We’ve been writing (and promoting) long-form content for years now. But is its popularity finally on the wane?
If you’re a blogger, journalist, marketer, or writer you’ll know about long-form content and the booming popularity that it’s experienced over the last few years.
Much research points to the fact that this longer format has positive effects on sales, loyalty, sign ups and much more.
But in an age of video, changing search algorithms, and fading attention spans, it’s smart to check in and see whether it’s still doing its job.
Let’s take a look.
What is long-form content?
There is no strict definition of what constitutes long-form content but I thought I’d have a go at making one based on what Google and some other bloggers seem to be working with:
Long-form content is any piece that is 2,000 words in length and generally includes text, images, and other media to enhance the article.
Generally speaking, a piece of long-form content will also have other aspects added to it like graphics, sound clips, videos, and sometimes tools or bonus material that enhance the actual topic itself.
For example, in our post on how to start a blog we also have a lot of graphics and a quiz at the end that helps you determine how ready you are for blogging and what areas you might need to improve on.
But we also need to think about other digital formats like podcasting where a long form piece might be something like Serial which was an entire series devoted to one case. That took years to research and produce and had incredible results as one of the most popular podcasts of all time.
So does long form content still work?
Unfortunately this is one of those times where we have to say a big old “that depends”.
If you take a look at all the different formats and platforms that are available to content producers now you will also notice that some of them lend themselves better to long form than others.
For example, the New York Times, which is largely a long form and detailed investigative news source, experienced a quarter one growth of 308,000 subscribers this year – their largest ever gain.
Similarly, we can look at Medium, a pretty new blogging site that is largely devoted to long form content, and see that it has grown 140% since 2016. It’s most popular article of the year has an estimated 10-minute reading time.
But then we can also see some signals pointing to the fact that long form style content is on the wane if you’re on a platform like YouTube.
As Derek (please subscribe to his channel as we need more science videos!) explains in this very interesting video, YouTube now seems to be prioritizing “fresh” content as opposed to “aged and proven” content which is encouraging vloggers to make more videos more often, which also leads to a drastically reduced quality of production.
This echoes some similar issues that website owners faced when Google started making some rankings more about freshness instead of authority or age or the number of links. That can have a huge impact on the amount of Google traffic you get to your website each week or month.
It’s interesting to note at this point that all of the above discussions is about whether or not long form content works in terms of the number of readers it attracts based on some algorithm or trend.
But we should also take a look at things like how many subscribers long form content gets, and whether or not it performs better in terms of sales or conversions on things like landing pages.
Here on Blog Tyrant, for example, we saw a huge increase in subscribers when we switched from a short free video to a 10,000-word free guide. This could be because people like the “value” of a long form eBook, or because they prefer it to a free video. Either way, it’s an interesting indicator.
One of my favorite studies into this area is by the guys over at Conversion Rate Experts who did an analysis of the Crazy Egg homepage to see if they could boost it by making it longer as compared to the short default.
Image thanks to Conversion Rate Experts. Link to source above.
They increased the homepage length by a factor of 20 and found that it converted 30% better than the shorter control. This is a really interesting outcome which the experts say is often the case when you are promoting a product that is either complicated or expensive and involves risk. In those situations it’s likely that you’ll benefit from a longer form.
Incidentally, that article goes on to ask the question about whether or not you can ever stop working on optimization, which is something that has always worried me. There does come a point where you start to notice that you’re writing less content because you’re focused too much on optimizing what is already there.
Where should we go from here?
At this point you’re probably a bit like me and are feeling confused about whether you should still be writing long form content on your blog. And that’s okay because it means that we need to do some individualized testing to see what works for our particular situation.
One thing you can do is go and take a look at your analytics and check out the top landing pages to your blog or website. Go through them all and note the length and style (does it have lots of images, tools, etc.) and start to get a feel for whether long form stuff appears to be working.
Next you’ll want to look at things like the time on site, bounce rate and referral source for each of those top articles. For example, is your long form content traffic mostly coming from Google, and when people land on that page are they taking actions and spending more time on the blog versus shorter articles?
