Serve your audience to serve your business.
This may be the cardinal rule of content marketing, but it’s easier said than done…
The problem is that the ever-increasing flow of industry blog content keeps making it harder for brands to break through and be heard.
This is true even if your business invests heavily in publishing high-quality blog posts on a consistent basis.
With so many competitors doing the same thing, blogging can sometimes feel like you’re swimming against the tide.
But there’s an approach to blogging that can help cut through the noise: long-form content.
Long-form content is a hugely powerful lever to pull if you’re seeking a better ROI from your B2B blogging strategy.
In this post, I’ll explain how you can incorporate long-form blogs into your content marketing program to help grow your business.
It’s a long piece (right?!), so feel free to hop, skip and jump to whatever sections you find most useful.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- What is long-form content?
- Why do audiences love long-form?
- 8 benefits of long-form content
- 3 Key Elements of Successful Long-Form Content
- How to Create a Long-Form Blog Post in 12 Steps
What is long-form content?
Long-form content is any piece of content that exceeds the 2,000+ word mark.
That could mean a 3,500-word blog post, a 10,000-word whitepaper, or a 15,000-word ebook.
Some popular types of long-form content include:
- How to guides
- Ultimate guides
- Resource lists
- Industry definitions
- Case studies
Why do audiences love long-form?
As you know, all great content starts with serving the audience.
Whether it’s a funny tweet or a meaty case study, the whole point of content marketing is to provide genuine value to customers and prospects.
Serving the audience takes effort. It takes an appreciation of their problems, fears and desires, and then it takes figuring out the right way to help.
Well, from your audience’s point of view, long-from offers a couple of unique benefits:
Depth and detail
The best solution is a complete solution.
People want full answers to their questions so they can overcome their problems and achieve what they want to achieve.
Long-form satisfies this need by addressing a topic in full. The content dives deep into the reader’s pain points, guides them through their challenges, and answers questions they never knew they had.
Readers simply can’t enjoy this level of thoroughness with a 500-word piece of content.
Long-form content also deals with the relevant parts of a topic all in one place.
This saves readers the frustration of having to trawl through countless sources just to piece together a proper solution to their problem.
It’s a real bummer to reach the end of an article with most of your questions unanswered.
The antidote is in-depth, well-researched content. Content that does more than scratch the surface and that leaves the reader feeling satisfied that they got what they came for in the first place.
8 Benefits of Long-Form Content
So how can long-form content play to your advantage as a marketer? What evidence is there to show that it drives business results?
There are at least eight key perks of long-form content, and they all play off one another:
1) More Brand Authority
When you start offering readers insightful and comprehensive content, you begin to create the impression of authority.
Impressed readers will start turning to you for more thought-leadership on topics within your niche.
When your content consistently delivers, your reputation improves, the trust in your brand starts to build, and people become more willing to do business with you.
2) More On-Site Engagement
Readers often view value-laden content as a minor godsend given how much frustratingly shallow content is out there.
“Finally! Someone who understands my pain!”
This translates into greater user engagement. Captivated readers will happily take their time to soak up all the information you provide.
Readers of long-form content are also more inclined to view other content on the same website.
3) More Shares
Happy readers spread the word.
People like to share useful content with their peers, sometimes for purely altruistic reasons, but also to boost their status within their online peer group.
If your long-form content delivers the goods, it’s quite likely readers will feel compelled to share it with others (who may also share it in turn!).
But don’t just take our word for it…
A Buzzsumo study analysed the social shares of over 100 million articles. They found that among the top 10% most popular articles, long-form posts got the most shares. These posts ranged between 3,000 and 10,000 words, with an average word-count of 8,859.
What’s more, the study revealed that the frequency of articles below 1,000 words was 16 times greater than articles that exceed 2,000 words.
In other words, there are a lot of short articles and blog posts out there. The marketplace is saturated with short-form fluff pieces that just add to the noise.
Meanwhile, the demand for in-depth content is high, while the competition is relatively low.
This gives businesses like yours an amazing opportunity to stand out.
