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

Outdated metaphors have no traction with Millennials

Don’t leave your audience in the ditch

Metaphors, “figures of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable” are often used in advertising to convey ideas. Phrases which evoke mental images hotwire concepts into our brains. As a vehicle for an ad or presentation’s message, they provide gas to the car. (See, that was a metaphor…and if you read closely, you’ll find more automotive metaphors in this article.)

Misguided metaphors in advertising

Many metaphors are based on old technology not known to your audience. Consider that we no longer dial phones, yet you may still find the word dial alongside a phone number in print ads, though more contemporary ads invite you to call or phone.

Many decades ago, newspapers published a morning edition and an afternoon edition. When breaking news happened, an extra edition was issued. Extra editions were hawked curbside by newsboys calling, “Extra, Extra, Read all about it!” To designate the extra edition, the newspaper’s masthead was topped with EXTRA in bold letters. Newspaper publishers in the US no longer do this. It’s assured that no one who is younger than 60 may understand this unless they are readers or fans of the 1992 Disney movie Newsies.

A Charleston area real estate brokerage recently used a billboard with the headline, “EXTRA, EXTRA” with the broker depicted as a newsboy. Cool idea if this was 1955, but this is 2017 and few people comprehend this metaphor, especially not Millennials — those born between 1981 and 1997. Yet, Millennials are the very people who are entering the homebuying market and fueling a portion of its growth. According to The National Association of Realtors®,

One consistent finding for the last four years of reports has been that buyers 36 years and younger (Millennials/Gen Yers)  is the largest share of home buyers at 34 percent (down from 35 percent last year). Sixty-six percent of these buyers were also first-time home buyers. The largest cohort in America is growing up and becoming more traditional in their buying habits.”

This is the generation who texts more than they phone and use apps on their phones and don’t consume traditional media. And this is the generation who is very unlikely to understand a headline in an ad beginning with “EXTRA, EXTRA”. In our opinion, the brokerage failed to find a vehicle for their message to a primary segment of the market.

Outdated metaphors in public speech

When you’re giving presentations, you can also trip yourself up by using metaphors which are not comprehended by your audience.

In recent news, during an interview the US President Donald Trump told The Economist that he invented the phrase, “prime the pump.”

Donald Trump uses an outdated metaphor for jumpstarting the US economy

As many outlets have noted, he did not invent the phrase, especially as applied to economics of the economy. Given that most of us don’t use hand pumps to fill our basins and few of us siphon gasoline or other substances. There’s a significant group of consumers who did not understand the meaning behind POTUS’s sentence. He might have been better off with the term jumpstart, which most people do comprehend.

What other examples of outdated figures of speech have you read, heard, or seen being used incorrectly?

More Successful Marketing Strategies and Tactics for Small Businesses

Are you scratching your head wondering what it takes to successfully market your business?

Does this scenario seem familiar to you:  You founded your business. You created a brand identity and a logo. You selected your products. You set up your website. You established your social media presences. And, yet, here you are with crickets. Do you feel like yelling, “Bueller? Bueller?”

If you’re frustrated because all the marketing activity that you’ve undertaken has produced few results, keep on reading. We’ve surveyed owners of small businesses to find out what they’re using to get activity and produce sales.

We asked business owners to respond to our query:

“Small businesses and entrepreneurs frequently have very limited resources to promote their businesses. As a small business owner, what have been the most successful PR tactics you’ve used to gain publicity for your business?”

We asked them to quantify their success with metrics so we could understand what really did work. [Read our first article on low cost marketing tactics.]

The tactics utilized by our responding marketers, break down into several categories of marketing:

  • Brand
  • Community
  • PR
  • Social media
  • Blogging
  • Email marketing

In all cases, small businesses who are finding success in their marketing are using tactics focused on owned and earned media. Simply stated, these marketers are leveraging the marketing channels which they can control to generate awareness, engagement, attention, and growth. These include their websites, email marketing, and social media channels.

Before beginning any marketing activity, Kirsten Curry, President and Founder of Leading Retirement Solutions (LRS), a full-service retirement plan provider based in Seattle, WA, reminds us, “Before jumping into marketing tactics, especially for a small business, it is critical that a larger, overall targeting strategy is considered. This doesn’t have to be a formal, 50-page document. The most important things to know are – who are we targeting, why are we targeting them, and what is our value proposition to them or, what do we have to offer them, and why should they listen to us?”

Brand focused marketing strategies

In the case of LRS, they had a 100% increase in their webinar enrollment and a 70% increase in their webinar attendance, simply by knowing to whom their webinars would be more attractive.

