Time to go long

It’s tempting to assume writing on the web favours short-form. That’s what we heard for years. But long-form content – not just e-books and white papers – is valuable and usually worth the effort.

Distance MarkerYesterday I took part in a Hangout with Phil Szomszor who was asking me more about the negative connotations of the word ‘content’ and long-form as a subject came up for several reasons.

The initial conversation was about standing out online in a sea of mediocrity by focusing on quality. Not all long-form content is good but there’s generally a chance that the creator has put more thought into it and that it includes more detail, more voices and so on.

Publishers have cottoned on to this, which is why so many tried to ape the NYT’s famous Snowfall feature a few years back. Content marketers have had their equivalent moments, such as Builtvisible’s Message in the deep story of the submarine internet that spans our oceans.

Message in the Deep ScreenshotBut analytics for most of our websites also show that long-form content tends to traffic better. Perhaps that’s because it’s often more of a feature and so evergreen. But it’s often because Google favours the format, which often tends to get more backlinks from others. In short, SEO likes long-form.

Medium, length

One school of thought a few years back was that the combination of the rise of social media and content consumption over mobile devices would move us further towards short-form. Ever feel your ears hurting from all the people talking about ‘snacking’? But a couple of things became apparent.

Social media posts often like to point to weighty, well-researched pieces of content. The two go hand in hand.

But long-form doesn’t have to be long-form-only. Unlike, say, a novel, some of us are in the business of working with copy that can be repurposed. A colleague of mine a couple of years back was asked by a major insurer to comment on a 6,000-word feature that had taken a lot of work and was quality content, by any stretch.

He gave it the thumbs up but his follow-up comment was what stuck with me. “This isn’t a piece of content,’ he said. “This is 15 pieces of content.”

What he meant was that rather than think of one monolithic award-winning piece, the client should consider blog posts that could come from the piece, an infographic from the related research, a comic strip and maybe a video talking head with the author. And that’s not to mention snippets that could be customised for the company’s LinkedIn and Facebook pages, or in a series of tweets.

Long-form is really important – often so much so that an audience will give up money, personal details or certainly a chunk of time for it – but it’s just one arrow in your content marketing quiver.

The good news is that it supports much of what sits around it. It can be your north star. Your guiding light.

Make long-form content central to your marketing and business planning, if it’s not already.

*photo credit: GOC Walthamstow to Stratford 071: Lea Bridge via photopin (license)

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