Try not to judge me straightaway, but last week I spent a good 20 minutes reading an in-depth article about whether a baby supposedly belonging to a member of One Direction was really a doll.
Now, I barely have a passing interest in One Direction, but the piece was so engaging, so well-written, that I couldn’t look away.
I am a huge fan of long form content. One article can take me several days to read. For example, a piece in the New Yorker last year which details the experience of a young conservative church member who began to question her faith thanks to Twitter, took me weeks to read, snippets at a time. But it was so worth it.
By the end of it I felt informed, fascinated, engrossed. Much more satisfied than I would have felt consuming several smaller pieces of content.
We hear so much about internet users and their diminished attention span, and how millennials require instant satisfaction, but so many of us are happy to commit to hours of binge-watching TV series and long-term reading goals. I’m not sure that Millennials are the impatient generation we’re painted to be.
In 2013, Buzzfeed launched Buzzreads - described as “Buzzfeed for people who are afraid of Buzzfeed”. Buzzreads was built as a separate area of the site dedicated to longer content pieces, as these well-written, well-researched evergreen features were being pushed off Buzzfeed’s homepage by its mainstays - quizzes and listicles.
At the start of the year, a study reviewed one million Google search results and found that longer content tends to rank higher in search with the average Google first page result containing 1,890 words. Longer content also generates seven times more leads than shorter posts and according to Moz, content over 1000 words consistently received more likes and shares than its shorter cousin.
Longer content means longer time on page, more opportunities for backlinks and encourages Google to think you have more authority - which make sense. If you can write 1000+ words on a topic you probably know your stuff, right?
The Drum found when it came to long form content in video, 74% of all video watched on connected TVs was over ten minutes long, but this kind of content only made up 31% of mobile watchers. Which makes sense really. Reading thousands of words or watching a long video on a tiny screen is not ideal. But if you’re in B2B in particular, your audience probably uses a laptop or desktop at work.
I can attest to this from personal experience too: I save links on my mobile either through Facebook’s “save link” option, or through Pocket, to read when at a desktop for on a lunch or Pomodoro break.
From a content marketer’s perspective long form content gives you a real opportunity to research, analyse and write, and if you’re a writer, this is probably making your content-loving soul very happy. This is the holy grail if you are a writer; you get to stretch your legs and really set your stall out. It gives you an opportunity to really show off your knowledge and expertise, establish yourself as a thought leader and really carve out a place for yourself within the conversation.
Longer content is about passion. It’s about following tangents, moving in unexpected directions and covering many topics or answering dozens of questions in one content piece. It’s about forcing yourself to write more, work harder and create something that is genuinely useful and valuable to your audience.
It goes without saying that these content pieces will require more work. Not just more time but more brain power, more motivation, more commitment, more focus, more curiosity. But ultimately, more value.
However, before you start typing up a deep dive into the origins of meme vernacular and the etymology of ‘on fleek’, don’t adopt longform purely for the sake of it. Not every topic deserves a lengthy discussion. You still need to consider your audience and your purpose, especially if you’re going to demand so much of their attention. Who are you writing this piece of content for? Why? And your answers can’t just be “myself” and “because I want to”. If you’re going to invest the amount of time and resource into this topic that it requires, you need to be really considering your topic and what you want to say.
Your topic needs to come first, and the decision to make it a longform piece needs to come second. You can’t set out planning to write a long form piece of content, the necessary length needed for the piece of content you are creating should come to you throughout the ideation process. Not every topic will work for in a long format, so you need to ensure your idea fits.
We’ve had it drilled into us that content marketing isn’t about selling, but in the same way it is not about keeping secrets from your audience in the hope that they’ll come to you for the answers. Content marketing is about giving people the tools and advice they need to be able to help themselves. At Axonn we talk a lot about the importance of storytelling in content marketing - that’s because it works. Humans love stories, and we’re much more likely to be engaged in a story than boring facts and figures. Humanise your content, use your voice, add some personality. Create something that your audience can really relate to and connect with - you have the space to, after all.
So now that I’ve convinced you to want to create longer content, a good place to start is to develop a piece that shares your secrets. What do you know better than anyone else? What are you passionate about? What can you contribute to the conversation? This is not the place to keep your knowledge secret in the hope of selling it later. You should be thinking about the kinds of content you can create which show your experience and present you as an expert.
A 1000-word essay on why your product is the best sounds like a great idea from a business perspective but who would really want to read that? If your audience is going to invest the amount of time and energy necessary to read a longer piece of content, you need to give them something worth their while. Your longform needs to be engaging, educational and most of all, interesting.
How to form long content pieces:
Outline your ideas
It goes without saying that this is not going to be a piece of content you can throw together in half an hour. This kind of content needs to be well-thought out and well-researched to really make an impact. You should be considering:
Who you are writing for
Why you are writing this piece
What you would want to know about this topic
How you can answer your reader’s questions
How you will format your content - subtopics, headings, images, bullet points etc.
Big blocks of text are not appealing to read, so as you plan, think about where you can add a paragraph break, subheading, image or video to break up the spacing.
Write first, edit later. When it comes to writing long pieces of content, self-editing along the way will only slow you down. Write everything that comes into your mind until you have everything down, and then edit your piece later when you’ve had some space to reflect.
Bear in mind that the longer the piece, the more subbing and editing it will require. Allow ample time to ensure you hit all your main points and that you don’t have any major mistakes.
Promote promote promote!
If a piece of content falls in the woods and nobody tweets about it, did it even happen? If you’ve spent a long time producing a big piece of content you need to be shouting about it! These are the pieces of content that should go on your LinkedIn, that you should be sharing on both your personal and your company’s social channels and putting in your emails. These are the pieces that are worth some paid advertising to really show off.
Remember that not every idea will work in longform. Some content ideas are best suited to shorter content pieces, or fit better into an infographic or video. It’s important to ensure you have enough ideas to cover the length of a long form content piece. The best content pieces are under 500 words and over 800, so try to avoid the middle if possible.
One good thing about writing a huge content piece is that you can break it down into chunks for repurposing. Could you make a Slideshare of your points? Could it be a webinar? An ebook? A blog series? Don’t do all that work for nothing - find ways to reuse your great work.