Ms. Curry told us that their firm clarified who their own target customers are and made certain that their value proposition was obvious. For their invitations, LRS provided a brief description of the webinar topic, which especially focused on the webinar’s value to attendees. The firm also offered a clear call to action and provided many reminders to the busy leaders who had registered for the webinar. Following the event, LSI reinforced their attendees positive impressions by sending a follow-up thank you or sorry you couldn’t make it email with any relevant resources.

 Pro Tip:  By refining your goals, you can more tightly target those people and organizations who will be most likely to use your services.

At Radiant Marketing, founder Karen Cummings, said,

“As of January of this year our team narrowed in on our buyer persona (target audience), identified the channels that would have the biggest impact based on this audience and revamped and refined our messaging…”.

As for results, Radiant increased their “website traffic by 10%, lead generation by 150% and new customers by 100% from the previous month.”

Pro Tip:  Know who you are, make it clear, and consistent across all communications.

Community oriented marketing to benefit society

Over the last decade, companies have formalized their community involvement. From gathering donations for food drives, to raising funds for nonprofit organizations, many businesses raise their profiles by doing good. Some companies even incorporate around giving benefits to society. Doing good not only makes a difference in the lives of those who benefit, there is a halo effect that rubs off on the business performing the good deed. 

Bryan Clayton CEO of GreenPal in Nashville, Tennessee told us about a tactic his “Uber for lawn care” business uses to engender positive awareness. They enlisted companies in their system to nominate people whose lawns needed lawnmowing due to a “tough personal situation.” Mr. Clayton said, “Once a month we will go and mow a stranger’s home whose grass is gotten two to three feet tall because they are in a jam.” The result — someone who really needed it got their lawn mowed, and Green Pal got positive mentions and favorable PR.

 Pro Tip: Being a good corporate citizen confers benefits to you and to your beneficiary.

Can we do that? Offbeat public relations tactics

From toilets in Times Square to giant keyboards, businesses have used traffic-stopping tactics to gain attention. [Click to read our blog post on Well-planned events as a component of your public relations strategy.] PR stunts are a long-used, much beloved tactic to draw attention. As long as a PR activity reflects your brand values, stunts can be really quirky.

In Atlanta, Shadow, a formerly feral cat was hired by a PR firm to be their Goodwill Ambassador. The firm regularly works with animal rights organizations, can we say — the fit was purrfect. Alexis Chateau told us that shortly after employing the cat, her firm gained a new client. Ms. Chateau said, “The rate at which we attract clients has doubled, since Shadow. Sometimes people message just to see how he’s doing.”

Pro Tip:  Stunts must be appealing to gain attention. They need to be different, new and unique.

Traditional PR tactics utilized

In the world of public relations strategy, a successful, well-regarded tactic is have a special observance day. Many are started by organizations, or brands and industries to focus attention on a product. National Doughnut Day, National Coffee Day, and National Margarita Day are examples of special observances which have caught on and gained traction over the last decade.

Mignon Gould of The Chic Spy decided to start her own national observance day to call attention to her enterprise. Her site, TheChicSpy.com, is a publication featuring the works of emerging and established creatives in fashion, film, and pop culture. The observance she established is Chic Spy Day (chicspyday.com). The day celebrates the style of onscreen spies such as James Bond. According to Ms. Gould, “The day has been featured in major online calendar databases including Days of the Year.”

Last year Ms. Gould had the first Chic Spy Day Soiree, inviting media influencers to join her in promoting the day at Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale, Arizona. The hotel’s swank, retro design and appointments perfectly align with the Chic Spy brand and support increasing awareness. Ms. Gould reports, “The marketing initiative of launching an observance day resulted in a 17% increase in unique monthly visitors to the website.”

Examples and sources for this article were recruited from the site Help a Reporter (HARO) which was founded by Peter Shankman who later sold the business to PR tools giant, Cision. Three times a day, journalists of every medium send out queries to sources to be used in their blog posts, news websites, magazines, newspapers and online sites. You can subscribe to HARO for free.

Kari DePhillips, owner of The Content Factory, a digital PR agency gained backlinks, publicity and a raised profile by engaging in HARO. Ms. DePhillips writes, “ I responded to 21 pitches and got quoted in six separate articles, including a small feature in Success Magazine. Because some of those articles got picked up by other websites and a couple of outlets linked to two or more pages on our site (like the Success Magazine article), I ended up with 11 backlinks to TCF’s site – and a lot of these are from websites that have killer domain authority.”

Pro Tip: Don’t overlook traditional PR tactics as you seek to grow your business.