At this stage you might also want to use a site like AHREFS to analyze the top performing pages as a way to determine where most of your links and traffic are coming from and whether that has a correlation to style or length or anything else.
Then we should also consider the medium that we are using, and what the best practices are for that format. For example, if you run a podcast you might have your regular schedule and then do a longer form paid feature like we looked at in this post.
It’s a good idea to study the top accounts on every platform that you use and really dive in to whether or not shorter or longer pieces are having the best effects and cutting through the most.
The main thing, as always, is that you test all of this for yourself. What is true for one blog will be totally different for another, and if you’re poring days and weeks in to producing long form content you’d better be sure that it’s actually doing the trick.
How does your longer stuff perform?
I’d love to know whether you write long form content and, if so, how that content has been performing this year as opposed to in previous times. Do you think it is on the wane, or is it just as strong as always? Please leave a comment below and let us know.
44 CommentsJoin in. The comments are closed after 30 days.
Long form content does still work, but I think Google is putting more emphasis on social proof these days.
Some of my most popular posts are longer than the others, but not all. I seem to be getting most of my Google traffic to posts that have a higher number social shares.
My guess is we need to try to find the right balance between longer, in-depth posts and others that are shorter and straight to the point.
Great post as always, Ramsay.
Interesting. I haven’t seen that at all. But I did think it would only be a matter of time before they started to factor that in more deeply. Thanks!
I always write long article . I think this blog is going to help me.
I hope so!
Long form works for me, because basically even though my readers tease me about it all the time, I continue to do it. The days I write short posts are the days I feel like I’ve left it incomplete. Also, it depends on one’s niche, I think. For example, I could get away with anything on my main site, but if I were to write a parenting post, the topics I cover just cannot justify and short post. On my health blog, definitely long posts because it is that kind of niche. Of course, I do make it easy for myself by posting list/tip posts that are still valuable, but I’ll always stick to long posts. I checked analytics and I am pleasantly surprised to find that the top-performers are the long posts.
Very interesting points, Ramsay. And thanks for showing me AHREFS. Always learn something when I come over.
(And pleasant surprise to find two emails from you in a week!)
Yes, AHREFS is a really excellent resource. I hope it all works for you.
I think much depends on readers’ expectations – for example, if they’re looking for a report/case study, they are likely to want a longer piece.
On the other hand, listicles or “how to” guides are expected to offer clear and quick info.
By choosing your prevalent kind of blog posts, you’ll end up setting your own ideal length, I think.
That’s a very good point. The shorter articles seem to get put directly on the Google results anyway, which is a little frustrating.
Interesting article as I’ve just started a blog within the past year and have been focusing on long form content.
I also believe it all depends, depending on the post etc. I think it’s good to mix it up a bit but to focus more on long form content to provide real value to your reader.
Here’s a small typo to correct:
The main thing, as always, is that you test all of this for yourself. What is true for one blog will be totally different for another, and if you’re poring days and weeks in to producing long form content you’d better be sure that it’s actually doing the trick.
I believe it should be pouring not “poring”.
No criticism and not trying to be anal about it as it’s minor … but just trying to help.
BTW, check out my new blog, http://www.livelovelaughbehappy.com. If you like and see real social value in it, please consider sharing it with your followers on your social networks.
Anything you could do for me would be greatly appreciated.
Hmmm… are your sure? I’m going to look that up.
Sorry about that, you’re right. I thought I had checked the definition of poring/pouring before submitting it to you, because poring just didn’t look right. My mistake and now I have egg all over my face in front of all of your readers and feel so stupid …
I agree that long form content can work well, as long as it is offering quality which people respond to – I experimented with a medium length article recently and it had a quirky title, it ranked for that title #1 in a few days because it was fresh and quite a few people read it.
So I think the ‘Semantic’ nature of the WWW plays to our strengths, as long as actual people are also responding to it – if you follow me.
Hi Mike. Did that article stay at the top of the results?
I think it’s going to get complicated.
