Initially, content marketing was easy for even mediocre marketers – pick a keyword, churn out 300-500 words, and wait for the results to come in. But now, as more and more businesses turn to content marketing, the landscape has changed dramatically. The days of easy content are disappearing for two main reasons: the competition is fiercer and the algorithms are more complex.
For many years, the conventional wisdom was that long form work didn’t perform as well as short, punchy articles. The idea was simple: they take longer and ask more of the busy reader. But over the last few years, the data has proved otherwise. If you read through the Kissmetrics blog linked above, you’ll see that long form content presents a myriad of advantages – from better SERP performance to increased social media shares.
A Few Definitions
Before we dig in too deep, it is important to define what I mean by long- and short-form content. They can have a range of meanings depending on your industry. For an online magazine, long-form can mean in-depth or technical 10,000+ word essays; because they are regularly producing 2,000-5,000 word pieces.
However, I’m not talking about online publications. Our concern is primarily directed at blogs and online promotional content. In that realm, I would define short-form as 500-1,000 words and long form as anything over 2,000 words; this leaves a grey area between the one- and two-thousand marks that depend on your industry and competition. The 2,000 to 2,500 mark seems to be the sweet spot for balancing the effort required with the expected return-on-investment.
So, don’t lose sleep thinking I’m asking you to write a book – just something roughly triple the size of your typical work (if you’re a typical blogger and producing a lot of content in the 800-word range). The problem with long-form content is that it is hard to produce consistently. Producing any content consistently is hard – and that gets magnified when we start looking to expand beyond our usual comfort zone. Today, I’ll present a method that balances long- and short- form content to leverage the best of both worlds, and make your website’s content marketing strategy stand out from the crowd.
A Balanced Content Strategy
Long-form content is great (keep reading for more on that), but so is consistency. And our content strategies need to account for producing not just great content, but great content regularly. The best solution, in my mind, is to balance long- and short-form articles through a system of anchor articles.
In this system, content marketers focus their efforts on creating a few high-quality, long-form pieces per month. These articles should be around the 2,000 to 2,500-word mark, provide in-depth analysis of an issue, and provide valuable insight into the topic presented. By limiting the number of long-form articles to just two or three per month, the work isn’t overwhelming; and you can commit the necessary resources to properly researching, crafting, and editing quality content.
But producing two or three articles per month is going to come up way short of the consistency requirement. Readers are likely to forget about your blog in the weeks of waiting for more content. So in this strategy, the long-form articles serve as anchor points of your content creation; and then short-form pieces are used to support and promote your anchors. Think of it like a mall – you have anchor stores that draw customers in, and smaller shops that serve as a bridge between anchors.
The Benefits of Long-Form Content
Long form is a lot of work, that much is unquestionable. So is producing long-form content better be worth the effort? Let’s look at the main benefits of regularly producing long form material:
- It builds trust. As a content marketer, I can tell you that writing a 500-word article isn’t that hard – it just takes a bit of research, a keyword tool, and a blog post template. But long form isn’t so easy; at the very least it requires in-depth research and a working knowledge of your topic. Because of the increased difficulty, long-form articles are not outsourced as often and present your business as an authority on the topic.
- It reaches a broader base. There’s only so many questions you can answer in a 500-word blog post, but with a long-form article you can address several questions and multiple (but related) keywords and phrases. It also makes for more natural use of long-tail keywords – thus increasing your exposure on less competitive searches.
- There is less competition. The relative difficulty of long-form naturally limits your competition when compared to short blog posts. How many thousands of blog posts have been written about your topic? A lot. But how many 3,000-word articles are there? Not nearly as many!
- It performs better in SERPs. The folks over at serpIQ found that content in the 2,00 to 2,500-word range was the most successful at capturing the top spot on Google. Why? Because Google knows that 500-word blog posts are more likely about self-promotion than they are about providing real answers.
- It gets more social media shares. The reasons are similar to the SERP results – longer content provides more real value and so it generates more social media buzz than shorter, promotional based content.
- It increases time-on-site statistics. Always a good thing for SEO, long-form content gets readers to stick around for longer. And thus, signals to Google that your website provides value to your customers.
