In Marketing Without Words? Not Quite!, I argued that social media marketing using lots of images still requires some words to convey precise meaning. But that’s not the whole story. Recent trends show that long-form marketing—long posts of 2,000+ words, case studies, white papers, video(!)—often gets better results in online search rankings and conversions. The primary issue, then, is which long-form strategy is appropriate for your organization and how you should implement it.
Why Use Long-Form Content?
We live in an age of image-driven social media, Internet overload, and short attention spans. We’re told that people don’t read books or long essays and that younger people, especially, interact with the world and one another through mobile devices. But we also live in an age of stories and data-driven information, and not everyone’s story can be told completely in 140 characters. Organizations and individuals are rediscovering that longer narratives remain vital to achieving their objectives. They include
- Business-to-business (B2B) marketers
- Not-for-profit organizations
- Colleges and universities
- Large, complex corporations
- Small businesses
- School districts
- Labor unions
- Government agencies
Long-form content can help in surprising ways to gain and hold public attention in a highly competitive environment. Web pages featuring longer posts or documents of 2,000 words or more often rank higher in Internet searches simply because they deliver more value. Serpiq’s study of the effects of content length on search results speaks for itself.
Longer pieces also stimulate longer times by visitors to a site. Google has restructured its search algorithms to focus more on quality rather than merely inclusion of keywords. Sites that provide high quality information respected by others become authoritative.
Types of Long-Form Content
Most types of long-form content were developed before the Internet, but they have been adapted for online use.
Case Studies – I usually refer to these documents as “success stories” because they identify a rather complex, important problem and report some successful responses or solutions to that problem. They are very useful for scientific, technological, or engineering firms to explain a new process or application. They are equally apt for telling stories of not-for-profit organizations or schools in order to draw attention to their personal or social impact on their communities.
White Papers – These longer documents usually report results of scientific, technical or public policy research. They often use scholarly research to support their conclusions, and they usually address other experts in their field. Promotion of a service or product in a white paper tends to be very subtle.
Long-Form Mail/Email – Longer messages (either on paper or online) to potential customers or clients have never gone out of style. They provide an opportunity to explain in detail the benefits of a given product or service, and they usually include one or more calls-to-action to accept or purchase what is offered. Many organizations continue to find them very effective in generating new or repeat business.
Newsletters – Similarly to mail/email above, newsletters keep current clients or members of an organization up to date on recent activities and upcoming opportunities for engagement. They often highlight the achievements of individuals in order to solicit financial or other active support.
Long Blog Posts – Just a few years ago, the recommended length for most blog posts was 700 or fewer words. That is now changing. Longer blog posts of 1,500 words or more are achieving better SEO results because they deliver more value and increase the time that visitors spend on a page (presuming that they are well written!).
Videos – Initially, it might seem odd to include videos as long-form content, but consider how much information they deliver. Most video scripts that are delivered on-camera or as voiceover commentary run for several pages. Organizations use them to explain products or services and to tell their more involved stories effectively.
Podcasts – Streaming audio files have the same properties as video, but they allow for more flexible access since people can listen to a discussion in a wider variety of settings. Both podcasts and videos can be delivered in a series to which people can subscribe.
Webinars – Online seminars that provide discussion by one or more experts and an opportunity for attendees to ask questions or make comments are a great way to provide substantial information that addresses specific needs in detail.
E-books – Probably the ultimate long-form document, an e-book certainly requires the largest investment of time and care. If you are an actual authority on a topic, you might want to make that investment, but take care not to mimic the legions of shoddy authors out there!
How and When to Use Long-Form Content
The most important rule for long-form pieces: provide high quality! Whether you are offering a while paper, a podcast, or an e-book, avoid cutting corners. Back up what you say with relevant, timely research. Create, revise, proofread through as many cycles as you can reasonably manage. Consider suggestions from others. Never stop improving. Visitors to your site will welcome such a gift and will return for more.
The second most important rule: include images, video, white space, and attractive formatting. Even in research-heavy documents, readers appreciate and remember visual illustrations. After all, you don’t want to put people to sleep even if you’re selling cures for insomnia! For a good example, check out Neil Patel’s image-rich discussion of long-form marketing.
Break up those dense paragraphs. Relieve visitors’ eye strain. Have some fun!
Sunny Lenarduzzi created a very helpful video on how and when to use video. It’s good advice, and she clearly had some fun creating it. Her three types of video—thought leadership content, social proof (testimonials), and product or service content (how to use or do something)—summarize the uses of much long-form content of all kinds. Watch her video below.
Check out Sunny’s website as well for additional videos, tips, and services.
The last rule to remember: promote via short-form marketing. Otherwise, no one will see your carefully crafted content. Social media outlets—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others—lead people to your longer offerings.
Getting Professional Help
Control freaks among us (I’m one!) usually like to do things ourselves. But DIY might not be advisable under some circumstances. Perhaps you don’t have the time to produce longer content. After all, you might be running a business that might not be entirely online. Or maybe you lack the necessary equipment or expertise. Or if you’re totally honest with yourself, you might not be a good enough writer (sorry, but good writing is hard).
If any of these circumstances reflect your situation, hire some professional help. When you do, however, make sure that they understand fully your objectives and concerns. Try to stay engaged in their creative process so that, together, you can produce something that lives up to your expectations.