For more ‘difficult’ industries in 2018 and beyond I think you’ll need to:
-Create a 2:30 – 4 -minute Vox style explainer video
-Rank that video in the YouTube ecosystem (Backlinko style)
-Create a narrow and in-depth authoritative post of 1800-3000 words with a liberal amount of images.
-Embed that ranked video at the top of the long-form post.
-And still do PR outreach, paid social etc…
A lot of moving parts that need to work together like a symphony.
Yep, I totally agree. It’s a lot of work and the varying formats and content types is always expanding.
Once again Ramsay you manage to post on the very subject that I am thinking about.
I am in the process of curating many of my older posts.
I stick to 1,000 words as an absolute minimum. Even for short posts.
My traffic is steadily growing. Very unscientific I know.
Sounds like a winner to me!
Myself, I wonder how old this post is, how recycled. I don’t notice any identifying dates on it, and it looks very similar to a Blog Tyrant post of about a year ago. How old is it Ramsay?
I wrote it yesterday. But thank you for the feedback.
Hi Ramsay, I tried submitting a comment yesterday, I thought it was still open so give it another shot. Thanks for the article and apologies if my question came across as annoying, I went back and re-read it all and I could tell after your comment it was all new. Again, I apologize for any negativity if it came across like that.
That said, I’m starting several blogs (in French in fact, as the French blogging world is much less competitive than the English – its really striking to move across the two languages and see what the state of things are for selling on-line info courses – a tip for anyone who speaks a second language, start your blog in that and act as the bridge to the anglophone world, you will make way more money I think with much less effort – but we’ll see). I already made myself FI (financially independent) in another business (rental real estate) that I’m looking to teach now and monetize that experience. Having learned a lot about monetizing blogs, I don’t see an obvious monetization strategy here and I haven’t received any solicitations I can remember for an info course. You have the freebie for the email address, clearly, but other than that can you share with us how you monetize Blog Tyrant? Forgive the question but ultimately we are all here to create a name for ourselves and monetize that; the question is asked out of respect. You have gone before us to make a living online, and this question is maybe the biggest one of all. How does Blog Tyrant make a living for you? Affiliate marketing? Email address joint ventures? Respectfully. If you want I can tell you all about how to create FI in 5 years starting with nothing in real estate; we did it, and have no problem sharing that story for free. Thanks.
And I appreciate that the question is not exactly about long form content, but I did share a very valuable contribution there to the community on Blog Tyrant, which is ultimately what any blog has to be about. The contribution being of course, to investigate other language blocks for blogs in your niche – if you don’t speak the language you find little competition in, go find a joint venture partner to leverage your value with them translating everything and you providing the content. I would suggest Portugese for the ultimate in profitable – few English speakers in Brazil, and a market of 160 million. Thoughts on this niche? Certainly worth a long form article in its own right 🙂
Just a heads up – There is a plugin for that or many WordPress themes come with translation built in.
No need to have your site translated by anybody. Your visitors just click a button and hey presto, your site is in Portuguese (Sic).
yeah, for sure, but translating a website – I think that’s missing the goal. if your goal is to sell on-line courses then without some serious video offerings on line it will be hard for you to create the relationship of trust that will convince people to spend 1-2K in course fees. Its not the online written content that needs a native speaker to produce it. Its the course itself and all the videos that allow the automatic relationship building that is the key to the trust resulting in orders – those are what you need native speakers for. No one’s going to order courses in english given by foreigners who can barely speak undertstandable english – which will be us in portugese. I think a huge opportunity is in creating the English language content where so far as I can see its WAY harder to monetize now compared to 5-7 years ago, everything most people would teach is already available free somewhere. Then you go find the native speaker who shoots all the videos you have done and builds an email list to sell courses to the native language population that don’t speak English well enough to go get it themselves off youtube. Technologically the rest of the world is the same as anglophone world, but not culturally. Global anglophone dominance and the very poor efforts to learn a second language in anglophone education systems -or even just travel, most US citizens just plain do not travel outside the US – result in us not understanding that to start a blog with free content and all that stuff and then monetize it – that is still pretty new in many parts of the world, probably even all of them outside anglophone countries. But you need a trusty partner who is a native speaker. I think. We’ll see how it goes in French anyway, but I can tell you that information on-line courses sell for hundreds of euros in France that are given away for free in the English world just to get an email address. The authors of those courses essentially are just translating or borrowing faster moving English language business world concepts of blogging and thus being at the forefront in their own cultural block like Blog Tyrant was and Pat Flynn and Gary Vaynerchuck.
