Why You Should Create Long-Form Content (And How to Do It)
Have you written a long-form guide or eBook (of substantially more than 4,000 words)?
If not, you probably think it's a ton of work and aren't aware of the benefits. If you have, you know just how much work it is and have your own feelings about whether it's worth the effort.
However, imagine you're a content consumer, not a marketer. You're about to start your own business. Every night you lie awake gripped by fear that you won't be able to make your mortgage payment.
One day, you find a guide for starting a business that SERIOUSLY helps you. It's full of information you need, and you begin to trust the people who created it. So, when it's time to get something for your business, such as project management software, you know just where to go.
Now, return to being a marketer. Why should you create long-form content and how are you going to do it? Read on.
Long-form Content Gets You More of What You Want
Ultimately, you should create long-form content because it will get you more of what you want: more online visibility (social shares, links), more proof of your authority and industry expertise, and more material for altruistic community building and engagement.
Specifically, here are a few things you'll get from one piece of long-form content:
Something to Promote
Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are great, but if you don't have a campaign, strategy, or something to promote, how are you going to be helpful?
Blog posts are great fodder for social networks, but long-form guides provide the opportunity to create campaigns and an excuse to experiment with ads.
After all, when you're building your audience, it's important to get your brand in front of new eyes. Ads allow you to rent someone else's audience for a few days (or weeks) to try to catch their eye with something you've created.
When it comes to ads, promoting a piece of long-form content is loads more powerful than a blog post, as long as it's not gated (since promoting something that requires a "key" isn't particularly altruistic or brand building).
When we promoted our 18,000 word guide via a sponsored Facebook post, it got 949 likes and 180 shares. That's a lot for the $1,000 we spent! Because we had custom illustrations to complement the content, plus a ton of different topics within the guide, people were excited to share. It was a lot more compelling than a standard blog post.
An Excuse to Get in Touch
When I go to conferences and events, or even when I'm hanging out on the web, I tend to collect people; people who are commenting on the same things, attending the same events, and interested in the same things I am.
It's important to keep these relationships fresh. The people you know are in a great position to help you, and you're in a position to help them.
Long-form content gives you a great excuse to get in touch with these people, especially if you ask them for feedback. Asking for feedback not only helps you (you get expert advice), but also flatters the commenter (hey, that weird Emma girl I met at that conference trusts my opinion!).
In addition to being a way to get feedback, getting in touch also can be a great way to promote your content. If you've included expert tips and influencers in your content (which you should!), then make sure you tell people they're included.
Here's an example of an email I sent when promoting my last long-form guide:
Long time, no talk. Hope everything is going great at Customers That Stick.
I'm actually writing for your feedback. We just released a really comprehensive guide I thought you might like. http://grasshopper.com/jump
It's all about starting and growing a business. No strings attached, no "enter your email" to read it. Just a straight up resource.
Anyway, I'm curious about what you think of the content and of the guide as a whole, especially as it relates to helping our customers.
If you like it (but only if you do), it'd be great if you could share it on some of your social networks.
And if you ever need a favor from me, I'm happy to help in return :)
I've sent numerous versions of this email to all sorts of people – writers, bloggers, business owners, customers, and others that I think might be interested. The key is to be genuine in each email. I don't send the same email to everyone. I tailor it to our particular relationship and what I think they might be interested in.
Higher Ranking in Search Results
Would you like to appear in the search results when someone searches for a product you sell or for information about a problem they have in your area of expertise? If you want to be the solution, long-form content might help.
serpIQ recently did a study of the average length of the content in the top 10 results of search queries. The company found that the top-rated posts usually were over 2,000 words.
Now, your guide probably will be much longer than 2,000 words, but the individual pages of the guide probably will be about that long. When you're creating your guide, make sure that each page provides unique value on its own so you can reap the results when someone is searching.
Increased Time on Site
What does more comprehensive content mean? Well, if it's well written and genuinely helpful, it means you'll see increased time on site. Plus, having multiple pages in a guide means you're likely to see more page views, too. People will be less likely to bounce.
What does this mean for you as a content manager or marketer? Increased time in front of your prospective and current customers' eyes. More time = more trust.
For example, one page in our guide saw substantial improvement over other pages on our site. People stayed on the page 40% longer than on the average page, and they looked at 25% more pages than the average visitor.
