One of the most common assumptions about contemporary audiences is that, more than anything else, they want instant gratification: they want content that’s snappy, short, and quick to digest. However, amidst this landscape, it is hard to ignore the steady rise in popularity of content that demands a greater amount of time and commitment. In whatever form this takes - whether it be podcasts, serialised “box set” dramas, or long-read articles - it would appear that long-form content is on the up.
What differentiates long-form from short-form content is slightly more complex than a simple question of length. Generally speaking, long-form pieces of writing - typically exceeding 1200 words in length - are designed with a closer reading style in mind than their shorter-form counterparts, which are typically more suited to skim-reading.
In recent years, there has been a great deal of research extolling the many virtues of long-form content to brands. The SEO benefits alone are manifold:
Of course, producing effective long-form content is not just a case of plundering a thesaurus for unnecessary padding. So, here are some tips for producing long-form content to suit your brand.
Where a shorter article may work to present a brief overview on a topic, or provide the reader with a list of ideas or links to further investigate; one of the hallmarks of the long-read is the ability to focus on a subject and explore it in great depth.
Ultimately, the benefit of a more immersive and singular focus is that this presents you as a greater authority on the topic in question. This, in turn - through helping to cultivate a dedicated reader base, and increasing the likelihood of shares on social media and linkbacks from other related articles - is another great thing for SEO.
Of course, if you want to hook readers in for a long read, it’s imperative that you write in an engaging way that can sustain a reader’s interest over a prolonged period of time.
To do this, many long-form articles employ a wider and more sophisticated collection of techniques, using their greater scope to employ structural tricks and “cinematic” language that builds anticipation and draws a reader deeper into the topic.
Take, for example, this article from The Guardian, which immediately piques the reader’s curiosity with a burst of short vignettes that illustrate and introduce the remarkable and rare memory condition at its centre.
No-one wants to open a blog to be greeted by an unfriendly, looming wall of text - so always remember: the fact that you’re writing a longer piece doesn’t mean that you don’t have to make things easy for the reader.
Shorter paragraphs and frequent headings make a piece of writing more navigable and easy to digest; and it’s strongly recommended to include images fairly regularly throughout the text - with a 2014 study by Blog Pros identifying that the most popular articles had (on average) one image per 350 words. This doesn’t just make the page more appealing to the reader’s eye; it also serves to structure the experience of reading it, while bolstering the text with additional visual information.
With such a high frequency of digital content, it can often seem like the best option is to focus on putting out as much content as quickly as possible; but the long-term benefits of producing long-form content are plain to see. You should definitely have some longer pieces to compliment the short-form items in your content plan, so give it a try, keeping those three tips in mind.