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Content MarketingMarketing

10 steps to creating long-form content [How-to]

Why is long-form content important to your website’s ranking?

Did you know, long-form content, meaning content with almost 2,000 words get more reads and creates a dramatic impact on your site? According to Brian Dean at Backlinko “The average Google first page result contains 1,890 words.”

A decade or so ago, when people started using blogs to share their business expertise, they focused on giving pithy, brief insights that people could consume like a snack. The commonly recommended length for a blog post then was 300-400 words. As competition for eyeballs has increased, what is now the differentiator — and what causes a reader to stay with your site — is content which demonstratively increases their knowledge.

This makes absolute sense. We trust articles which we can tell are designed to thoroughly answer our questions. We trust material which is linked to verifiable, accurate, and credible sources. After consuming masterful content, readers frequently share it, furthering the trustworthiness of the author. Referencing trustworthy content is natural human behavior. Who hasn’t referenced their mentor when relating how they learned key techniques in their field?

What does long-form content do?

Frequently referred to as long-form content, extensive articles which are well researched and thoughtfully prepared stand out. Content of this type is designed to answer questions, inform, teach, or solve problems.

According to SEMrush’s recent report “12 Important Google Ranking Factors: Data-driven study 2017”

…word count, is one of the first things that forms the user’s opinion about the page…the main advantages of a text are its quality and relevance. However, long-form content creates the impression of in-depth analysis and, therefore, looks more trustworthy.

…the results of our research indicate that pages that rank higher have longer content on average. So, content length is important for your page’s success as long as it is valuable, well-written, and optimized, especially if you target high volume keywords.

Long-tail search queries, meaning queries which are complex and contain expansive keyword phrases, correlate to higher ranking of longer articles and content. SEMrush in the report observes, “…long-tail search queries have more content on average than short-tail ones — almost 20 percent more. For instance, an average top-100 article on ‘graphic design’ will be shorter than an average top-100 article on ‘graphic design trends in 2017.’ That is, if you are writing on a broader topic, your users do not expect a long read. If your article’s topic is narrowed down to a precise statement, then it should provide a more in-depth view.”

How do you develop long-form content?

Most of us struggle simply to keep our blogs and websites up-to-date. How many times have you heard that you *must* post everyday in order to rank well for your topic? Adam White for SEMrush calls this a myth. “The truth is there is no research to back up this claim that adding content all of the time will help you with SEO.” What we’re not as frequently told is that thin content doesn’t serve us. In fact, in the last 4 years Google has designed their algorithm to demote thin or brief content which is simple. We’re much better off when we create content with a focused goal. So, how do we do this?

  1. Define a problem you’re going to solve for your audience. Understanding the challenges your audience struggles with is the initial step to creating content which resonates with your reader. You can get these insights by simply searching Google and noting the queries which are suggested (at the bottom of a search results page.) OR by interviewing people who are within the defined group you desire to serve. Once you comprehend the problems your target audience wrestles with, you can delineate an approach to meet their needs.
  2. Identify how you can help. Perhaps your readers need a post on how to purchase a home, and you can solve their problem by identifying all the key steps along with tips and insights that will help them accomplish their goal. Your blend of accomplishments, knowledge and history should come together in a distinctive way in your approach.
  3. Analyze how your competitors have addressed the same problem. Repeating what someone else has said is not of help to your audience. You must differentiate your advice. Solving a problem with a new tactic, strategy or approach a sure-fire way to be of use to your audience.
  4. Take a stand. Explorers claimed land in the name of the countries which financed their explorations. You can stake your claim by looking at the problem from a new perspective. If we continue the example of how to purchase a home, your research might show that people can be successful purchasing a home without a Realtor. Since the majority of people purchase a home with a Realtor’s assistance, writing for those who do not use a Realtor, and providing detailed advice and how-tos on the topic will help you rank for the long-tail query, “How can I purchase a home without a Realtor.”
  5. Seek quotes and insights from credible sources. When we learned to write term papers, our teachers instructed us to use only credible sources. We were to cite them and use their points to validate our own arguments. When creating long-form content, do the same. Using our example of how to purchase a home without a Realtor, contact people who have purchased a home without a Realtor, and quote them. Find your sources by using services such as H.A.R.O. aka Help a Reporter. Ask them for their expertise, and quote them in your article. Or you can source insights from a trusted article on the web, linking back to that article and quoting from it in your post.
  6. Write like a feature story journalist telling a story. Approach your article like a reporter using the journalistic method. State the problem. Discuss why it’s important to the audience. Cite your sources, and cite your solutions. Do so with a storytelling approach. Continuing our example of a homebuyer purchasing a home without a Realtor, create reader interest in your opening paragraph. Use your sources’ quotes to amplify the important parts of your article.
  7. Create graphics to illustrate your points. Content with images is more appealing. Whether you need graphs or photos, source images that tell the story.
  8. Proofread and refine. Always have a few people read your article to help you refine any rough points. They will catch errors and tell you when something doesn’t read right.
  9. Write your headline and subheads. Your headline should have significant pull to get readers to dive in. An outstanding headline sets your readers’ expectations says Hubspot. Let it summarize your goal, and incite curiosity. Your headline is your pitch to your reader. However, avoid click-bait style headlines such as “You won’t believe what happened next when he…” Facebook and Google are onto these smarmy tactics. Write subheads to section your article. Subheads move readers into the next section by encapsulating a hint of what’s up next. Subheads also break up the wall of text, allowing readers to jump around if that’s their style, by guiding them to what they want to read within the article.
  10. Write your description. This is seen in search results and should succinctly tell potential readers the article’s purpose and what they gain from reading it. Blogs on the WordPress platform allow you to hand-craft an excerpt. Blogger and Squarespace allow you to do this too. Only the first 160 characters of the description (or if you cannot hand-craft a description, your full article) are seen in search results. For this reason, it’s crucial the opening of your article is enticing and informative.

What do I do after I’ve published my post?

After you’ve written your post, publish it to your blog. Then market your post by sharing it across social media. Get conversations started around your topic on Linkedin connected with your share. Keep marketing your post in an ongoing manner.

Monitor your Google Analytics to determine who visits the post and from which sources. Knowing where your traffic comes from will help you market your content in a much better manner. If you’re getting great results from your share, and comments to the post, find a new twist on it and share it again after a brief lapse from your first share of it.

In summary, don’t try to create this type of content every day. Or even every week. Longer posts require a lot of time and work. To make them really work for you, you need to put in the time, effort and creativity to get them right.

If you don’t have the energy, or insights to create the kind of ranking content we’re talking about, let us help you out. We create content for many Charleston area businesses. Give us a call.

Photo credit: Andrew Neel