4) More Links
High-quality resources attract links.
According to Buzzsumo’s 2018 Content Trends Report, more than 70% of all content published online fails to earn a single link from other sites.
That said, the types of content most likely to receive backlinks on a consistent basis include research content, opinion content and — you guessed it — long-form content.
In a similar study of 6,000 blog posts, HubSpot found that posts over 2,500 words earned more backlinks.
Long-form pieces also attract more links because they reference other content and research.
By mentioning the work of someone else in your content, you give them a strong reason to share your content for the sake of their own link-building efforts.
5) More Organic Traffic
Long-form makes good SEO sense, and not just because it boosts engagement and attracts backlinks.
Google views high-quality, in-depth content favourably. This can translate into better rankings, greater discoverability and more traffic.
Google spends millions of dollars each year improving its search engine to make it quicker and easier for users to find the information they need.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that Google takes content quality seriously — they want their users to find the best results for their search query.
An example of this philosophy in action was Google’s 2012 Panda update. This was designed to make low-quality content less visible in the search results.
Google’s advice to webmasters was to review content for quality, objectivity and authority. This remains Google’s stance to this day.
More recently, Google has further intensified its mission to surface only the best content for its users
The company now contracts over 10,000 ‘search quality raters’ from around the world, whose sole purpose is to manually rate the quality of search results. This feedback is then passed on to Google’s engineers to improve the search algorithm.
Google’s most recent guidelines for search quality raters reveal a lot about how they decide what counts as ‘high-quality’ content.
According to the guidelines, a high-quality page should:
- Achieve its purpose well
- Have a high level of expertise, authority and trustworthiness
- Have a satisfying amount of main content, including a descriptive and helpful title
While a low-quality page will:
- Not achieve its purpose well
- Not have enough content to satisfy the reader
- Have a lack of expertise in the topic being covered
Well-researched, in-depth content.
6) More Conversions
Long-form content also has its uses in boosting conversion rates.
CrazyEgg’s homepage redesign increased conversions by 30%. The new page was 20 times longer than the original and included answers to questions people often had before buying their heat mapping tool.
The switch to long-form paid off handsomely!
Source: Conversion Rate Experts
In a similar case, Moz modified its pro membership landing page to include more detailed information about what users got when they bought the service.
The new page was seven times longer than the original and boosted sales by 51% — amounting to over $1million in new revenue.
Source: Conversion Rate Experts
Of course, longer landing pages won’t always increase conversion rates. Sometimes a short sales page will be more effective.
But as with all CRO, the only real way to find out what works best is to test, test, test.
7) More Leads
Long-form content can also work as an excellent lead generation tool.
Longer posts provide more space and context to place relevant calls-to-action for your opt-in incentive.
Alternatively, you can use long-form content itself as a lead magnet.
As this B2B lead generation study shows, offering visitors useful whitepapers, eBooks and other in-depth resources in exchange for a name and email address is a great way to bulk up your list of prospects.
Source: Alexandre Pallota
8) Can Be Repurposed
The great thing about long-form content is that you can use it as the raw material for other pieces of content, allowing you to squeeze every last drop of value from your assets.
For example, having written an epic 7,500-word piece on how to run a B2B SaaS startup, you might use the post as the topic of your next podcast discussion, or turn it into a SlideShare presentation, or even host a webinar about the subject.
3 Key Elements of Successful Long-Form Content
Before jumping headlong into making long-form a core part of your content strategy, it’s important to get clear on what it takes to pull it off successfully.
1) Define Your Goals
Obviously, you shouldn’t just start creating long-form content for the hell of it.
It has to make sense in terms of your business and marketing goals.
For example, you may find that short-form is actually a better fit for the kind of topics you cover and the audience you serve. If this is the case, investing the time and energy into creating long-form content would be a misallocation of resources (although there’s nothing wrong with running a few experiments!).
Once you’re clear on what your marketing objectives are and who it is you’re actually targeting, you’ll have greater focus and direction when it comes to coordinating your team and planning, producing and promoting your long-form content.
