How to fail at long-form content creation: Top 4 stupid ways

It’s no longer a mystery. Long-form content works like crazy. It flatters influencers, ranks higher in search engines and gets more shares.

If you’re beginning blogging, the old strategy of publishing multiple 500-word blog posts every week won’t work. You need to dedicate time to research and write comprehensive content that answers all your audience questions on a subject.

I know that writing, editing, and promoting a 2000-word blog post is tedious. Three and a half years ago when I wrote my first long-form blog post (that touched 3000 words), I got overwhelmed.

Then, I wrote an article that went over 6000 words and was delighted to see it perform well. Soon, I fell in love with the process of long-form content creation.

A caveat to writing long articles is it doesn’t guarantee success. Yes, such articles build your thought leadership and attract a loyal readership. However, spending ten hours to write on your favorite “subject” isn’t a reliable strategy.

Indeed, the kind of long-form content that performs poorly tends to commit a few known mistakes. Let me show you four stupid ways of creating long-form content that you need to avoid like a plague. I also share examples that you can use to modify your content creation strategy.

1. Obsessing with hitting a word count for every article

The first error has got to do with the semantics of a long-form post.

  1. Jon Morrow advises beginner bloggers to shoot for 2000+ words per article.
  2. A study of 1 million search results found that the average length of a page in the top 10 search results is around 1890 words.
  3. Another marketing influencer argues that 10x content does not equate to “long” content.

Which advice should you follow?

Instead of searching for the perfect length, you need to understand the context of each recommendation.

Instead of aiming to hit 2000 words, your goal is to answer all the relavant audience queries on your article’s subject.

Why?

A major reason for the increased demand for long-form content is that consumers are now smarter at using the internet. They like an in-depth break down of their problems at a single place. No wonder, search engines and social media platforms like serving users such detailed content.

While writing, do not shoot for a quantitative metric like the number of words. Instead always write the best piece of content online. How to do that?

Read a few popular articles on your article’s subject and analyze the gaps that you fill. To qualify as the “best” piece, you might need to:

  • add more depth,
  • design a high-quality infographic to complement a strategy,
  • record a screen share showing “how to” instructions,
  • find a new writing angle.

Let me share an example. When writing a post on “the need for validation,” I saw all the current articles were tossing the same advice to let go of approval. Here’s a look at the search engine results page for the above phrase before I published my article.

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I took a counterintuitive stand on how seeking approval is a human need. I backed my argument with psychology and a personal story. A year after writing, the article ranks on the first page for multiple keywords including “seeking validation.”

seeking validation

Notice that I didn’t shoot for a word count. I only wrote a compelling article backed by research. It touched around 1200 words (which isn’t long-form technically). It still ranks because it’s relevant to the user and my audience is liking the advice I shared.

Always remember the first goal of content marketing when writing long-form articles: To help your audience as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Many content creators commit the sin of writing lengthy 10,000-word roundup posts. Don’t get me wrong.

When done right, round-ups are super valuable to your audience. They also tend to perform well. However, if your reader cannot take any actionable insight from your article, then it’s a disservice to them.

With long-form content creation, write as many words as it takes to cover your subject comprehensively and in an easily digestible format for your readers.

Instead of breaking down each step of a chicken sandwich cooking recipe in text format, produce a video tutorial. It will serve your audience better.

Targeting high-volume keywords without a strategy

Many beginner bloggers obsess with on-page SEO. They research low-competition long-tail keywords. Then, optimize every post with a healthy keyword density and write compelling meta descriptions. Few of them go crazy about planning the anchor text for every link.

Of course, they hope that Google gets pleased and unleashes hoards of traffic to their website. Is there something wrong with the tactic?

Firstly, for new bloggers, on-Page SEO has low returns on time spent. You’re better off trying other traffic techniques. Secondly, such a keyword-centric approach leads to content repetition. You might publish articles around different variations of the same keyword.

For example, you might write one article on “high protein low carb diet plan.” Then, another on “no carbs diet plan for two weeks.” Both of them have overlapping problems that you are solving for the reader.

The smarter approach is thinking of “topics” to cover on your blog instead of the old school way of “keywords.” Hubspot has covered the strategy in more detail as the topic clusters SEO strategy here.

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You start by creating content on a broad subject relevant to your reader. Then, write articles on narrower sub-topics under the subject. From your broad subject page, you link to all blog posts, and they link back to the main subject page. More internal links also help with higher placement in SERPs.

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Let me break down the strategy with the broad subject as “diet plans.”

  • First, you create a detailed “diet plans” page that introduces various weight loss plans.
  • Then, you start publishing in-depth articles covering one diet plan per blog post. So “no carbs,” “GM diet plan,” “Indian diet plan,” and the like, get a long-form blog post each.

Your audience has the choice to read as much as they want on “diet plans.” Else, they can jump to the diet plan they like.

James Clear has done an excellent job of breaking down his articles by such broad topics.

broad subject james clear

For example, look at his page on creativity. He summarizes the subject and links to his blog posts dealing with different sub-topics that fall under creativity.

creativity 1

As a reader, you are presented with an easy to follow structure with links to articles that you can jump on as needed.  Search engines favor such a content hierarchy as it helps them understand the intent of every page on your site.

