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Garrett Moon

Long-Form Content: It’s Time We Take it Seriously

By: Garrett Moon | January 22, 2014 | 
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Long Form Content: It's Time We Take It SeriouslyBy Garrett Moon

Long-form content is changing everything online.

Google takes long-form content seriously, so we should too.

That might be bad news for those who don’t like writing much, but for the rest of us, it’s about time we started making a place for long-form content on our blog.

In a recent post, Neil Patel outlined a bit of the trend towards long-form writing. By long-form, we’re talking a minimum of 2,000 words per post.

As a comparison, this post is less than 700 words long. Oy!

Long-Form Content and Search Rankings

Long-form content has a direct affect on search rankings.

SERPIQ did an analysis of the top 10 search results for more than 20,000 keywords and revealed a surprising pattern. The length of content on the page had a direct correlation to the placement of the search results.

In other words, the top 10 positions on Google for many keywords is content that contains at least 2,000 words.

Long Form Content: It's Time We Take It Seriously

This may come as a pretty big surprise for those of us who have been under the impression that 500 – 700 words is the sweet spot. The evidence suggests that might not be the case.

Long Form Content: It's Time We Take It Seriously
Neil performed an analysis of the number of link backs a post received, and the number of words in the post. Again, there was a direct correlation. Long-form content was more likely to be linked to from another site.

My Own Findings

I decided to try it for myself. I did a few searches for terms such as “content marketing,” “how to groom a beard,” and “consolidate grad school loans.”

Then I charted my results.

These were, of course, random keywords, and my results not statistically relevant in any way. But despite that, I ended up with some compelling results.

In all of my searches (there were only six), the average word count for the first result came in at 2,013 words, just a hair over the minimum 2,000 words. This trend didn’t continue down the line, but it did seem to be a factor.

For example, I noticed the long-form pages were often associated with a high page authority score, meaning they were often weighted more heavily by Google.

I also noticed an instance where a page with a low page authority score was able to rank well because of its 3,000+ words. Conclusive? No. Interesting? Yes.

Is it Time for Long-Form Content?

After reviewing my own results, I am far from completely convinced, but there certainly seems to be something at work to support the idea.

Obviously, my data is not statistically relevant enough to make a final conclusion, but it has piqued my curiosity enough to experiment further with long-form content.

For now, I have committed to at least one post per week over the 2,500 word threshold mark.

Results pending!

One of the things we know for sure is long-form content is no silver bullet.

Neil’s results highlight the value of high-quality content that gets a large number of links.

Does it so happen that longer content occasionally results in a better quality page? Sure, but not always.

There are many other factors Google takes into consideration.

Should You Try More Long-Form Content?

So, all of this begs the question, “Should I be using more long form content on my blog?” 

I think the answer is yes, but only as long as you can handle it without turning into a word zombie.

You shouldn’t be writing more words simply for the sake of ranking better. Rather, you should be doing it for the sake of helping the reader.

If the post calls for it, and you have enough to say, go for it.

Whatever the case, it does seem to be time for us to turn off the hard rules on content length, and start experimenting more. Google just may reward you.

What do you think about long-form content marketing? Does it help? What are the implications?

About Garrett Moon


Garrett Moon is co-founder and designer at Todaymade, makers of CoSchedule, a social media editorial calendar for WordPress that makes blogging and sharing on social media easier than ever before.

48 comments
SusynEliseDuris
SusynEliseDuris

Garrett - Loved this post! Long live long-form content! Even YouTube and Vimeo stats are indicating that people are liking the longer form videos. However, as with any content, your content has to be relevant and resonate with your audience. 

PatrickHayslett
PatrickHayslett

A-M-E-N. Period. Long form content by its very nature forces you to know your topic and present it well. Sure, you'll lose some skimmers but that very fact tells you they're disengaged anyways. 

Better Graph
Better Graph

Garrett, Thanks for your post. Yes, if we write long form of content then there is possibilities that google include it in knowledge graph. i have read few post before that if we write content 2000 - 3000 then the possibilities increases.

jenzings
jenzings

First, I'm glad to see this. I can't tell you how many times I've read a blog post and thought "that's it? There's so much more to this (story/issue/topic)." Then again, I have an attention span that is apparently an anomaly these days.

Long-form content, like long-form journalism, has a place in the market. Sometimes people *want* more detail. They *want* to learn something.