2) Provide Real Value
A long and rambling fluff-piece won’t give you the results you want.
It won’t engage your readers, it won’t attract backlinks and it won’t outrank competitors who do a better job of it.
Instead, you have to serve your readers. Your content must nourish them.
In fact, when it comes to deciding just how long a long-form post should be, the best answer is ‘however long it takes to serve the reader better than anyone else out there’.
A 300-word post that saves the reader by getting to the heart of their difficulty is miles better than a 3,000-word post that raises more questions than it answers.
It just so happens that high-quality content often means dealing with a topic thoroughly, and doing this tends to require a higher word-count.
3) Have Patience and Discipline
Clearly, writing a long-form piece of content takes more time than writing the average blog post.
You have to factor in the planning, research, production and editing — all of which take more time when creating a quality piece of long-form.
So instead of posting 2-4 short-form posts per week, you might switch to posting 1-2 long-form posts per month.
What’s more, once your piece is published, it may take some time before you start seeing the results. This is especially true if your site currently has a low domain authority.
But, as we’ve already seen, the benefits of long-form can’t be denied. If you provide consistent, high-quality output, your audience will find you, the word will spread, and Google will reward you.
How to Create a Long-Form Blog Post in 12 Steps
1) [Planning]: Clarify Your Purpose and How You’ll Measure Success
The first stage of planning out your long-form post is to define its purpose.
In other words, get clear on what you’re trying to achieve and how you’ll measure success.
Are you primarily creating content to attract more traffic? Or is your main goal to capture more leads?
Do you want the post to target users at the top of the funnel — appealing to people who may have very little familiarity with your brand? Or do you want to create it for people who already have an interest in your product or service?
Your answers to these questions will inform how you put the piece together.
For example, if you want your post to generate leads, you’ll need to think about which lead magnet to pair with it and consider how you’ll arrange your CTAs on the page (in the sidebar, throughout the body text, in a pop-up, etc.).
2) [Planning]: Pick Your Topic and Keywords
Once you have a specific goal and audience segment in mind, your next task is to select a topic that will pique your readers’ interest.
Here are a few ways to find topic and keyword ideas:
Probably the best place to begin your search for viable topic ideas is Google.
After all, this is where the people of the world get answers to their questions!
Google autocomplete will suggest search terms as you start typing in the search box, showing you what variations of a given keyword people are actually searching for:
Similarly, at the bottom of each SERP, you’ll find the ‘Searches relating to…’ section. This will also give you a bunch of keyword variations that you can spin into a fully-fledged content idea:
Often dubbed the world’s second-biggest search engine, YouTube is a treasure-trove of content inspiration.
Just like Google, you can find new topic variations just by typing into the YouTube search bar:
YouTube’s comment section has a bad rap, but you can often find many unanswered user questions there which could form the basis of a rich blog post.
3. Social media
Social media discussions are another great source of potential topic ideas.
Spend some time looking through Facebook groups and Quora discussions related to your industry. Here you’ll find a bottomless well of questions and difficulties for your new post to focus on.
Twitter is also one of the easiest ways to keep abreast of the conversations happening in your niche. Subscribe to relevant hashtags and follow industry thought-leaders so you can tune into the latest topics and trends.
4. Your existing content
Another way to find good content ideas is to dive into your analytics and make a list of the topics that have worked for you in the past.
You might be able to explore in greater depth a topic you’ve already covered, or even create an epic post that combines a number of shorter posts that are thematically related.
Your blog comments may also contain some user questions that you could use as the foundations of a new post.
5. Your Competitors
Checking through competitor blogs is another way to get a sense of the kind of topics and angles that could resonate with your audience.
Of course, this isn’t a call to copy other people’s work, instead, it’s about helping you come up with new ideas that you’ll then develop into something more unique and valuable. Once you know where the bar is set, you can raise it higher.
One way to discover which competitor posts have performed best is to place their blog URL into BuzzSumo. This will show you the number of shares and links each post has received.
