“No one reads online, these days.”
Yet, as I mentioned in my content marketing statistics article, bloggers that publish long-form content are likely to get “strong results.”
Before we address the mismatch, let us start with the basics.
What is long-form content?
It’s a term derived from journalism for describing long articles with lots of content. In the context of content marketing, it might mean in-depth content that goes over 1,200 words.
However, many marketers consider long-form articles to start at around 2000 words. Instead of shooting for a word count, your goal with long-form content is to provide a comprehensive breakdown of your subject.
Now, let’s get back to our problem with long articles: How do they find a readership in the internet’s noise?
Contrary to popular opinion, people still like reading.
For instance, my article on seeking validation (over 1600 words) ranks on Google’s first page. It sees an average time on page of around 8 minutes.
Decreasing attention spans?
They look for comprehensive articles that answer all of their questions on a subject at a single place. Indeed, they also fare well on social media and search engines.
- Backlinko along with its data partners analyzed 1 million Google Search Results. They found that the average first page result contains 1,890 words.
- In their analysis of 100 million articles, Buzzsumo and OkDork found that long-form articles consistently get more social media shares than short-form content.
Indeed, my personal writing journey took a U-turn when I began writing long-form articles. I have built my entire writing business around writing such exhaustive articles.
I regularly see high-engagement for my long articles. They also see business results as I have been paid upwards of $1500 for a single article.
In today’s post, I want to break down how you can create remarkable long-form content.
Here’s step number 1.
Step 1: Find an “evergreen” subject by performing keyword research
Since creating long-form content requires effort, you should choose your subject wisely. When a user enters a query in Google they always have an intent. Broadly speaking, the queries on the web are of three kinds. A user wants to:
- find relevant information,
- navigate to a website,
- buy products.
These intents are respectively called as informational searches, navigational searches, and transactional searches.
Most of the search queries are informational in nature. They are a primer to make people aware of your brand. You can target them in your long-form articles to establish your authority.
However, higher search volumes tend to have higher competition. Moreover, when you analyze the queries, you’ll find that they have varying commercial intent. People can belong to the following three categories: Awareness, consideration, and decision.
Here are the keywords that users can type in different stages.
While writing long-form articles, you will target informational keywords with minimal commercial intent. However, always try to understand the mindset of the user behind a query – your goal isn’t to simply drive traffic; you want to convert your readers into subscribers and customers.
Now that you understand the “type” of keywords, let’s get to the other two criterion you should use for filtering relevant subjects:
- Keyword search volume
- Competitiveness of queries
If you target a subject with a lot of demand, then you will also face high competition. Long-tail keywords will convert better than broader and more competitive keywords. However, it doesn’t make sense to write a long-form article on an extremely narrow subject with limited volume.
The best way forward is the middle:
Target a keyword with a decent search volume and medium (to low) competition.
Ahrefs and SEMRush are both great tools with clear metrics to judge the competition and finding the approximate search volume. You need to perform minimal analysis beyond their insights.
When I plug the keyword “long-form content” inside Ahrefs, its approximate traffic potential (if you rank #1 for the parent topic) is 450.
And it’s ‘keyword difficult’ is 39. Ahrefs also explain the meaning of the difficulty score – “you’ll need backlinks from approximately 53 websites to rank in the top 10.”
Woah! That’s a lot of effort for 450 visitors.
Remember though that targeted traffic converts better. And a long article tends to rank for many long-tail keywords besides your parent search term. You don’t always need a search volume of thousands.
For example, my article on seeking validation psychology started ranking for over 450 related low-volume keywords – they together make for a decent amount of traffic.
You can also use the domain authority and page authority metrics in the Moz chrome extension for judging the authority of the pages that rank right now.
However, before you begin writing, you also need to identify the “gaps” in the content that’s ranking right now on the first page.
In its quality guidelines, Google introduced the acronym E.A.T. It stands for ‘Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness’ and evaluators use it to rank pages.
Here are the questions you can use to analyze the ranking content on the first page and if the associated websites have a high-level of E.A.T.
- Is the content relevant and serving the user’s intent?
- Is the information in the article still fresh and easily readable?
- Does the content go in-depth and answer all the queries of the user on the subject?
- How is the website’s design and existing credibility in the eyes of Google?