On how this will be executed--well, I had a flashback to college and producing papers that had required lengths (8-10 pages, 20 pages minimum, etc.). The page lengths were required because you were supposed to be doing real research. Some students will do the research and write long, thoughtful papers. Others will do almost none of the work and turn in page after page of filler words. Hopefully Google has an algorithm that will be able to separate the wheat from the chaff.


Generally speaking, as someone who both likes to write AND who believes that there is a place for long-form, thoughtful content, I am happy to see this.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

I've been thinking about this for a while, Garrett. I'm glad to see your test. While I agree with @Danny Brown that we shouldn't just write 2,000 words to write them, I don't think that's your point. If you can do additional research and add more to your content that provides VALUE, go for it! Google seems to be rewarding that effort. But, just like anything else, Google will penalize you if it's spammy or icky. This stuff is hard work. But it's worth it.

T60Productions
T60Productions

Wow... interesting stuff Garrett.  How, if at all, do you think video plays into long form content?

--Tony Gnau

belllindsay
belllindsay

It's true that @LauraPetrolino stole my comment (below), but I wanted to add that I found this piece interesting when I first read it - and I still find it interesting. Everyone spews these magic numbers, etc., re: content - whether it's length, number of breaks, images used, when to post during the day (or not!), etc., etc., etc.. It drives me slightly bonkers. I think if the content stands, then let it stand. When I was a TV producer, when I asked my exec how long my story/interview should be, she would say "as long as it's good". And I still stand by that. 

LauraPetrolino
LauraPetrolino

I think long form content becoming a trend is both fantastic and horrific. Fantastic for the people that are able to use it in an effective way that ADDS to the conversation. Horrific for the 'me too' agencies that are currently busy creating 500-700 word pieces of crap and will now work diligently to slice and dice their way through 2000 word pieces of crap! 

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

I will take the data because that doesn't lie. But it is not a one size fits all. If you are big enough to afford adwords organic search is almost moot. If you have your own distribution like the NY Times you don't rely much on organic SEO.


And if you do the right thing with your business, for example google places for brick and mortar or an LBS app because someone might want to know all the Japanese Restaurants within 5 miles and you are a Japanese Restaurant.


Now if you are a Marketer wanting to be seen as an expert and hope to gain business by people searching for something specific and you popping up, that is different. And if you think about it expertise grows with rank. Blogger. Write Professionally for an Industry Publication. Author. College Professor on that subject. Name the top job title for that position/industry. And it is a challenge to have authority whether on Google or in anyone's head if all you publish is short blurbs.


My point is you should be writing long form if you want to seem to have authority to the public. Caveat there is an AdAge top 15 blogger who writes long form BS all the time. So he is tricking everyone. Then there is @goonthwho writes a bazillion words per post and probably doesn't have 10% the readership this other person has, yet Gunther is so much an expert on media and digital than my head explodes just trying to grasp how smart he is.

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

Interesting post Garrett - I'm going to agree in part...

Long form content right now seems to function best as 

a) how-to's (Sean McGinnis could probably speak better than this on me) 

b) journalism / storytelling 

I'm not sure marketing / comms needs to start creating really long form stuff unless it is focuses on the storytelling aspect, especially. And, I hate to say this because it hits close to home for me, marketers aren't necessarily the best storytellers, at least outside of the typical product / brand scenario. 

(but, to a point Gini's been making a lot lately - as / if brand journalism ramps up, this could easily change)


Danny Brown
Danny Brown

I'm a fan of just writing until it's done. That could be 200 words, or 2,000 words. The worst content is the stuff that's been padded to look in-depth, yet simply repeats the same points ad nauseum, just in different ways.

Google's becoming like Facebook with their constant algorithm changes. Besides, why should one facet of the web - albeit a huge one like Google - determine what's quality and what's not?

Say they recommend Mashable for social media; TechCrunch for tech; and the Huffington Post for news.

I don't see any of these sites as being quality. Instead, I'd look to ReadWrite for social; TechVibes for tech; and TIME or the New York Times for news.

Basing content on what Google may or may not like simply creates a monopoly that, instead of promoting quality, actually dilutes it to the definition of one platform's quality identifier.

Meh, I'll take my chances with trying to provide valuable content, and promoting it in the right places, length of content be damned.

danielghebert
danielghebert

Great article Garrett, and it's somewhat confirmed what I've been seeing in my own experiences. The last post I wrote for SteamFeed was over 1500+ words (couldn't make it to the 2000 mark) and received over 1000 social shares, and quite a lot of page views. It's been attracting decent search engine traffic for some keywords, and ranks first page for some key phrases.