Another way to dive into your competitors content and find what they’ve previously written about a given topic is to use the ‘site:’ operator.
For example, the following site: search lists all of Moz’s blog posts that mention the keyword ‘content strategy’:
There’s a variety of site: operator combinations you can use for digging deeper into competitor websites. For more examples, check out this post from Moz.
Finally, don’t forget to take a look at your competitors’ comment sections on relevant posts for content inspiration.
There are many free and paid-for tools that can help you come up with new content ideas.
Tools like UberSuggest, Answer the Public and will generate multiple variants from a single keyword that you input, while tools like HubSpot’s blog topic generator will come up with different blog titles depending on the topic areas you submit.
Google Trends is also great for finding out how the popularity of a given topic has changed over time, helping you to estimate its longevity.
3) [Planning]: Gather Your Research
Now that you’ve selected your topic and chosen your target keyword, it’s time for some research.
To make your post the go-to place for information on your chosen topic, you’ll want to get your hands on as many different points-of-view, arguments, statistics, data-points, quotes and case studies as possible.
The richest posts often combine information from primary sources (like original surveys or interviews carried out by you) and information from secondary sources (like third-party case studies, quotes, graphs, etc.).
These tools let you highlight and tag ‘clippings’ of information from whatever web page or PDF you’re viewing, and will save them all to one central location where you can organise them as you wish.
Your aim is to gather as much information as possible and then organise it.
You can do this by giving yourself a time-limit of, say, five hours, during which you read and make clippings of anything and everything that you feel could give your post that extra edge and support your story.
Joanna Wiebe of Copy Hackers gives an excellent breakdown of her research process for long-form blog posts in this tutorial video.
4. [Planning]: Outline Your Post
The next step is to make sense of all your notes and develop a detailed outline for your post.
Begin with a top-level outline, defining the core sections of your post and the order they’ll appear in.
Next, define what subsections will sit within each section, and organise your research notes accordingly.
During this process, you might spot some gaps in your research which you can now go back and fill.
Having a clear and robust outline will make writing the post so much easier.
It will also make sure your post stays focused if you intend to outsource the actual writing to a freelancer or another member of your team.
5. [Production]: Write Your First Draft
Now comes the writing part.
Let it spill on the page
The aim here is to just get your first draft out as quickly as possible. Don’t worry about making mistakes or being tidy — you’ll have plenty of time to clean up and edit later.
Follow your outline when structuring your post, separating different sections with subheadings. If your outline is detailed and your research notes are well organised, the writing process should almost feel like you’re just stitching together what you’ve already decided to say.
Sometimes the typing can get tiring, so feel free to use dictation software to help get your words on the screen. Google Docs and MS Word both have speech-to-text functionality built into their software and work reasonably well.
Be clear and conversational
Write as if you’re talking directly to your reader. Picture them as an intelligent friend who just needs the concept explained to them in clear and simple terms.
Keep the tone bright and engaging. You want it to seem conversational, so it’s perfectly fine to use contractions (e.g. “you’ll” vs. “you will”) and to begin sentences with conjunctions (And, Or, But, etc.).
You want to hook your reader early on, so having an attention-grabbing introduction is important. Make it obvious straight away what’s in it for them. Why will they gain from reading on?
You could also end with a strong CTA that invites your audience to interact with the post. One way to do this is to end with an open question like “What do you think? Let us know in the comments.”.
6. [Production]: Craft A Catchy Headline
Your headline is like a shop window.
Its purpose is to stand out and entice the user to click through.
A good headline will make all the difference in driving people to your post.
Use Google and Buzzsumo to see the titles of most popular posts in your topic area to get a sense of what might work. This will also give you ideas about how to incorporate your main keyword in the title.
Titles containing numbers often perform well, particularly titles containing odd numbers.
Titles that use ‘power words’ also appeal to users. These are high-impact words that trigger an emotional response in the reader. Words like ‘massive’, ‘cringeworthy’ and ‘hilarious’. You can find a huge list of power words here, or check out the video below:
Finally, make sure the post delivers on any promises you make in the title — don’t disappoint your readers!