Success in Social Media
One of the things that helps your content be seen is inbound links, and the fact is content with more words simply brings more links.
And, long-form content is good for social, too.
According to Kevin Delaney, editor of Quartz, many news articles are similar, so publishers (and businesses) can get a leg up if they publish either short bites or long-form content.
He claims there's a correlation between the length of an article and social media success, creating a "v" shape that looks like this:
Delaney has decided to publish only content outside of the 500-800 word range, hoping for more successful content. That may be extreme, but his point is clear:long-form content performs better on social than a 700 word post sitting on your blog.
A Position of Authority
One of the less instant but more obvious reasons to create long-form content is that it shows you're an authority. Help Scout has used this strategy to become a total expert in customer service. Their lengthy guides (which all focus on various aspects of customer service) position them not only as an authority, but also as a knowledgeable educator.
When it's time to choose a help desk software, it's no wonder people choose them. If you're able to put an entire virtual book together on your field, it creates trust in what you do.
How to Create Long-form Content
Outline Your Goals
Why do you want to create long-form content? Hopefully, it's not because "that post on the KISSmetrics blog told me to." Figure out what you're looking for. Do you want to build brand awareness? Do you want to connect with your customers, grow your email list, get leads, or something else?
Your goals will define how you execute the project and will keep you accountable for determining whether or not it is a success.
- Who the content is for
- Why you are writing it
- What you will consider a success and how you will measure it
Decide on Gated vs. UnGated
Gated content means that people have to fork over an email address (or other information) in order to download your book, while ungated means they can access it freely.
I always vote for ungated content because the long-term value of having something open and sharable trumps a few email addresses. However, many businesses are dependent on these sorts of resources for lead generation, so gating the book is important. The choice is up to you.
Choose a Topic Carefully
If you're struggling to figure out a topic for a long-form piece of content, go back to your goals. Don't just write about sales teams because you feel like every sales person is disconnected. Make sure you have a reason. Goal comes before topic.
What sorts of topics will reach your audience and encourage the activity and behavior you're looking for?
- Keywords and search queries (What are people looking for?)
- Existing analytics (What content do you already have, maybe on your blog, that's performing well?)
- Target audience (Who are you going after? What makes them tick? What do you know about them?)
- Competition (What else is out there? Can you beat it?)
Do It Yourself or Hire Great Writers
And now the best part – writing! Whether you do it in-house or hire a freelancer, quality will make your content shine. That top quality might come at a high price ($$$), but readable, expert content is the difference between content that flies and content that flops.
If you're going to hire a freelancer, make sure you provide them with a clear outline. Fill them in on your goals and get them acquainted with your audience. I've had success when I've given freelancers extremely detailed outlines of what should go in each chapter. If you're less editorially inclined, you might leave more discretion to the writer.
- Are you going to write the content yourself or hire a freelancer?
- Budget. How much are you willing to pay? Good writers are expensive, so be prepared.
- Are you going to provide a freelancer with an extensive outline or let them run with it?
Design for Appearance and Practicality
The best guides aren't just expertly written. They're also expertly designed.
But these designs don't just look pretty. They're also practical. Sign-up forms, content flow, and social sharing buttons are kept in mind when the content is designed and put together.
Things to consider:
- Email sign-up buttons (Make it easy for people to get more of your content.)
- Links to other content (If this particular piece of long-form content doesn't fit the reader, you might have something else that works better. Make that easy to find.)
- The next step (Make signing up for a newsletter, reading another piece of content, or sharing the piece on social obvious and easy.)
- Buttons to share on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. (On every page, make it super easy to share the content.)
You can design in-house or hire a freelancer to help you. Either way, be prepared to pay for top quality.
Create a Promotion Strategy
How many times have you published a blog post and crossed your fingers that it would somehow spread virally?
If you put a ton of work into a piece of long-form content, it's imperative that you have a detailed, comprehensive, and creative promotion strategy.
This might include a mix of outbound strategies (paid ads) with email updates, features on your company home page, and a direct mail campaign. Also, you could pair the long-form content with an event or contest or giveaway. And, remember, reaching out to influencers (and including them in the guide) is a tried-and-true strategy that brings results. No matter what you do, you'll need all hands on deck to make sure your guide is a smashing success.
Now that you understand why and how to create long-form content, get going! It's not over after you promote the guide. You probably will have to wait a while to see results. But I am eager to hear about what happens when you do.
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