Does Long-Form Content Still Get Worthwhile Results?

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long form content
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.

subscribers

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.

conversions
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.

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35 Comments. Join in. *Closed after 30 days*

  • Rick Rouse

    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.


    1. 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!


  • Vijendra Singh

    I always write long article . I think this blog is going to help me.


    1. Ramsay

      I hope so!


  • Vidya Sury

    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!)


    1. Ramsay

      Yes, AHREFS is a really excellent resource. I hope it all works for you.


  • Andrea Torti

    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.


    1. Ramsay

      That’s a very good point. The shorter articles seem to get put directly on the Google results anyway, which is a little frustrating.


  • Mark

    Hi Ramsay,

    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.

    Cheers,

    Mark
    Mark@LiveLoveLaughBeHappy.com


    1. Ramsay

      Hmmm… are your sure? I’m going to look that up.


      1. Mark

        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 …


  • Mike

    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.


    1. Ramsay

      Hi Mike. Did that article stay at the top of the results?


  • Jason Thibault

    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.


    1. Ramsay

      Yep, I totally agree. It’s a lot of work and the varying formats and content types is always expanding.


  • Stephen Walker

    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.


    1. Ramsay

      Sounds like a winner to me!


  • tris winfield

    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?


    1. Ramsay

      I wrote it yesterday. But thank you for the feedback.


  • Andrew Teixeira

    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


    1. Ramsay

      Hey Andrew.

      Do you have a YouTuber that you try to emulate in terms of style and length, etc.?


  • Renard Moreau

    [ 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.


    1. Ramsay

      Agreed.


  • V

    This article was the perfect length! 🙂 thank you


    1. Ramsay

      Great!


  • Rinkesh

    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.


    1. Ramsay

      How long are your best ones?


      1. Rinkesh

        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.


  • Ahmad Imran

    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.


  • Liton Biswas

    Hi Ramsay,
    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.


  • Lisa Sicard

    Hi Ramsey,
    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?


  • Usha

    Very Informative, Ramsay!


  • Slavko

    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.


  • Susan Velez

    Hi Ramsay,

    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 🙂

    Susan


  • Mark

    Hi Ramsay,

    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!

    Mark
    LiveLoveLaughBeHappy.com


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