7. [Production]: Add Charts, Images and Other Media
Having a strong visual component to your content is especially important with long-form posts.
Posts with no visual interest risk becoming monotonous, making it more likely the reader will zone-out.
The skilful use of charts, tables, images, graphics, screenshots, embedded tweets, Instagram posts and YouTube videos will help hammer home whatever point you’re making.
They’ll also make your post more appealing when you share it on social media.
Finding high-quality and relevant visuals is quite straightforward.
For example, you can take screenshots from other articles and link to them, and you can source copyright-free stock photos from a number of websites (just make sure you follow any attribution rules).
Tools like Canva are also useful for when you want to create your own simple graphics without a designer.
8. [Production]: Edit and Format
Now that the bulk of your content is on the page, it’s time to edit.
You want to make your writing as easy as possible to scan and digest.
This means using things like shorter paragraphs, concise sentences, clear subheadings, lists and bullet points, read time, plenty of white space between paragraphs, simple words whenever simple words will do and using bold, italics and underlining to emphasise key information.
Of course, you should also make sure you conduct a spell-check and ensure that all your links are in place.
Tools like Hemingway Editor can also help by analysing your content for readability and pointing you to areas of improvement.
Once you close-in on your final draft, give it to someone else to proofread and also read it out loud to yourself. This is one of the best ways to spot mistakes and gaps you might have missed while editing.
9. [Production]: Navigation
You shouldn’t expect all your visitors to read the entire post from top to bottom, or in one sitting.
In fact, according to one study by the Nielsen Norman group, the average user reads as little as 20% of the words on a web page.
Your visitors will consume your content whichever way suits them best. This is why your post needs to be as easy as possible to navigate.
A table of contents near the top of the post is one of the very best ways to improve user experience on a long-from piece of content.
When a user first lands on your post, your table of contents will give them an immediate overview of what the post will cover and a sense of how the information in it is structured. They can then jump directly to whatever section takes their fancy without having to scroll past hundreds — if not thousands — of words.
Here’s an example of a linked table of contents from Jim Daley’s epic post on email marketing best practices:
If you’re using WordPress, you can easily create a table of contents with this plugin.
10. [Production]: SEO Housekeeping
To maximise your chances of ranking high in Google, you’ll need to ensure your SEO is in order.
Ideally, you will have already found a way to include your primary keyword in your headline/page title, but you should also try using target terms in your subheadings as well as sprinkling them throughout the body text of your post.
There’s absolutely no need to force it though — keyword stuffing is bad SEO practice and you shouldn’t compromise the flow of your text for the sake of a few extra keyword mentions.
Also, don’t forget to add descriptive alt text to any images.
Use your post as a way to direct users to other pages of your site by including contextual links to other relevant articles and pages on your website.
Linking to useful external resources will also increase the value of your post to readers and will give you the perfect reason to reach out to those people you’ve linked to once your post is live.
Make sure all the links you include actually work and point to up-to-date content. You can use tools like Dead Link Checker to identify any broken links.
Adding schema markup to your HTML can improve how Google displays your page in the SERPs via rich snippets.
A rich snippet refers to the extra information you’ll see on some SERP results, sitting between the URL and description:
While there’s no hard evidence to suggest that schema markup improves rankings, it does help your result stand out to search engine users and gives your page an extra air of credibility.
Featured snippets are the short, immediate answers that Google will sometimes display at the top of the SERP. These answers sit above all other results in ‘position zero’.
Check whether the results page for your target keyword contains a featured snippet. If it does, make sure you optimise your post for the appropriate snippet format.
Page Speed and Mobile Friendliness
Having slow page-speed or content that doesn’t render well on mobile devices are both sure-fire ways to frustrate your visitors.
Furthermore, page speed and mobile-friendliness are both ranking factors.
Clear and simple URLs help readers and search engines understand what your page is about.