- Is the content coming across as written by an expert on a subject?
- Are the arguments in the article linked to authoritative sources?
Further, if your website directly affects a “users’ happiness, health, financial stability, or safety”, then you’re evaluated with stricter page quality standards. Particularly, websites that deal with medical, legal, commercial, local citizenry information, and the like fall under such criterion.
The takeaway is to try to stay away from making arguments in domains like health if you’re not a qualified expert.
Lastly, you want to find an “evergreen” topic – so that it remains relevant for a few years. For instance: You can write a long-form detailed analysis of the 2016 presidential election, but it won’t have many readers now.
How to check the trendiness of your subject?
Plug it inside Google Trends. When I search for “content marketing”, I get a smooth uptick in the last five years. I can safely assume that the subject will stay relevant for a few years to come.
Are you confused how to find evergreen ideas?
Then, here are 20 types of evergreen content neatly laid down by rockstar Aaron Orendorff.
Once you have evaluated your subject through the lens of intent, volume, competitiveness, and trendiness, move on to the next step.
Step #2: Research and outline your article
The first decision after deciding your article’s subject is your content’s format. Will you write a listicle, how-to guide, why/what post, something else?
You can take a well-informed decision by looking at the articles currently ranking for your target keywords.
Double-check if your keywords have an affinity for video content. Are your users more comfortable in consuming videos? Then, you should not try to reinvent the wheel by writing a long-form article.
For instance, look at the search results for “how to setup video conferencing.” The Search Engine Results Page (SERP) is dominated by videos.
Compare it with the below SERP for “dog training commands for beginners.” No prizes for guessing the prevalent format that you should also choose for your article.
Indeed, list articles are also easy to write since the writer can work independently on every section. Then, they can combine the subsections to prepare the final article.
However, you get brownie points for coming with creative angles on a subject. In the above example, listicles with tips on dog training is the norm. Here are new angles that you can explore:
- Why most dog training advice doesn’t work?
- Dog training for beginners: The psychology behind why your dog bites your feet
- A stupid simple way to develop dog discipline (and other dog training tips)
Don’t overthink though by trying to come with an absolutely unique angle – it’s impossible to do so.
Once you choose a content format, then you need to prepare an outline that nails down the overall structure and flow of your article.
I use Google docs to prepare rough outlines for my article. You can also use a tool like Workflowy to organize your ideas into subheadings, sections, and subsections.
Here’s how the outline for the current article looked like.
As you can see, most of the ideas in my outline are in nascent stage. However, you can also choose to flesh out your ideas in more depth. Also, collect links to pages with relevant data points, case studies, and research – they add credibility to your writing.
Note: In my outline above, I haven’t added relevant data points and case studies that appear in the final version of the article. It’s got to do with my writing style that I’ll talk about in the next step.
Let me show you a couple of ways to find relevant stats and scientific studies to your arguments.
1. Find relevant data points by using: [your article subject] + “statistics”
If I write an article on creativity, then here are a few pages I can use to pick up relevant data.
2. Get scientific backup with [your article subject] + “science”
If I write an article on motivation, here are some studies I can quote to make persuasive arguments.
If you want to specifically search for theories from a discipline, then modify your second part of the search query.
Suppose, I’ve to search for psychological theories. Then, the keywords I’ll use are [your article subject] + “psychology theories.” Here are results for the productivity + psychology theories – I can collect interesting insights from here.
If during your outlining, you fail to come up with relevant ideas, then you can use the following two tools for help:
Your goal with long-form content is answering all your audience questions at a single place. If you’re stuck, then Answer the public can spark a few ideas that you can use as subheadings in your article.
For example, here are a few common questions that people ask about ‘long-form content.’
Occasionally, Google’s “searches related to” at the bottom of search results can also spark a few ideas.
The other way to find your audience’s objections around your chosen subject is the Question and Answer network Quora. It contains questions on almost all subjects.
To find relevant questions, I need to plug a subject in the search bar at the top of the website. Suppose, I’m writing an article on learning guitar. Here are a few questions that my audience might like to get answered in the article.
Step #3: Draft your article
And now, you start with the real bit – putting words on paper (okay, it’s Google docs in our case).
If it’s your first long-form article, then even as a seasoned writer, you might hear an inner voice screaming limiting thoughts at you.