Social media tactics which grow business

Social media has evolved to a majority way of sharing information, networking and getting the news. A proliferation of social media channels has developed, each appealing to a particular audience. The mega-channel is, and remains, Facebook, however, there are so many more. Lately, Snapchat has gained lots of interest with marketers seeking to engage the under 35 year old demo. Reddit remains the province of a tech smart, very male dominated audience.

Reddit is known for snarky comments and self-policing. Those not adhering to the site’s code of conduct are quickly called out. Max Robinson of A Hume Country Clothing has found Reddit to be a major source of new leads and traffic. Mr. Robinson tells us:

“Many business owners are scared of Reddit, and with good reason. Users on the platform are notoriously hostile towards anyone even slightly promoting themselves, and business owners who’ve found themselves on the wrong end of ‘Redditors’ have felt the impact of thousands of real people suddenly declaring war on their business. However, we love using Reddit because, if you manage to market yourself well on it, it can actually be a great place to build a brand following. We started posting simple memes and articles (which we were designing and writing ourselves) to relevant subreddits on the platform, and we very quickly noticed a following of people who were genuinely interested in our business and what we had to say. After establishing that initial respect on the platform, we can now run Reddit ads, safe in the knowledge that our target audience are already familiar with our business. Consequently, Reddit is now one of our best sources of leads and traffic.”

Another marketer weighs in with their use of Reddit. Kristopher Johnson the Digital Marketing Strategist for The Gantry Restaurant & Bar in Sydney, Australia has had great success with Reddit’s Ask Me Anything (AMA).

Mr. Johnson relates, “This is a fantastic way to put a brand directly in front of its target audience. It provides people from all over the world the chance to ask direct questions to an expert. This can create the perfect environment for high user engagement that is contextually relevant. The best part about it? It’s fun! And it only takes about an hour of your time.” The Gantry’s chef hosted the AMA and answered questions ranging from culinary careers to food safety to how to make kale chips at home. You can read the AMA with Chef Bickford and see exactly how engaged users were. As a result of hosting this Reddit AMA, the restaurant’s website had increased visits and larger following.

Instagram is one of the social media channels which keeps growing in users and time on site. Visually interesting content wins on this social channel. Originally Insta allowed only still images. These days, you can post video or motion graphics via Boomerang.

Co-Founder of Zebra Advertisement, Christina Baldassarre said that using video rocketed her engagement. Ms. Baldassarre reports, “We started increasing our video content on Instagram by 35%. We count gifs, boomerangs, loops, and videos as video content. Engagement increased by 45%, website clicks doubled, and comments increased by 15%.” 

When using social media, don’t neglect to format “cards” for Twitter. These preformatted views of your content can result in many more views. There are apps for your blog and website which help you format them, or you can review the card developer overview on Twitter. If your website is built on self-hosted WordPress, Yoast SEO has a built in Twitter Card set-up.

Blogging tactics to grow site visits and awareness

Blogging remains one of the primary owned media channels available to most every small business. Companies that blog have 434% more indexed pages. And companies with more indexed pages get far more leads. [View our SlideShare presentation on blogging and SEO for WordPress] Link building and guest blogging are two frequently used tactics to help increase awareness of a site.

Nishchal Dua of The Remote Life held a campaign to gain guest blog posts on the site. The implementation cost only $150 and resulted in solid site visits and referrals. Mr. Dua said, “By the end of 6 weeks, we had 14 other websites who wrote and talked about us. This lead to 320% improvement in our SEO rankings and an overall 5x increase in website visits.”

Email marketing is tried and true and should not be overlooked

You’re out and about in the community. You’re meeting people and collecting business cards and connecting on LinkedIn. But are you really making a connection with people you meet? One business owner utilized her LinkedIn connections to grow her email marketing list. While it’s illegal in the US to add someone to your email marketing list without their permission, you can invite people to subscribe to your newsletter. [Click to read our post on the Can Spam act.]

Mindi Rosser exported her LinkedIn contacts, formatted them in a spreadsheet and uploaded them to her email marketing program. She then wrote an email to these contacts inviting them to opt out of her social media marketing newsletter. While technically not as clean as asking them to subscribe, her tactics resulted in growth to her mailing list of 2,126%. And “resulted in an increase of 20% traffic to her website and three phone calls with hot prospects.” 

Pro Tip: Use a quality email marketing program like MailChimp to create segmented lists and autoresponders when people opt in to your list. 

Marketing takes time, focus, creativity and diligence

Learning from each of our sources, we realize that these marketers had success promoting their businesses because they were creative. They remained consistent to their brand and utilized the resources that they had at their disposal. Which of their tactics will you implement in your marketing? In the comments, share what you’ve done that has grown your business or resulted in growth.