these tips and tricks will set you up for success as you venture into the world of long-form content marketing.