Go Long: Long-Form Content Delivers

By Sherry M. Adler

As the adage goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” But is it … always? Not when you have many points to get across with conviction, precision, and flair. On the mention of points, a picture is not the main point here, but rather a pivot point. That’s because the number of words attributed to it in the opening sentence serves as the launching pad for a discussion of long-form content.

To begin, what is long-form content? Implicit in its name, it refers to content of ample length, measured in number of words. How many words would that be? This is not an exact science or art. Long-form has a wide wingspan, which starts at around 1,000 words and extends to 2,000 and beyond. Recently, pundits profess a preference for the higher amount and push the end mark to 3,000 words. Rather than quibble over the limits, one thing about the math rings clear. It takes a word count of quadruple digits to weave the sticky web of propositions, arguments, analyses, and more that engage and excite audiences — including Google.

This post explores various facets of this format, from framing it to outlining a variety of its strengths. What it doesn’t do is suggest that long-form is superior to its shorter cousin. In the arena of short- versus long-form content, one does not hold the title of supreme champion. There’s a proper time and place for both short-form and long-form content. Apply each one — or a combination — based on prevailing needs and goals. For example, snippets are easy to process and produce abundant quick clicks. But, many times a smattering of words, however clever, won’t fulfill the objectives and elicit the response you seek. At these junctures, more extensive content is the way to go.

This is to say: long-form content has a definite role in an organization’s digital marketing and communications toolbox. Let us count some of the ways long-form content delivers.

Stimulates interest and informs: Content marketing

Welcome to the fertile fields of courting loyal followers and, in the end, customers, facilitated by content marketing. This is the land of long-form content. First, let’s identify what content marketing is. The Content Marketing Institute defines it. “Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

Content marketing is subtle, yet substantive. Its mission is not to directly promote an organization, brand, service or slate of products. Instead, it draws upon the power of words — a lot of them — to stoke awareness and gain attention; that, in turn, leads to competitive advantage, sales, and profit. Another way to look at it: content marketing uses a back door approach to generate crowds at the front door and the checkout. It’s a process, but one with a potential worthwhile and enduring payout.

The content marketing playbook is a treasure trove of materials derived from long-form content. This broad category includes articles, blogs, e-books, newsletters, content hubs, research reports, and meaty infographics. Podcasts, videos and webinars are other assets in this class. The members of this league do not give short shrift to a topic. They explore it, highlight key aspects, and offer constructive takeaways to connect with audiences. When readers acknowledge the value, they savor it and come back for more. This creates recognition, relationships, buy-in and, at some point, buying.

How about some statistics to back up these claims? The Content Marketing Institute offers such evidence. Studies on its site show that “content marketing generates over three times as many leads as outbound [promotional] marketing and costs 62% less.” More? “Small businesses with blogs get 126% more lead growth than small businesses without.” Okay, here’s another. “Content marketing rakes in conversion rates six times higher than other methods [such as traditional marketing].”

All told, content marketing and its long-form enabler should be an integral part of a company’s strategy.

Bolsters perceptions and authority: Thought leadership

A subset of content marketing, thought leadership deserves a section of its own. An effective tactic within this sphere, it works a bit differently and distinctly. Here a spokesperson presents an issue or point of view on something of interest and importance. It may relate to the company, perhaps even tangentially, or to an industry, event, or pattern of consequence. This long-form content is substantial and substantiated with examples, data, and discussion points. It shows the person’s command of what is being conveyed. Ideally, it’s novel and impressive.

Readers appreciate this information; in fact, they may be looking for it. These posts help them understand a development or trend. The insights bestowed connect the dots or explain a rationale. This in-depth content may lead to an aha moment — hmm, that’s why or that’s how!

These articles, blogs, white papers, and other pieces of long-form content build credibility and eminence. The readers’ assessments of the organization and its people rise. This indirect marketing approach offers much capacity to generate success. How much? Recently, Survey Monkey and partners decided to find out. “The 2020 thought leadership report: defining it, using it, and doing it yourself” captured the opinions of 481 marketers via an online questionnaire. And what was the top-line conclusion? Two-thirds deem thought leadership a “top priority” for their firm.

Why did these practitioners rate thought leadership so highly on their to-do list? Because, based on their experience, it increases:

  • website traffic by 71%
  • lead generation by 62%
  • media mentions by 56%
  • email subscribers by 54%
  • customer relationships by 53%

This feedback alone shows that thought leadership is a hook. What’s more, it works. As such, it behooves an organization to use this long-form content asset.

Conveys attributes and builds brands across all stakeholder groups

Long-form content hits the jackpot for brands. And it accomplishes it on a head-on basis. Aside from the first two strengths cited for this format, not all efforts to position and market a brand need to circle around what truly matters. They can go right to the heart of products, services, categories, and lines — whatever organizations offer. The same applies to the overall brand and what it stands for. Unlike its short counterpart, long-form content presents details to fully explain and elaborate upon a brand. In doing so, it differentiates the entity from others.

