This post is the ultimate guide on using long-form content to grow your blog, increase your readership, and establish your brand as an authority in your niche.
In the early days of blogging, most posts were anywhere between 500 and 750 words. The idea of publishing on the internet was still novel, and businesses were making up the rules as they went.
It wasn’t until the 2010s that companies started experimenting with deep, highly-researched content that pushed traditional word counts into the thousands, sometimes even tens of thousands.
In an effort to outrank competitors and provide exceptional value, posts grew longer and blurred the lines between humble blog posts and full-fledged online “books.”
These massive pieces of content have many business benefits, all of which we’ll discuss in this article.
What is long-form content?
Long-form content is any piece of digital content that exceeds 1,000 words. At least, that’s HubSpot’s definition. The thing is, nobody really has an ironclad definition of long-form content, and just going by word count alone doesn’t really do the concept justice.
Long-form content is usually marked by a level of thoroughness, research, and depth that’s absent in shorter posts. It takes one concept and explores every branching avenue, going deep on related and tangential topics.
It’s also worth mentioning that search engines love long-form content, especially if it serves as a one-stop-shop for users to find all the answers they’re looking for on a given topic.
Long-form vs. short-form content
Besides the obvious difference in length, there are a few other notable differences between long-form and short-form content.
Let’s look at some of the differences, using the topic of mountain biking as an example.
Differences in scope
Short-form content typically has a much smaller scope than long-form content. “The Ultimate Guide to Mountain Biking” may be an example of long-form content. The scope is extremely broad, and there are multiple branching paths the author can explore, such as:
- Mountain biking equipment
- Mountain biking trails
- Mountain biking tips for beginners
- Mountain biking etiquette
In contrast, short-form content may only focus on one of these topics, such as “mountain biking gear.” The scope is thus much smaller and requires fewer words to adequately cover the topic.
Differences in thoroughness
Long-form content is known for leaving no stone unturned. Short-form content can often introduce a concept with a short blurb and then move on to the next thing.
Long-form content goes deep on each subtopic. So rather than simply listing off essential gear for mountain biking, a long-form piece would dive deep into what each piece of gear does, why it’s important, and where to find the best prices on each item.
The thoroughness necessitated by long-form content is one of the many reasons the word counts rise into the thousands — users are there to learn everything they need to know about the topic.
Differences in research
While all content should be well-researched, long-form content requires more than a cursory Google search. Because of the two points above (scope and thoroughness), you can’t get away with fluffing up a post with generalities and platitudes.
In order to go deep and be thorough, you have to know what you’re talking about. The good news is that deep research will help you rise above the ocean of competitors that are simply repurposing the first page of Google and not adding any new information.
Pros and Cons of Long-Form Content
Pros of long-form content
- Gets more shares, links, and organic traffic overall
- Positions your brand as an authority on the topic
- Increases readers’ time-on-site
- Can be repurposed into eBooks, videos, info products, or separate pieces of content
Cons of long-form content
- Takes longer to produce
- May cost more in writing and design fees
- Requires many embedded elements in order to “break up” the copy and keep the reader engaged
- May require regular upkeep in order to stay relevant and evergreen
Why Does Long-Form Content Work so Well?
A collection of studies by marketing professionals reveals that long-form content consistently outperforms short-form content (as a general rule).
But why? Isn’t the prevailing narrative that attention spans are shrinking and everything must be bite-sized and tweetable?
While all this may be true, there’s clearly still a desire for deep, thorough content online. Here are some of the reasons long-form content works so well in a business context.
Long-form content helps your blog rank for more keywords
A keyword is any Google search query. “What do I need to start mountain biking?” is a keyword, even though it comprises multiple words.
When you create thorough content, you will naturally target more keywords in your writing than you would with a single piece of short-form content.
Taking our example from above, let’s say you wrote one post on everything you’d need to know about mountain biking. That post would target dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of keyword variations related to mountain biking (gear, trails, FAQs, etc.).
Whereas short-form content would likely only rank for one of those sub-topics, long-form content casts a wide keyword net and sucks in traffic from all keyword variants.
Long-form content increases the reader’s time on the page
If a piece of content is longer, it logically follows that it will take longer to read. According to a study by Backlinko, there may be a correlation between time-on-site and higher Google rankings.
The key here is to keep the user engaged by constantly switching up the on-page visuals and breaking up the text with eye-catching elements. We’ll talk more about this in the following sections.
Long-form content increases engagement and social shares
When you go deeper on a particular topic, you also enjoy the benefit of solving the problems of several different categories of users.
For example, let’s say a person interested in the best mountain biking trails for beginners and a person searching for tips for mountain biking both land on your page (because you cover both topics).
Say you do a bang-up job and both of these readers feel compelled to share the post on their social accounts. You now have two shares on a single article rather than one per smaller article (were you to break up the post into separate short-form articles).
Rather than diluting your social share equity across multiple posts, you’re piling it into one single post. This helps signal to the social algorithms that this post is share-worthy and valuable to readers.