The last post I wrote for InNetwork (1600+ words) got quite a few shares over the last 24 hours, is our second highest performing post in traffic we've had in a 24 hours period, ranks on first page for some keyphrases.


I haven't tested it out fully yet, but from what I can see in our blog analytics, some of our longer-form articles seem to be performing the best in terms of social engagement, comments, links, SEO, and traffic. Which is contradictory to what many people say.


To me, this makes sense. Think about the format of a long-form article: Recent industry study/stats are presented, followed by a case-study of how these apply, followed by an analysis of the case study, followed by applications/takeaways for other people to apply, followed by considerations for the future/trends and how it could change.


This would typically be 4-5 blog posts for most people. But Google wants to serve the best answer to a search user's question. So why present 4 or 5 part answers, when they can present one complete answer? Isn't that the whole point of a search engine anyways, to present the best, most complete answer to users?


Like you, I will dig deeper into this, do my own experimentations, and start writing longer-form content to see how it performs.


Again, great article Garrett!

garrett_moon
garrett_moon

@T60Productions That is actually an interesting point Tony. In a few of my searches videos took the 3, 4, and 5 spot in the search rankings. I remember because it effected my averages. I don't know that video length has anything to do with the ranking, but that type of content seems to be prioritized in a unique way. 


Great thought!

belllindsay
belllindsay

@T60Productions Nooooooooooo!!! People create such fatty videos!! I swear, every time I watch a vid I say "Cut that, that could go, too long, not needed, cut, natural out right there, cut it, ugh, is this still on???" 

goonth
goonth

@Howie Goldfarb@goonthHowie, nice of you to mention me ;) I'll keep my normally obtuse writing to a minimum here, and say that I don't think this is really about 'long-form' or 'short-form' content but about raising the bar on storytelling, getting a lot smarter and more exploratory with the nature of information, and looking at data and stories as one and the same. It's pretty tough to game search engines if the bar on quality is significantly raised, and if we can change the proxies for measurement.

jenzings
jenzings

@JoeCardilloAgreed on the journalism aspect being key. I don't think 2,000 word pieces should become routine by any stretch of the imagination. But an example of a long-form piece from a communicator that really needed to be longer is Shel Holtz's recent response to the "content crash" piece by Mark Schaefer (and, this post is *very* interesting in light of that discussion). Shel walked through--thoroughly--reasons why we are not facing an imminent "content crash." It was a long, thoughtful piece that was serious and definitely more valuable because of the detail it contained.

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

@Danny Brown To your point about pubs, might be part of the case for good brand journalism / storytelling. Which currently is few and far between. 

danielghebert
danielghebert

@Danny Brown I'm like you Danny, I will write until the post is done. Sometimes it's 800 words, sometimes it's 1700. It just tends to go towards the latter, because I have a lot to say, haha :P

@hessiej makes a good point though - you've been blogging for quite some time, have fans, have an email list, and have a reputation. For most companies, it's not the case, so they need to adapt content to what will reach the most targeted customers. A lot of people go to Google with buying intent, so if you're able to rank higher because you've developed a longer, more complete article, I would say go for it! :)

hessiej
hessiej

@Danny Brown I think Danny, in your case it could be the person vs the content. Because your content is well-read there may not be any necessity to test and learn. For the rest of us schmucks that are finding our way, we go with what works best:)


Your devout fan:)

garrett_moon
garrett_moon

@Danny Brown  I think this is fair, but I also think that there is a middle ground between writing until it is a done and padding the article obsessively. 


I find that by making a concerted effort to write longer content, I tend to approach posts more holistically rather than just focusing on a single idea. I am more thorough and am able to include more real-world examples. 


For the reader, this really can result in better quality content, which is really what Google is after.


Thanks for reading, and the comment!

James_Madison
James_Madison

That may be the problem that others here have mentioned. I read an article by Danny recently that shared three examples of surveys that talked about millennials and all three had excellent statistics. But they all countered each others point. So if I didn't know about these three different reports, I would take the first long answer Google sent me to. I think that's why we need more than one answer as a destination.

garrett_moon
garrett_moon

@danielghebert This is a great little analysis. Thanks for sharing. I think you are right: long-form does help as long as it is resulting in better content. 

Ari Herzog
Ari Herzog

@danielghebert The fact a blog post is shared does not mean it's read. You know this. Look at the number of comments or, even better, look at your analytics to gauge the amount of time the average visitor stayed on the post before bouncing away.


The old adage of quality trumping quantity continues to be true.

