Getting Attention in Search
If you Google “how long should a blog post be,” you’ll get a variety of answers. The consensus is anything from 300 to 800 words. However, we think that’s about right for short-form blog posts. So what’s the perfect length for long-form content? With Google targeting thin content and artificial intelligence/machine learning added to the search index, content guidelines are ever changing. We’ll explore how much content you need for both your human and machine audience.
Speaking to Two Audiences
In the world of White Hat SEO, you’re really catering to two audiences. The most important of course is your human readers. Secondarily, if your content isn’t indexed by search engines (through optimization), your content won’t show up on a Search Engine Results Page (SERP) to get found and thus read.
When people search with Google or Bing, they are looking for specific information, usually in the form of a question. Your content is meant to answer their query. Sometimes it’s appropriate for the answer to be relatively short (hence short-form blog posts or pages). News articles, or announcements, for example, don’t need to be 1,000 words long. There’s only so much you can say about a new button in Google Ads…
But, in other cases, when searchers are deep into their research, they want more substantial answers. We’ve found that long-form content (blog posts or evergreen pages), especially ones where the information is chunked-out, gain traction.
The Data Behind Long-Form Content
According to an analysis from a joint research project between BuzzSumo and Moz, “the majority of content published is simply ignored when it comes to shares and links.” After analyzing one million articles, they found that:
- There is a strong positive correlation of shares and links with content that includes research and opinion-forming journalism.
- 85% of content published is less than 1,000 words.
- Long-form content (over 1,000) consistently receives more shares and links.
While the data is from Q3 2015, it’s the most comprehensive research from a credible source that I’ve found.
Is It Frequency or Word Count?
According to Hubspot, the magical number for how often you publish new content is 16 times per month. The impact on inbound traffic sharply increases after the 10 posts/pages mark. And, for small companies (less than 10 employees), the impact was more than dramatic when compared to larger companies publishing even more frequently.
So, it looks like frequency may be a factor. But what about length?
In general, long-form content is characterized as more than 1,000 words. However, we’ve found that posts nearing 2,000 and 3,000 words get attention in organic search. This is especially true with long-form content that’s well-researched. So in essence, quality is another major factor.
So besides word count, quality matters. Quality content that contains research and other fact-based information using a journalistic approach get more links and shares and thus readers. It’s not a matter of taking a 500-word post and inflating it. Your readers will notice.
Concerns That Readers Won’t Read
Reflect on your own search behavior. Have you ever read a piece of long-form content because the subject matter was important or of particular interest? If the article was poorly constructed (all text without visual breaks) or had incomplete answers, my guess is that you bailed and went elsewhere. So there’s a knack to keeping your readers engaged even with quality content. Here are my recommendations on creating visually appealing and engaging long-form content:
- Capture interest with a strong opening that appears above the fold.
- Use bullets to emphasize points
- Bold or italicize text for important concepts, but don’t overdo it.
- Summarize sections with a pull quote.
- Pepper content with descriptive language that is in keeping with your brand’s voice.
- Add visuals such as photos, infographics, and videos to break-up the text.
- Chunk out concepts with headlines and subheads. It enables your reader to jump to areas within your long-form content that are of particular interest.
- Cite your sources and include links wherever possible. Well-researched content demonstrates quality and credibility.
- Add a TL:DR. TL:DR means “too long: didn’t read”. On social media sites like Reddit, adding a TL:DR at the bottom of a long post is a popular tactic. The user can skip to the end, see if it’s interesting, then go back to the top to read it in full if they want.
Readers often scan a piece of content to confirm they have landed in the right place (a page that answers their question/search query) and go back to read the content for details. To determine how visitors actually interact with your page, use a heatmap and visitor recording tool. Using analytics will help you better understand what content resonates and how to format it for best results.
Press Here to Read More
First thing’s first. You don’t need to write all 2,000 or 3,000 words in one go. For some writers, creating long-form content is a natural skill. For others, it’s a matter of building up various writing muscles. I break down the writing process into these steps:
- Create a general outline or idea of the information I want to share
- Choose a relevant keyword that has a reasonable amount of monthly searches
- Research the subject matter thoroughly and dig into source credibility
- Refine and flesh out the outline with research, transitions, and conclusions
- Write without censoring thoughts, fragments, grammar, spelling
- Edit, sometimes brutally, so the piece is coherent, logical, and cohesive
- Optimize which includes crafting metadata, adding appropriate call to action, links (internal and external links) and other technical SEO elements
- Conclude with a thought-provoking question or additional resources
- Parse out nuggets to share via social media
Know Your Competition & Speak To Your Readers
Behind every keyword is a search intent. Why are they coming to your site in the first place? What’s the question they asked Google or Bing? Look at how other websites are answering the question. How can you do better? What additional information or advice would be helpful to the reader? Don’t write content for parity. Write to distinguish yourself and show your company’s differentiation.
Often a great source of inspiration for long-form content are conversations with existing clients or prospects. Are there questions you’re asked frequently? Writing a piece of content around these questions does two things. One it’s good for your website’s SEO. Second, it’s a handy and effective way to share complex information that can be referenced over and over.
Another way to create more detailed content is to get a change of perspective. If you’re the main content writer for your business, sketch out an outline, then ask for perspectives from different members of your team. It’s likely that your CEO will have a different view to somebody working in Sales. Getting feedback from multiple areas of your company will help you create a well-rounded article.
Is It Worth It? Measuring Your Long-Form Content
In our experience, long-form content fares well in organic search. But don’t take my word for it. Test it. Look into your Analytics to see how a piece of content is performing. Is it getting read (pageviews, time on page)? How many inbound links does it have? Is it shared? Compare its performance over time. Sometimes you can get a boost by updating the content with new information. Even evergreen content needs to be refreshed.
Did you notice this post is over 1,100 words long? If you made it this far, you were probably interested in the topic. Is there an aspect of long-form content you wished I’d touched upon?
How can we help?
Do you have problems creating content? Would you like us to write some long blog posts for your website?
We are Spectrum Group Online, and we offer strategic and tactical consulting so you can monetize your online presence. Call us for a complimentary 30-minute consultation to discuss your website’s user experience and translate that into sales.