It works. Search engines show it some extra love, and people love sharing it on social media.
I am talking about long-form content.
However, many content marketers fail to get results from their efforts. They put in sweat equity to create super lengthy 5,000-word articles. Then, press the publish button hoping to attract thousands of visitors.
To their surprise, they fail to go beyond a few hundred visitors. The reason is their content creation strategies are fundamentally flawed.
If you are on the same struggling boat, then here are five mistakes along with tips to get results with your long-form copy.
1. Don’t Start With ‘Dreaming Lofty Dreams...’
Ever since Brian Dean popularized the skyscraper technique, long-form content saw a quick adoption by small businesses. Just look at the consistent interest in the keyword.
However, there is a caveat to get results from skyscraper content. Even if you create the best article on a subject and manage to snag juicy backlinks, your goal to rank for your target keyword might fail.
Well, if your domain and brand aren’t in Google’s good books yet, then your website pages won’t rank for valuable keywords. In Google’s 200 ranking factors, both the domain and brand signals carry considerable weight.
Hence, for competitive keywords, you likely won’t outrank an established brand by writing in-depth content alone.
Pick your subject and target keywords wisely.
Tactically, you can reverse engineer your competitors with similar domain authorities, and find relevant keywords.
When in doubt, plug your keyword inside SEMrush and check its difficulty score. Suppose, I want to offer social media marketing services to lawyers. Here is an analysis of the keyword by the Keyword Difficulty Tool .
When you click on the 'Difficulty, %', then you are presented with the top ranking domains and their 'domain strength.'
Now, based on your existing domain strength and the business value of the keyword, you can either target the keyword or find better alternatives.
When in doubt if you have the necessary resources to pull off promotions for a keyword, consider targeting lower competition keywords.
Once you build your domain strength by promoting and creating high-quality content around these keywords, you can then move to competitive subjects.
2. Reconsider If Your Article Requires 1600+ words
It is clear that long-form content drives traffic and generates more leads. However, 10x content is not exclusively about creating long articles. Don't go gung-ho on publishing LONG articles on every subject you write.
Your goal is providing an incredible experience to your audience and serving your audience's intent.
@GaveGuido By 10X content, I don't mean 10X as long/big, just 10X better than the competition at serving the audience's intent
— Rand Fishkin (@randfish) May 22, 2015
Aaron Orendorff also pointed out the same mistake of how bloggers mistake ‘bigger with better.’ In the name of an 'ultimate guide', don't go overboard and create 10,000-word posts.
A long-form article starts between 1200 to 1600 words. However, you should not shoot for a word count for the sake of it. The foundation of content marketing is helping your audience in the most efficient way possible.
So opt for the content format that helps your audience achieve their goal without any inconvenience.
If a 5-minute video can serve the user better, then produce it.
If a high-quality graphic conveys the same value as a long-form content piece, then design it.
If you decide to go with 1600+ words on the page, then ensure you have ruthlessly edited out the fluff.
The SEMRush Writing Assistant is a terrific way to gauge the required number of words you should target for your article.
When I plugged the keyword 'long-form content tips' inside the tool, it suggested writing 1,347 words.
It also gave other nifty recommendations like the related keywords, my readability score, and an overall score. Did I mention the tool is free and integrates with Google Docs? Download and put it to use already!
3. Keep The User At The Forefront
How will you feel if a shopkeeper haggles with you? Thought so.
We like businesses that treat us well.
In the digital era, it transcends into a smooth user experience. Which means you need to frequently pull out your analytics report and understand how people are interacting with your website.
When you have a lot of words and other elements on your page to support your arguments, then your page will likely get heavy in size. Not only does such a content piece get unwieldy and difficult to navigate, but it can also become slow to load.
If you are providing good user experience, the time spent with your articles by your readers is high. At my website, I solely publish long articles, and it is not unusual to see an average time of over 5 minutes. It shows that my visitors like reading my content.
Here are some questions you can use as a checklist for your long-form pieces before they go live.
Are all elements inside your article mobile-friendly?
Check your text’s readability and overall layout of the page. Is it easy to read?
Are all the elements on the page including the graphics, language, and colors used consistent with your brand’s personality?
Is your load speed frustratingly slow?
(You can access your average page load time inside Google Analytics from ‘Page Timings’ under ‘Site Speed’).
Here are three specific formatting strategies for a smooth long-form reading experience.
1. Keep your paragraphs between 3 to 5 sentences and sentences between 10 to 15 words.
2. Use bold, italics, subheadings, videos, and images to break the content into readable chunks.
3. Add a table of contents at the top of the article with jump links to help the user navigate to a relevant section.
Matthew Barby publishes long articles on his website and offers jump links at the top so that his readers can directly jump to a relevant section.
4. Write In-Depth Articles On Narrower Subjects
In every industry, you can cover broad themes by creating long-form articles. If you are working in internet marketing, then you can write articles on content marketing, link building, outreach, and the like.
For instance, here is a recent email conversation I had with an editor at an established magazine for entrepreneurs. I proposed the following titles on email list building and copywriting techniques.
The problem is all of these subjects have already been covered extensively. It is unlikely that you will bring anything new and exciting to the table.
You should try to fill the gaps by writing on more specific topics. Narrower subjects also tend to have lower competition.
In my case, the editor rightly pointed out how I should narrow down my topics and make them “more focused.”
I ended up writing an article on four advanced email list building strategies that still work well. Let me give you another example.
Suppose you are in the dog training industry. Your audience might have already come across 5,000-word articles and guides on dog training commands. How about you write an in-depth post on training a dog using a clicker?
5. Include Influencers In Your Content To Increase Its Credibility
I am sure you have seen round-ups with tips from industry experts. They perform well on social media because of the existing influence of the thought leaders.
Three years ago, I used the same strategy and wrote a 6,500-word post on thought leaders in the blogging niche. It received over ten backlinks, over 200 shares, and crossed 1,000 pageviews.
The only problem?
In an industry like internet marketing, conventional round-ups have been done to death. People hardly find valuable and actionable takeaways in them today.
Do not create another mediocre round-up piece.
To differentiate your content, support your arguments with advice and relevant data from a thought leader. Else, include their tweet.
For example, for my article on email list building, I reached out to rockstar Medium writer Benjamin Hardy. I asked him about his list size, and how many of his readers came from Medium.
In my email exchanges with his office, I found that he had a whopping 300k subscribers. And 90% of them came from Medium.
The data added credibility to my article on list building.
I got a few other such quotes by performing an outreach while working on the piece. A few of the influencers even shared the article and helped in amplifying its performance.
Long-form content is an incredible asset to increase the effectiveness of your content marketing. However, most brands get it wrong.
The five tips above will help you extract more juice and achieve desired business results from your content creation efforts.
Are you guilty of committing any of the above mistakes and which tip do you plan to incorporate? Let me know in the comments.