And I’m still trying to figure out how Blog Tyrant monetizes 🙂
I think that ,as content providers, we are biased towards long-form content because it is a pleasure to produce content that shows the depth of our expertise. However ,we must remember what it is like to be new to a topic when that deep content can be intimidating. By creating a variety of long-form and shorter more approachable content, we can plot a path for people new to our topic to follow towards a deeper understanding of the topic.
I provide content for a youtube channel about woodworking and I do get frustrated that my longest form video with a supporting download on how to cut dovetails by hand gets less views that many of my short quick tip style videos but the long form style is what keeps me engaged and builds trust with the subscribers that are introduced to the channel by the shorter form videos.
Great post, Ramsay
Do you have a YouTuber that you try to emulate in terms of style and length, etc.?
[ Smiles ] I think it all depends on a person’s audience. If their audience is highly appreciative of long form content, they might as well provide their audience with long form content!
Also, long form content is better for SEO.
This article was the perfect length! 🙂 thank you
I changed my strategy to write long posts instead of usual 800-1000 word post last year. Ever since that I have noticed a significant increase in number of pageviews for my site. So I can say firmly that long and well written posts have higher chances of ranking in SERP’s as opposed to short articles.
How long are your best ones?
My best ones are 1500+. But again that depends on type of niche you are in. In my case, 1500 word long articles are enough to rank for good keywords.
Ramsay, another important topic for bloggers.
I started with ~1000 words articles – three times a week. Thin content, low to moderate traffic.
Then I emphasised on ~2000+ words articles with images/videos etc.. Better content but still low to moderate traffic.
Conclusion – in my case, the length did not matter from Google’s traffic perspective.
I am mixing the things now and have settled for the idea that word count is not more important than your message and how long you need to deliver it to your ideal reader. I try to follow the copyblogger model where articles are not very long but the writing is punchy and delivers the message without any waste of time.
Although all indicators and science of SEO are great, for me, my reader and his time are important. I will not lengthen the article if it doesn’t need to. My two pence.
Great article as ever, keep it up giving us valuable information. Cheers.
You have shared a good thought which is time-demanded.
I personally enjoy short form of content.
But when I write for my blog, I just try to make my message clear. No matter how many words it takes.
That is the reason, I have both sort and long form of contents in my blog.
You made me look more at my Google analytics and stats on WordPress, it appears my posts that got more social shares by 3x did the best. They were not my longest posts either. But they were NOT the shortest either.
I have to do more long-form as many of mine fall below the 2,000 word count, and are around 1500.
I’d love to test with a 3,000-4,000 word count post.
Thanks for all your testing results and research on this one.
One more thing: I wonder if I updated an old one and made it longer if that would even do better?
Very Informative, Ramsay!
Great article man, and some Very interesting examples!
I would always consider a page to be more worthy, if it provides a definitive resource on what I’m hoping to find.
It can sometimes wrongly assume my search intent (because we arrive on pages with all sorts of keywords), but when handled nicely with different sections, and an easy-to-navigate table of contents, it doesn’t frustrate me as a reader at all.
As far as traffic generation goes, long form will always drive more visitors through search engines (tons of keywords being created organically as we write with topical jargon). The only challenge is prioritization and knowing what group of keywords to optimize for.
I have long form pages (6000 words plus) that rank for a string of topic related keywords, and from my experience most competitors in my niche are using long-form content. It provides relevance, and probably tons of other semantic-related ranking factors we know very little about.
Writing for a complex topic, doing a review, mapping out a process… it doesn’t matter – most worthwhile pages on the net have length.