Long-form content helps you build authority and trust in your industry
When you write a post that exhaustively covers every aspect of a given topic, you or your business will enjoy the reputational benefits of being the authority on that topic (especially if your post ranks high on Google).
And the best part about expertise is that you don’t need to have a doctorate or decades of experience to be an expert. You just need to be more knowledgeable than the general population and have some personal experience with the subject at hand.
The only exception to this rule is in high-risk industries, like financial services or healthcare, where formal training is essential.
There’s no better way to establish your expertise than to thoroughly answer all of your readers’ questions on a particular topic in one place.
Long-form content helps increase your informational content portfolio
According to a recent study by Diggity Marketing, the most profitable ratio of informational to commercial content on a blog is about 60/40. While the sites in this study are affiliate sites, the same principle applies to eCommerce sites.
People don’t come to your site to be sold to.
If most of your content is constantly pitching your products or services, that will quickly fatigue your readers.
The key is to build trust with your audience by providing value while asking for nothing in return. At most, these top-of-funnel informational posts should ask for an email address to build your list — and only where appropriate.
Perhaps at the end of the post, you can pitch your product or service, but only if it folds nicely into the narrative flow of the article (and actually adds value to the reader).
Long-form content is a great medium to boost your informational content portfolio and build trust with your audience.
Long-form content draws more backlinks from other sites
As mentioned above, other sites love to link out to long-form pieces, especially ones with unique data or statistics.
These backlinks increase your authority in Google and the particular authority of a given page. All this results in higher rankings, which translates to more backlinks because more users are reading your page.
Long-form content leaves more room for CTAs
No blog post should ever leave the user wondering, “okay… what next?” They should all lead somewhere, whether that’s to the next post down the marketing funnel, another tangentially related topic, or a demo of your product or service.
The longer your posts are, the more opportunities you have to break up the text with calls to action and engage your readers on various parts of their “journey” through your piece.
Long-form content is infinitely repurposable
One of the biggest benefits of long-form articles for content marketers is its “repurposability quotient.” As a content marketer myself, I’m always thinking of creative ways to repurpose existing content. It’s simple dollars and cents — why spend more money to create another piece of content when you can repurpose an existing one to add value to your audience?
Think about it. If you wrote a 5,000-word post on the ultimate guide to mountain biking, covering every subtopic in-depth, there are at least a dozen ways you could repurpose that content. In fact, that one post could keep your content marketing team busy for months.
Each subtopic — mountain biking gear, trails, tips — could be its own video where a representative from your brand shows users demonstrations of particular gear or best practices.
Then, you can embed those videos in your post, which has the added benefit of breaking up the content plus helping you rank organically on YouTube for those keywords (and in Google’s rich video results).
Going even further, you could take your “best mountain biking trails” section and hire a developer to create an interactive tool that automatically displays all the best trails on a state-by-state basis. Or, do a simple Google Maps embed where you pin all the best trails in your area.
You could take your “mountain biking tips” section and convert it into a top-of-funnel downloadable checklist that your readers print out and take on every mountain biking trip to make sure they’ve got everything they need.
Users can download the checklist in exchange for an email address, allowing you to add more value to the user and build up your email list.
You can break off the best excerpts of your post and convert them to image posts for Instagram or Twitter. You can create short videos for TikTok or YouTube Shorts about each topic. You can record an audio version of the post and embed it on the page for people to listen to while they’re mountain biking.
Or, heck, you could take the entire post, hire a designer to spruce it up and format it, and offer it as a downloadable eBook to build your email list.
The possibilities are truly limitless!
Great examples of long-form content
Here are some excellent examples of brands using these principles to create stellar long-form content. Study their best practices, and don’t be afraid to swipe the tactics of those that are already successful.
While IBM is certainly a legacy brand, they’ve stayed ahead of the curve when it comes to content marketing.
Their IBM Cloud Learn Hub is a robust collection of long-form articles all about technology, AI, and the future of computing.
Their “What is…?” series includes deep dives on AI, neural networks, cloud computing, DevOps, and more. Each post is between 2,000 and 2,500 words and includes helpful images, videos, and resources to better understand each subject.
One of Patagonia’s most compelling and popular pieces of content is a firsthand account of a climber’s experience scaling the treacherous frozen mountains of Iceland. Clocking in at just over 2,700 words, the genius of this post lies in its narrative structure.
You don’t feel like you’re reading a business blog post. You feel like you’re sitting across a warm fire and hearing a story, complete with images taken straight from the phone of the climber herself.
While the post doesn’t explicitly advertise any of Patagonia’s products, by the final sentence, you’re itching for an outdoor adventure (and will likely need some apparel, which the brand is more than happy to supply).
QuickSprout is a digital marketing brand specializing in creating in-depth guides on everything you could ever want to know about creating, marketing, and monetizing a business.
They have long-form content on almost every topic imaginable and generate revenue exclusively through affiliate links.
Their guides are not only thorough but feature a lot of best practices for long-form content, such as:
- Tables of contents
- Lots of interlinking to similar posts and guides (Google loves this)
- Plenty of embedded resources to help keep the reader engaged
How to Write Long-Form Content
Alright, so we’ve gone over why long-form content is so effective and some examples of brands doing it well. You should already have some ideas and inspiration churning around in your head.