LauraPetrolino
LauraPetrolino

@belllindsay @LauraPetrolino I think that maybe sums up our relationship. We share a similar brain, but yours is much more concise and uses the letter 'u' much more frequently in words :)

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

@jenzings @JoeCardillo Good point - I read Shel's piece, and you're right, it needed a really thoughtful  and longer examination. Part of what marketing / comms is grappling with is the question of how much storytelling is needed. I'm not sure what the answer is, but I will say that after having been a part of some massively successful infographics I / my team preaches data + story + design as the way to really engage people.

Part of the "content crash" that Mark talks about is the short form deluge of content that ignores at least one if not more aspects of that formula. 

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

@hessiej Possibly (and thanks for the flattery), but I'm not 100% sold on that. It comes back to strategic content plans. Take my wife's publishing house, that she started with two friends just a few months ago.

They don't have a list; they haven't been blogging as an entity for long; they don't have a lot of social proof (yet).

Instead of relying on an existing audience, they planned out their roadmap of audience, destinations, value of content, type of authors they signed, frequency of content, targeted versus widespread.

This allowed them to bypass relying on Google's approval, and instead they built a two-way fan base of authors/readers and publisher/authors. They needed a more tangible impact than hoping they'd climb Google's tree, because to succeed they'd have to attract quality authors before they were snapped up. Waiting for Google to say they were a quality publisher (therefore attracting quality authors as well as customers) would have negated all their efforts.

Today, they have a best-selling book on their roster, a growing community, an interactive audience base for news and updates, and advocates that will promote their news before they (the publisher) have even had a chance to do so!

So, yes, agree that history can play a part - but if we use that as a fallback, then it simply continues to play into Google's hands, versus showing they're not the only player in town, and that quality deserves to rise, regardless of archives and prior content history.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

@garrett_moon As long as the creator has the intricacies of flow, narrative, formatting and path mapping as core attributes. The amount of times I've almost fallen asleep at the keyboard through monotonous progression to a valid point shows many content creators, professional or otherwise, are creating long form because Google says they should, versus actually having something to say.

danielghebert
danielghebert

@Ari Herzog @danielghebert completely agree with you Ari, and my bad for not reporting that, haha.


If I do look at my analytics, I can see that the quality of the traffic is higher - meaning time on site is much higher. My longer-from articles tend to have more comments as well.

My bad, and thanks for calling me out on it ;)

hessiej
hessiej

@Ari Herzog @danielghebert Ari, I agree with your point that sharing does not imply reading, however it does increase the probability of the post being read. 


The correlations we use include: blog subscriptions, inquiries on the site, time spent (as you've noted).


From a purely SEO perspective, I agree with Daniel on "complete answer" perspective. For us the more detailed the response, the higher time spent on the site, the higher the likelihood the post is read.

T60Productions
T60Productions

@belllindsay @T60Productions I noticed that... and "liked" it on YouTube. :-)  It's similar to something I might be doing at my blog next week.

FYI... I went back and noticed you embedded the video with the original blog post. One thing I noticed though is that the video isn't labeled.  If someone is reading that post for the first time, they might not know the video is related directly to that post they're reading.

Just a thought!

--Tony

belllindsay
belllindsay

@T60Productions Hmmm, we did that yesterday - not necessarily "long form content' - but we paired a follow up video with my post. Interesting - must check the numbers. :)

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

@Danny Brown @JoeCardillo That's fair. Making parts for turbine engines might not need a full brand journalism approach (although there are always human capital type stories)

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

@Howie Goldfarb The ecosystem thing (design, user experience, etc) can be done by anyone. That's not really a content discussion as much as a UX one, and brands should already be offering an above-average one - it's not expensive. I don't think that really impacts the length of content or the visibility of it, mate. 

Yes, it's nice to visit a site where content is clean, but the actual internal workings of the site - the real content - should be the one that determines a site's success, versus having to adapt to long-form when not needed, or play to an algorithm's rules on what they feel quality looks like.  @hessiej 

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

@Danny Brown@hessiejI do agree a bit with Hessie. Simply because there is an ecosystem you have in place Danny (website easy to navigate, pages pleasant to view/read, content is accurate and helpful or interesting, easy email sign up, emails aren't abusive/intrusive) plus your own personality and accessibility, and unlike me you come across as smart in conversation and social channels.


There are some people really smart in distribution and really crappy in content who get a lot of reads. But I bet they would have many less if they weren't so crafty on distribution.

Trackbacks

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