Take for example this article by Tim Urban (Wait But Why) on artificial intelligence. It is so long that my finger starts to hurt from scrolling alone. ( https://waitbutwhy.com/2015/01/artificial-intelligence-revolution-2.html ). He includes topical jargon, noteworthy books, events, and industry leaders. Feeding Google’s algorithm with all the related keywords around the subject of AI.
Whenever I try to rank for something, I make sure to write at least 4000-5000 words covering the topic back to back. With decent editing, design, relevant outbound links, and multimedia content embedded, that page turns into an evergreen resource, collecting both links and visitors for years on end. Here is an example of a recently published guide on buying rowing machines ( https://www.lifestyleupdated.com/rowing-machines-reviews-buyers-guide/ )
These pages collect links on their own, or at least ease the process of outreach. Even when embedded in guest posts, editors are likely to make the link a do-follow, due to higher editorial standards.
Another example I find hard to explain though, is a page of mine that brings in tons of visitors but has less than 500 words of content. It features a library of motivational images though (with quotes included), and people are picking them up on Pinterest. It seems that social signals are a strong ranking factor after all. So if you are not excited when it comes to writing, how about creating a visual library instead. There are many verticals where people are probably making a killing with it.
If someone here is a fan of Derek Sivers (make sure to check him out!), he excels in writing short content. I guess it works for people who gather their audience from networking on Twitter, or other social media.
Long form, for me at least, is always a golden standard.
I remember when I discovered your site for the first time. It was right around the time when I stumbled across ViperChill as well. Both of you were writing less frequently, but publishing huge articles that my partner and I would read religiously. And they pass the test of time.
I am always testing things on my blog because I think it is important to see what actually works for it.
I’ve just started using long-form content for the past 2 posts. Most of the posts on my blog are around 1,000 – 1,500 words.
I’ll have to wait for a few weeks before I can see if the long form content works better.
I did read another article on someone else’s blog who grew her blog in a year by just focusing on long-form content.
After reading that article, I figured why not give it a shot and test it out on my blog. Now I am reading your post on it.
There must be some substance to using long-form content.
Thanks for sharing these tips.
Have a great day 🙂
I submitted a comment under your Long Form Content article a couple of days ago but I don’t see it published.
Did you get it? Have you checked your spam filter recently?
If not, I can send it again.
Anyways, let me know.
Have a great day!
Search engines like articles which are giving all the information about the targeted keyword…the more specific information shared through your blog content the more readers will like it..just writing long articles with no quality usually don’t know work…if a article is written after full research on the topic then it will surely be liked by the readers..great post Ramsay..!!
Google is like Terminator’s ‘Skynet’ and is gradually becoming self aware and slowly but surely realising how to recognise real interaction from real people that haven’t been manipulated into reading content.
Heaven forbid that bloggers actually start concentrating on those real people, in real situations that produce real social signals instead of making their site look pretty with fancy logos , fonts and shiny butterfly things.
Long form content works IF you already have an engaged audience to read it.
It doesn’t work for those just starting out or even for those who have been at this for a while but who perhaps don’t have a huge readership or email list.
When trying to determine what works and what doesn’t, I generally try to put myself in a real persons shoes and take my blogging goggles off.
For most people who are sat at home on their PC, MAC, Laptop or Mobile they aren’t just on your blog.
You do not have their undivided attention.
They are watching TV.
They are stroking the cat.
They are cooking dinner.
They are changing nappies or entertaining children.
They also have multiple tabs open to facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube and email etc
So they already have one foot out of the door whilst they are reading your stuff.
So unless they are warm, interested, have been on your list for a while or are regulars to your blog and accustomed to your long form content the likelihood is that when they see a wall of text (which is what long form content is to a new reader regardless of how you break it up) they will leave or simply get back to watching YouTube and that cute kitten getting bathed for the first time.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that there are those established bloggers and those who champion long form content because they believe it is good for king Google.