Consider them as “suggestions”, and write anyway. Remind yourself that you don’t need to show the first draft to the world.
The usual process of writing an article involves putting words on the screen by fleshing out your outline. Then, editing it later.
For most people, it’s an effective way. However, as writing is a creative pursuit, you’re free to experiment and find your way.
Here are a few tips to help you write:
- Generally, ambient noise helps to stay focused while writing. However, if heavy metal music helps you, then indulge in some Metallica.
- Experts recommend turning off distractions (like the internet) while writing. You can choose otherwise.
- If you’re facing problems with long writing sessions, then experiment with the Pomodoro technique: writing in short 20-25 minute short bursts.
The highlights of my method of writing long-form content are as follows:
- Unless required by the editor, I rarely create outlines for my article. If required, then I create a rough structure.
- I tend to research and write at the same time. I paste relevant screenshots, pictures, and the like all while writing.
- If I come across an interesting tidbit in my research, then I can form interesting associations real-time and explore a new direction in my article.
- I like long writing in long sessions spanning an hour or more.
While writing, consider that you are talking to a friend.
As long-form articles contains a lot of text, you need to keep people engaged with an informal voice and conversational tone.
Step #4: Edit ruthlessly. Then, polish the article
You have sailed past 2000 words.
That’s amazing! However, now you need to polish your piece and spice it up for your readers.
You will turn off people if your text confuses ‘its’ with ‘it’s.’ Besides your punctuation, the sentence structure and overall language need to shine.
If you have already come so far, don’t cut corners. Sail all the way with flawless prose. Don’t let those Grammar Nazis have a good outing if they decide to prune your piece.
Here is a list of rules that Grammarly compiled from Frank L. Visco’s ‘How to Write Good.’
I don’t recommend using academic English i.e. devoiding your language of contractions and strictly following every rule in the class fifth grammar book.
Then, when is it okay to cross the line?
If the occasional use of sentence fragments, starting sentences with conjunctions, ending sentences with a preposition, and using punctuations bizarrely helps readability, then so be it.
That’s right; because it’s all about creating a superb experience for the reader.
Write in a conversational tone. Swear if it suits your brand image. Use double negatives if it adds swag to your prose. Inculcate copywriting techniques in your writing to engage the reader.
Even Rolling Stones couldn’t get no satisfaction.
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Let those crazy old English mofo’s blabber about how you don’t hold to their standards of excellence.
While I am patronizing the grammar nazis, I must remind you that our goal isn’t to sound like an idiot. You should not break the rules for the sake of it.
Rather, it’s to help the comprehension, clarity, and engagement, while retaining your writing’s grace and style.
Don’t behave like an ignorant twat. Your audience will know if you have been careless in your writing. After the rant on grammar, let me show you around a couple of tools to dissect your writing errors.
It’s a brilliant tool to tailor your writing for different contexts – Business, Casual, Academic and others. The document type is set to ‘General’ by default.
You can directly copy your article in the software, and it will club your errors under different buckets, as below.
I suggest you incorporate any changes that refine your writing style and improve its crispness. Your writing readability still needs cleansing, which brings us to the next app.
Mr. Hemingway was known for his clear, bold and snappy prose. So does this free app.
Directly copy your content inside, and it will highlight your hard to read sentences, use of adverbs and passive voice. Its goal is simple: make your writing easier to read.
Here’s an example analysis by the app that shows the repair I need to do in this article. In the right sidebar, you have clear data on the use of adverbs, simpler phrase alternatives and the like.
Simple words, short sentences, and small paragraphs make for a compelling read. That’s the direction towards which Hemingway can drive you.
After you are done with splitting the infinitives as per your required taste, it’s time to move on to giving the last touches. Lastly, here are a few ways to take your content to the next level.
1. Craft persuasive sub-headlines
2. Include graphics and videos
3. Use tweetable quotes by using Click to Tweet
4. Format it well by using bold, italics, and content boxes
Note: I have hired editors to take care of the last step. I like a second eye on my content for ensuring that my slip-ups and ideas make sense.
Long-form content can derive terrific business results. However, many content creators get it wrong. Now, you have a simple 4-step strategy to nail down its creation.
Do you create long-form content? And how do you go about it? Let me know in the comments.