- It provides structure to the rest of your content. That’s the whole point of this strategy – allowing a few long-form pieces to create the backbone for the rest of your content marketing strategy. This makes it easier on the content creator while also providing a more cohesive message to your customers.
How to Produce Long-Form Content
Now that you know all the glorious benefits of long-form content and you’re ready to dive in head-first, the question becomes how to successfully craft that content? Every writer is going to have their unique twist on the writing method, but here’s what works for me. Take what works for you and discard the rest:
- Determine your target audience – this step is marketing 101. Figure out who you’re writing for so that you can tailor the content to their tastes and expectations. Hopefully this step is all but complete already – if not, get on creating target audience personas asap.
- Develop a pain-point to address – this will be closely related to your target audience. What kind of questions are they asking? What are their pain points? Figure out what your target audience needs and you have a topic to write about.
- Keyword research – Once you have a topic in mind, refine your idea through some keyword research. If your topic is too broad, this step will help you to narrow your focus to a targetable set of keywords. If your topic is too narrow, this step can help to broaden your horizons to reach a greater word count.
- Competitor analysis – After completing your keyword research, it’s a good idea to perform a quick competitor analysis. This means picking your top competitors (whether local or national) and seeing if they are covering the same ground. This step will help to differentiate you from the competition – if they’re only writing short-form, go long; if they’re only covering a certain angle, take a different approach; if they aren’t covering it at all, go for it!
- Adjust your scope – Construct an outline based around all your research so far and determine if you’re going too big or too small – and adjust accordingly. If you are new to long-form writing, his step may be difficult at first but gets easier over time. Figure out how much material you need to hit that 2,000-word mark and build from there.
- Write, edit, and publish – Sounds easy, right? Not exactly, but the process of writing longer isn’t much different from writing pithy blog posts – you just need more time and material. Stick to what works for you to write, edit, and publish your content. And the more you get used to the format, the easier this gets.
Balance with Short-Form Content
So, you have your long-form strategy down and are ready to produce a few pieces a month; now what do you do with the rest of the month? This is where the short-form content comes in to play. I won’t spend nearly as much time on short-form content, because most content marketers are already well-versed in crafting blog-post length material; and we all know the benefits of such content.
But when paired with a long-form content strategy, shorter material provides a few additional benefits. It creates a sense of consistency, as you can produce short-form content on a more regular basis – there is less research and less writing time needed. Further, short-form content serves to support your long-form material. It allows you an outlet to flesh out the ideas presented previously – by taking different angles, offering supporting arguments, and giving a place for things that didn’t fit in the original piece.
Short form content is also a great for targeting fringe keywords that aren’t worth the effort of a full article. This would include highly specific, long-tail keywords; keywords only indirectly related to your industry; or highly competitive keywords.
How to Produce Short-Form Content
While long-form material requires extensive planning and large blocks of time set aside for writing, short-form content can be produced on the fly. Instead of dedicating a day to carefully researching and crafting an engaging article, blog posts can be produced as they come to you. Especially as you begin to write more, generating a 500 to 800-word post shouldn’t take much more than an hour or two. Especially if you already have ideas left over from your long-format efforts.
The other way to produce short-form content is to block off a significant chunk of time and write three to five posts at a time. With this method you can have three long-format pieces – each with three or four shorter posts ready to be issued in a support role. This allows for a content publishing schedule that feels cohesive and drives traffic to your anchor posts – as each short-form can point back to the big one.
A Well-Rounded Content Strategy
By balancing short- and long-form content, you can develop a content creation strategy that balances the need for consistency with the benefits of high-word count articles. Structuring your strategy this way also allows for easily promotable content – as there is something worth pushing out to customers beyond the typical blog post. It’s good for your brand image and authority, it’s good for your SEO, it’s good for your business!
If you’re looking to content marketing for your business, Fusion Group USA can help. From building a website and blog to help crafting SEO-focused content, we can help leverage the power of content for your business. Our website design, search engine optimiaztion, and social media marketing services are all custom-tailor to fit your business and help you see the results you’re after. Contact us today to learn more about our services.