However, those established sites have been in the trenches for a while and will see an almost instant but slightly squiffed benefit for long form content – primarily because they also have larger email lists and can therefore direct readers at will to all new blog posts with a simple email broadcast.
For the majority, long form content is just a waste of valuable time and effort that is best spent on being social. Being real. Human interaction where humans actually interact.
Now there’s an idea!
How many times have you read a post that tells you that we have limited attention spans?
That we skim content!
If this is true, then what use is long form content to a reader with a short attention span?
Doesn’t make sense……or does it?
It certainly makes sense for those who already have the reach to publish long form content because they can get eyes on it instantly via a quick email broadcast burst to a few hundred or few thousand subscribers.
Instant views and instant comments.
The more eyes they get on it quickly, the more Google likes it, the higher ranking, the more views, the more comments etc , etc , etc…….but you need to get there to get back!
But that isn’t how it is for the majority of blogs…….is it?
I’ve seen some fantastic long form content written by real experts in some amazing fields with potential for huge audiences…….but they aren’t marketers and certainly don’t have email lists.
Their content doesn’t get the attention it deserves yet I routinely check in on page one of Google to find yet another same/same long form blog post from a guru who has a huge email list.
Despite what the blogging gurus would have you believe, it generally isn’t the quantity or quality of the content that matters or that actually gets it to page one.
It’s the backroom reach that they have. The email list. The numbers of eyes they have in the email bank. The paid ads.
However, just because they get to page one doesn’t mean that they gain any great success from it because the audience hasn’t necessarily searched for that content. It simply landed in their inbox with dozens of other emails that distract them.
In my experience and in my opinion, unless you are established or have the money to pay for ads to get the numebers to become established quicker, then brevity is best.
Keep your message simple. Short, sharp and to the point……initially.
Then once you’ve gained that interest and attention you can begin exposing them to your longer messages.
I think content is rewarded by the search engines for being unique and valuable. For a long form content writer, it is a big challenge to write something that holds the attention of the visitors till the end of the article, so if the content is good, generates value, it will have visitors and search engine will take notice. But if a long form is written just for sake of writing one, then results will not be encouraging.
There appears to be a bug in your commenting system that needs looking into.
A comment I submit to you doesn’t get published, yet a follow up message I send in to you to see if you’ve received that comment gets published???
See above comment thread. Not sure what to make of this.
Anyways, I always take away more when I read a post the second time around. An overall very good post with a lot of food for thought, though your NY Times long form content argument is debatable.
I’ve come across 3 articles saying that the reason their subscription rate skyrocketed over a quarter and even over the past year was due to The Trump factor, his Fake News accusations, people hating seeing ads and Netflix/Spotify like subscription services people are getting conditioned to paying for.
I’ve only recently started a blog over the past year. I have focused on long form content of 3,000+ words and also have experimented with a few shorter posts of 1,100 + words.
My longest was an epic 11,300 word post on how women were treated badly in 2016, mainly because I enjoyed researching and writing it so much and wanted to write a complete, definitive article on it.
You should check it out sometime, I’ve had the most traffic on that post than all of my other posts combined.
Traffic is growing but slowly. I guess Rome wasn’t built in a day, eh?
My longer posts do well, I’m assuming because of the in-depth information provided and the value provided to my reader. But my shorter list posts aren’t that far behind, I believe because of the subject matter covered.
I believe you have to give what your audience wants, write about what interests them and what they want to read about. That’s why I believe my shorter posts also do well. So far, a good mix is working for my readers.
I’m still new at this and am learning all the time. Blogging is an amazing experience and a lot of fun, most of the time.
Have a non-related question for you.
How do I get people to comment on my blog?
Haven’t figured out that one yet. I guess I need a ton of traffic and subscribers for that to happen, as I’m assuming most people don’t comment.
Oh, yeah and as a reader above has already asked …
How do you Monetize BlogTyrant ?
Another shameless plug …
Personally, i’ve found that long-form content helps to send more traffic from Google to my blog but in terms of conversions, not much of an impact.
I guess some readers really just want a quick answer to their problem without reading about the background, history and case-studies.