Having a semantically-accurate URL (one that a human can read and understand) also comes in handy whenever a link to your content is posted on a website that doesn’t format URLs. In these cases, the URL doubles-up as its own anchor text:
Using a keyword in your URL may also (marginally) improve your chances of ranking for that term — but don’t shoehorn one in if it just makes the URL harder to interpret.
11. [Publication]: Plan Your Promotion Strategy
Now that you’ve created an amazing long-form asset, it’s essential to have a clear promotional strategy in place before you publish.
Given all the time and energy you’ve invested into making the post, it would be a huge waste if it never crossed the radar of your target audience.
If you want to maximise exposure, you can’t just rely on people finding you through Google. You have to promote the piece through other channels too.
So don’t be shy!
There’s no one-size-fits-all promotion strategy — much will depend on your existing networks — but here are a few approaches to consider:
Website and Email
Since you have complete control over your website, you can promote your new content by featuring CTAs across your other blog posts and in places like pop-up banners, sidebar call-outs and customer login pages.
And, of course, you should mention your new post in any upcoming newsletters to your subscribers, encouraging them to read, comment and share.
Plan out how and when you’ll promote your new post through your various social media channels.
This applies platforms like Twitter and Facebook, but could also include sites like Reddit or Quora if that’s where your target audience hangs out.
You should tailor your messaging to whatever social media channel you’re using and think about what time of day, or day of the week, will give you the most reach.
A good way to craft your social media messages is to repurpose any juicy insights, interesting facts or thought-provoking quotes from the post itself.
One way to get more people to discover your new post is to create short-form taster content to support it.
For example, you could create a bullet-point summary of the post and publish it on LinkedIn, or perhaps write a shorter piece on Medium that explores one of the subtopics in more detail, or even dedicate an upcoming podcast episode to discuss the main themes of the post.
Either way, the point is to create a gateway that entices readers to check out the main long-form post.
One of the best ways to increase your content’s exposure is to reach out to the people or companies you mention in the post.
Simply send them a personalised email letting them know about the post and ask if they’d be interested in seeing it. If they respond positively, fire over a link to the post with a polite thank you — there’s a decent chance they’ll end up sharing it with their followers or linking to it from their own blog.
Another way to increase your industry exposure is to reach out to site owners that have previously linked to content similar to your post.
This is a tactic used to great effect by Backlinko’s Brian Dean. It involves exporting a list of all the links pointing to your competitors’ posts, selecting the most relevant referring domains, and then crafting personalised emails to each webmaster informing them of your new post.
Here’s the email template used by Brian Dean:
It’s important not to be pushy when reaching out to influencers in your industry — people won’t respond well to demands and it could tarnish your reputation within the community.
Be polite, offer value, and leave it to them to make up their own minds.
12. [Publication]: Publish, Monitor and Update
Congratulations! It’s finally time to launch!
You now need to implement your promotion strategy and make sure you track all key performance metrics including keyword rankings, backlinks and social shares.
It’s worth scheduling weekly reports for the first month or so to give you a bird’s-eye view of how the post is performing. Doing so will help you identify any areas where you should be adapting your promotion strategy.
Be sure to monitor and respond to any reader feedback in the comments section and on social media. This isn’t just a great way to connect with your audience on a more personal level, it will also bring to your attention any gaps or questions that your post fails to address.
You can use this feedback — as well as any new developments in your industry — to inform future post updates. This will ensure your post stays fresh and relevant for a long time to come.
In today’s world of information overload, short attention-spans and unlimited consumer options, you’d be forgiven for thinking that long-form was a thing of the past.
But, in reality, the appetite for in-depth, well-researched, carefully-crafted content is as big as it’s ever been.
This is because audiences are adapting to the growing torrent of options being thrown their way. They realise that most of it is noise and they respond by seeking out only the best content available.
They want content they can rely on. They want their problems and ambitions to be taken seriously and explored thoroughly. And they want it all to be easily accessible.
If your brand can consistently deliver this level of empathy for what the reader actually wants, you stand an excellent chance of building a loyal and evangelical fanbase.
So if you’re looking to add some clout to your content marketing, long-form blog posts could be just the ticket!