Let’s turn those ideas into action with a step-by-step guide on how to create long-form content.
Step 1: Choose a topic with a wide scope
One of the keys to writing great long-form content is to choose a topic with a large enough scope to warrant a high word count.
Super niche topics aren’t the best candidates for long-form content. Thankfully, there’s a reliable way to test whether or not your topic is suitable for this particular medium: Wikipedia.
Wikipedia is the gold standard for how a website should interlink topics with subtopics and give you a great idea of whether or not your topic is suitable for a longer article.
Sticking with the example we’ve used throughout this post, If you go to the main page for “mountain biking,” there are dozens of branching topics.
Just skimming the page, I’m already seeing more ideas I didn’t think of before, such as the five categories of mountain biking (trail riding, cross country, all-mountain, downhill, and freeride).
I’m also seeing specific types of mountain biking gear and a section on the risks of mountain biking. There is a ton of content here, and that’s a great sign.
On the flip side, it’s important not to choose too broad of a niche for your content. For example, the parent topic of “biking” is far too massive to cover and dilutes the intent of the searcher.
Step 2: Chart out your subtopics
Now it’s time to list out your subtopics (and sub-sub topics!). Once again, Wikipedia is one of the best tools for this.
Jot down on a piece of paper or Google Doc all the subtopics you’d like to cover. Just make sure you don’t dilute the depth of your article by going too wide in scope.
Don’t worry about organization right now. This step is all about brain dumping.
Step 3: Outline or mindmap your structure
Now, it’s time to get organized. One thing you’ll quickly discover about long-form content is that if you don’t start with some sort of structure, your ideas can get jumbled very quickly.
Keeping your topics tidy is key, and two great ways to do that are mindmaps or outlines.
Mindmaps are visual ways to connect and conceptualize ideas into a hierarchy. There are many tools to create digital mindmaps, but one of my favorites is the free platform Mindmeister.
If you’re more of an outline person, any modern Word processor can accommodate that feature. However, unlike mind maps, outlines can be a bit more challenging to rearrange if you decide a certain section is better suited under a different sub-heading.
A great solution to this is the dynamic outlining software Dynalist. It’s essentially a vertical mind-mapping tool that takes the best parts of both outlining and mind mapping.
Whatever tool you use, it’s important to get your structure figured out first, especially from an SEO standpoint.
To follow SEO best practices, make sure you correctly nest your subtopics like the following example
- H1: Mountain Biking (main topic)
- H2: Mountain Biking Gear (subtopic)
- H3: Mountain Biking GPS systems (subtopic)
- H4: Best Mountain Biking GPS systems for beginners (subtopic)
- H3: Mountain Biking GPS systems (subtopic)
- H2: Mountain Biking Gear (subtopic)
Step 4: Commission your content (or write it yourself)
Whether you’re writing the content yourself or commissioning a writer, it’s important to provide a content brief that contains the following information:
- Desired word count
- Top ranking pages on Google for inspiration
- Your detailed outline
- Voice and tone guide
- Formatting rules
- Special notes for the writer
Step 5: Edit, polish, and write a strong intro and conclusion
Even if you’re outsourcing your content creation, you’ll want to give it an editing pass to make sure it matches your quality standards and brand voice.
Since the introduction and conclusion are usually the first things people read (most folks scroll to the bottom of a page to see how long the post is, then go back up if they decide to read the whole thing), we’d recommend writing those yourself.
Try a few intros and conclusions out and use the one that best hooks the reader in. You’ll also want to run the copy through free tools like Grammarly and Hemingway. The former helps you find grammatical errors, and the latter helps you reduce the complexity of your writing.
Remember, most folks read at about a Grade 6 level. Keep things simple, especially if you want them to stick around to the end of the post.
Step 6: Add interstitial embedded elements
One of the best ways to keep people’s eyes from glazing over and continue momentum down the page is by littering in sporadic embedded elements.
These include the following:
- Links to other related posts
- Shareable buttons or “reading time” indicators
Step 7: Publish and promote
Once you publish your content, your job isn’t over. You need to promote it. Digital marketing for your eCommerce blog deserves a post all its own (thankfully, we have one on the topic you can read right here).
Without getting too deep into the weeds, there are three main things you should remember when promoting your content:
- Add the post to your website homepage – your homepage is most likely your most visited page, and featuring the post there will not only boost organic traffic to the article but help pass “SEO link juice” to it.
- Put on all your social channels – blasting the post on all your social channels simultaneously will increase the likelihood of virality and get more eyes on the page.
- Push it to your email list – email subscribers are often some of the most loyal to your brand, so it’s always a great idea to push new content out to your email list.
Long-form content (such as the 3,393-word post you’ve just finished reading) is one of the most powerful forms of content marketing available to businesses.
And the best part? It’s not that expensive to produce — especially if you decide to write the content yourself. Google loves it, it builds trust with your audience, and it can be a powerful revenue-generation tool.
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