This format applies to any moment in time in a brand’s lifetime. It’s the way to go to establish brand identity and ingrain it. Long-form content provides the bandwidth to tell the brand story and feature aspects of it in tangible terms — it delves into the matter rather than scratching the surface. This deep-dive content creates affinities with customers en route to bringing them into the fold for years on end. These pieces anticipate customers’ questions and lay It all out for them. They convey a brand’s essence and then build, build, build upon it.

With the help of Images and videos, long-form content fleshes out brand personality. What else can well-conceived long-form brand-oriented content do in this regard?

  • Helps brands stand out
  • Shows how they work
  • Promotes and persuades
  • Cross sells and upsells
  • Memorializes them

Of note, brand stakeholders are not all external. Employees are integral within a brand’s framework. Long-form content helps to engage and educate these important internal resources about the brand’s mission and values. Employees serve as brand ambassadors and among the enablers of its success. They need to understand and align with the brand’s essence, purpose, and plans. Long-form content helps take them there.

It requires lots of words and repetition to reach targets and stakeholders in a brand’s vast network. In building brand across multiple channels, long-form content serves as a go-to that goes a long way.

Enhances SEO and pecking order

Do you want your content to register high on Google search results, ideally on the first page? Who doesn’t seek to be among the leaders of this pack? The path to follow: go long.

Long-form content does not automatically come with this guarantee, but it points to this potentially winning principle. A landmark study done by SerpIQ arrived at this conclusion about the benefits of long-form content in attaining attractive SEO ratings. According to its findings, the average content length of the top 10 results was in excess of 2,000 words. This outcome prompts SEO pros, such as SWEOR (Strategy Website Enter the Market Optimize ROI) to note: “longer content produces higher search rankings. Simply put, studies show that longer content dominates page one of search rankings.”

Content quality of long-form is a factor that correlates with high ranking. Make it compelling, comprehensive, and relevant to what audiences seek. Insert lots of prized nuggets adaptable for sharing. Judicious and plentiful use of keywords also points the way to success. But there’s more…

What’s a sure shot way to bolster scores? Links. A recent exhaustive study of 11.8 million Google search results confirmed this concept. If found “Overall link authority (as measured by Ahrefs Domain Rating) strongly correlates with higher rankings.” And “pages with lots of backlinks rank above pages that don’t have as many backlinks. In fact, the #1 result in Google has an average of 3.8x more backlinks than positions #2-#10.”

All of this reinforces the use of long-form content to be able to ace the Google algorithm.  What’s the short of it? Long-form content is ripe with SEO benefits.

Supports social media and paid advertising

Long-form content is perfect for mining. When done well, it contains fruit just waiting to be harvested. Pull a quote, statistic, insight for social media purposes. Incorporate a link to the long-form content piece in an email. Insert it on your website, your intranet. It’s all there in those thousand plus words, so cull it – leverage, recycle. Put your long-form content to work. It can do double, triple or whatever dimension duty with little effort. It’s the stuff of Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram — you get the drift. By the way, readers who like a long-form piece share it on their own — it’s that easy. They may comment on it as well, which draws even more attention to it and may precipitate a discussion thread. What’s some hard, fast data to confirm this? According to a post on Digital Vault, research from BuzzSumo and Backlinko report that “long-form content results in 56% more social shares.”

Long-form also serves as a platform for paid advertising, such as LinkedIn sponsored content. Again, use long-form content posts as inventory and pull from the rack for many purposes, AKA repurpose. Granted, it likely takes more time, effort, and expense to create these longer pieces. However, they offer ample possibilities to fuel other means of getting your brand front and center. Post, repost, share, reshare; let the content go round and round and maybe even viral!

Pulling all of these bits and pieces together…

Well planned, conceived, and executed long-form content wields a lot of power. Dedicating one thousand or several thousand words to such an effort showers the organizations that use them with a range of benefits. They offer opportunities to flex their marketing and SEO muscle. In doing so, they render a one-two punch, if not more.

To sum this up in a sprinkling of words, long-form content provides:
High Visibility, High Impact, and High Performance

It attracts readers and keeps them engaged and on a site for a longer time rather than a brisk bounce. In this sense, bigger is indeed better. Long-form content is a social media darling. This format enables organizations to, both indirectly and directly, build their reputation and base en route to ringing up sales. It’s the stuff from which videos and podcasts are made. And these lengthy pieces easily lend themselves to being chiseled into shorter posts and to readers (including those outside the organization) sharing them with those in their networks.

This post has offered a top-line view of long-form content. It also provides something else related to this format. In the birthing process of covering this topic, this piece evolved into something quite unexpected. It turned into an example of long-form content in its own right.


About the author.
You name it, she covers it. That’s the can-do attitude Sherry M. Adler brings to the craft of writing. A polished marketing and communications professional, she has a passion for learning and the world at large. She uses it plus the power of words to inform and energize stakeholders of all kinds. And to show how all of this can make a difference, she calls her business WriteResults NY, LLC.