Ruining the reader’s experience on your website

Yes, your audience is smarter than ever. They look for comprehensive answers to specific questions. However, they also have ample choices to search for information online. If you fail at creating a conducive reading experience, then your ideas are a waste.

The structure and visual appeal of your content are as important as the content itself. Now, the reading experience majorly consists of the following two aspects:

  1. The overall aesthetic appeal of your content
  2. Your website’s user experience

Let’s start with understanding the aesthetic appeal of the content. Are you curious how established bloggers consistently belt out engaging articles that hook their readers? It’s because they follow proven frameworks. For instance, Jon confessed how his viral post on moving to paradise at Problogger followed the ‘Hero’s Journey formula.’

It turns out that you can write compelling content by using proven writing formulas and tidying up your content’s presentation. Here are three resources to get you started.

i. The beginning of your article should immediately hook the reader – Nail down your introductions by using these 9 simple ways.

ii. You need to format your long articles for skimmers and scanners – Start with breaking down your articles into easily digestible paragraphs and sentences.

iii. Amp up the visual appeal of your content – Use screenshots, gifs, memes and embed tweets by influencers. Here are 8 other creative ways that you can implement.

In the example below, Smart Blogger uses content and quote boxes to break down its in-depth article.

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Next, let’s look at how to create a flawless user experience for your visitors.

A decade ago, bloggers milked pageviews with mediocre content. Today if you have you choose one metric that determines the success of your content, then it’s engagement. If your website has a high bounce rate and low average on page time, then it’s doomed to fail.

Here are three technical tips to fix a majority of such engagement issues.

1. Check your page’s performance on mobile devices

Now content consumption is predominantly on the smaller screen. Further, users anticipate your content to appear as soon as they press the “Go” button. Every second delay leads to visitors dropping off of your website.

How do you identify the website elements that hinder your performance?

Plug your domain inside PageSpeed Insights to get a list of optimization suggestions. You can also follow these five easy ways to reduce your loading speed.

2. Leave breathing space for the reader and use easy to read fonts

Have you ever heard of Medium? It’s one of the internet’s biggest reading platforms. Their minimalistic design, use of whitespace, and legibility of fonts ensure that their long-form articles see high engagement.

Whitespace 1

It would be best if you also left white space to give breathing space to the reader. Also, avoid clouding your website with too many elements – it distracts the reader from your content.

Lastly, closely look at your use of fonts as they reflect your brand’s personality.

To find what works for your audience, you can explore the font pairings here and test a few variations. Choose a font size of 12 px or higher as it improves the comprehension and the speed of reading of your content.

3. Help the reader smoothly glide across your articles

Suppose you researched the crap out on a burning problem of your audience and wrote an epic 5000-word ultimate guide. A visitor lands on your website and gets impressed with the incredible value you are offering. However, they also get confused. They do not have the time to read the entire article.

How can you help your readers navigate seamlessly through your articles? It’s simple – include a table of contents. It allows the visitor can jump to a relevant section and consume as much information as they want.

You should always look for ways to improve your audience’s reading experience. Suppose, you write an extensive listicle. Then, you can streamline the experience by mentioning the difficulty level of each tactic as “easy,” “medium,” and the like. It facilitates the reader to pick the strategy relevant to their current stage.

For example, Matthew Barby uses tags and difficulty in his listicles. As a reader, I can selectively read all the “easy” strategies and implement the one I like.

Difficulty

Hoping that your luck works out and you go “viral…”

Few bloggers seem to have it all figured out. As soon as they press the publish button, they see a flood of shares and comments praising their content. For example, Jon’s first post at Unstoppable went viral attracting 650+ comments and 79k shares.

Unstoppable

Was it a sheer stroke of luck?

Far from it.

Pro content creators know that planning a promotion strategy is as essential as writing content. In the above case, Jon had an existing audience at Smart Blogger. He sent a few announcement emails to build up anticipation for his new blog.

Further, the article was shared by key influencers that helped its reach. Among others, Tim Ferriss shared it with his audience of close to a million Facebook fans.

Tim Feriss

For your first long-form post, you likely won’t impress Tim Ferriss. However, you need to identify five to ten influencers and plan an extensive outreach campaign. In the early stages of blogging, building relationships with influencers is a reliable promotion strategy.

Next, to get an initial bump in shares, you can perform some paid marketing by submitting your content to Quuu. You can also answer relevant questions on Quora with a link back to your blog post.

Quora

Lastly, you can repurpose the content on Medium, create slides and use these twelve repurposing strategies. Instead of relying on “luck” and “hope,” you should document your promotion strategy. Then, implement your strategy to ensure your long-form posts perform well.

You’re bulletproof now. Go and write a long-form article avoiding these pitfalls!

Many popular publications have built their authority by relying on high-quality, in-depth articles. It’s not a surprise that comprehensive content creates a loyal readership and expands your influence quickly.

However, most bloggers run backward at the sight of writing a 2000-word article. I’m sure though that you are willing to put in the work.

Are you ready to create a long-form content piece? Then do it – just avoid the above four mistakes commonly committed by bloggers.

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