Recently I have encountered more and more people asking for one specific thing: words, and lots of them. No, truly, I mean a lot of them. They want long-form content: articles that go from 2,000 to 5,000 words, and sometimes longer. Then I ran across our glorious lea… ahem… Zeldman’s article on the subject of long-form content, and the challenges of designing for it.
I am not one to shy away from a challenge, but I was curious to know why. The short-form article has more or less reigned supreme for a long time. We live in an age where a 300 word article can absolutely go viral, and who doesn’t want that for their website? What’s making (some) website owners and editors change their mind?
Well, after some research, this is what I’ve got: a short-form article listing reasons why others are going to long-form—the irony of this is not lost on me—and why you might want to as well.
1. Increase Engagement
There’s a reason landing pages are often so b****y long. The longer you can keep a user’s attention, the more likely it seems to be that they’ll make meaningful clicks. You know, like on a “subscribe”, or “buy” button. It doesn’t matter how many different pages on your site they look at if they don’t click on something that makes you money. It comes down to the fact that page views aren’t necessarily the best metric for engagement.
Ad networks know it. Many are only willing to pay for actual clicks, and sometimes only for completed sales. YouTube knows it. That’s why they started measuring engagement in video watch time rather than the number of views. Lots of short content can drive page views, but long-form content seems to generate more substantial engagement.
2. Improve User Perception
Longer, more in-depth articles make you look good, plain and simple. Going deep into the details of a subject can go a long way toward giving users the impression that you know what you’re talking about. Of course, it helps if you actually do. The longer your article, the harder that is to fake.
Come on, we all love A List Apart, and the detail they put into every article is a huge part of that. Or take BuzzFeed, for example. They used their short-form and frankly inane content on their main site to finance BuzzFeed News, which even I must begrudgingly admit has done some good long-form work. That good work has not completely reformed their image, yet, but there’s a certain respect in some circles that you never would have seen before.
3. Repeat Traffic
It’s common knowledge that posting regular content helps to keep people coming back. This assertion is typically associated with producing lots and lots of shorter bits of content, because you gotta publish every day, right? Well that isn’t necessarily so.
Long-form content that goes into the details of a subject can bring that repeat traffic, especially if it’s educational in nature. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back to articles I’ve read before to brush up on some technique or other, or just to refresh my memory a bit. Long-form content can take time and repeated read-throughs to digest, and that’s good for your engagement.
4. You Could Make the World a Little Bit Better
Going into the details of a subject promotes better understanding of that subject. Better understanding improves the conversation around that subject, which in turn leads to healthier communication between people talking about that subject. Healthier communication means less frustration, and more happiness. That means, at least for some people, the world gets a little bit better.
There’s a joke that goes something like: There’s no one as confident as a person with half the facts talking to someone with none of the facts. Simply put, long-form content puts more facts out there, and that’s good for all of us.
5. Make Yourself Better-Understood
A corollary to that last point is that you can make yourself, or your company, better understood. There are some few things in this world that are truly dichotomous. They are absolutely black and white, no question about it. Everything else gets real subjective, real fast.
Short form content, because of its limited space, is often guilty of promoting simplistic descriptions of complicated concepts. Even worse, it can promote simplistic solutions to problems that require a more nuanced approach. Long form content gives you the space you need to truly explain circumstances, problems, and why you handle things the way you do. Making yourself properly understood can be the difference between, for example, a hiccup in service that is soon forgiven, and a PR nightmare.
There’s some evidence that longer articles get ranked better on Google. Search engines in general are always trying to provide the most relevant content that has AMP enabled. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself!) But they really do want to give people search results that help them. It’s good for business.
Basically, longer articles seem more likely to have something that’s relevant to the user, and so Google (at least) seems to like them. There’s also a great data-driven write-up on long blog posts, and the traffic they bring in by Neil Patel. You should most definitely go check that out.
Go write more words. Or hire someone else to write them. There’s room enough on the Internet for both short and long-form content, and they both have their advantages. In fact, there’s no real reason your company can’t incorporate a little of both into your content strategy.