Are brands still missing a trick with long-form content?

February 6th, 2018

Have you ever heard of Julia McCoy? If not you should have. She is clearly a very impressive individual who has overcome significant difficulties to become the CEO of a content creation company aged just 25. Her company is thriving too notching up over $4 million in revenue last year.

In many ways the business model powering her company, ExpressWriters, is not a million miles away from many agencies both in the UK and across the globe, but what differentiates Julia from many others is her passionate belief in long-form content.

She advocates consistently creating content on as weekly basis. However, as McCoy told Forbes that’s one long-form content piece (2,500 word) per week.

It is a tad ironic that in an age where so much focus is placed on video, as well as podcasting, that for Julia and others too that words, and lots of them, should be the key to content marketing success. In some ways it flies against established notions of content. We don’t want to read large chunks of content on our mobiles apparently. Also for many journalists, especially those brought up in the print age and a maxim of not wasting a word, creating large amounts of content for its own sake seems to go against their instincts.

Nevertheless the evidence continues to grow that long-form is a highly effective way of not just attracting audiences, but also turning them into partners and customers. In mainstream media it has arguably powered the renaissance in subscriptions and membership of both The New York Times and The Guardian for example, and is a staple in business titles.

The secret sauce of Julia’s long-form content is that it is deeply rooted in content strategy and especially SEO. She stresses creating a customer persona to begin with and imagining the type of content that the person will engage with. And then, using tools like KWFinder and SEMrush, discovering low competition keywords that the content can address.

Then after the groundwork has been done it is done to the skill of the writer. Harnessing research, embedding keywords and writing  authoritatively in a post which they aim to be the last word on a particular subject is not an easy task. Getting the subject matter right is equally as important. The sweet spot is to answer readers’ questions on a subject in an evergreen way, yet is perhaps linked to something that is newsworthy, thereby attracting both current and future searches.

long-form content

There is still some discussion about Google’s attitude to long-form, but the consensus is that it likes and respects it. Just as important longer pieces of content seem much more likely to be shared on social media thereby bolstering SEO credentials through the back door too. Perhaps readers respect the amount of effort that has gone into producing content and are happy to salute that diligence via a share.

The other thing to remember about long-form content is that results aren’t always instantaneous. Publishers play a long game with it. As Julia suggests results should be considered over a two year period rather than a two month one.

So why then do so many brands feel agnostic about long-form? The key reasons are inevitably time and resources. It seem far more sensible to create a multitude of smaller chunks of content in the hope that one might attract lots of readers, rather that betting on one piece of content that has taken days, possibly weeks to produce. Yet those small chunks can easily be overlooked.

All premium content is time consuming, expensive and challenging especially video and podcasts, yet brands are very excited about both of those formats at the current time. Maybe words, and lots of them, are seen as a little old fashioned.

Ultimately long-form is one of a series of tactics that brands need to adopt to ensure that their owned media is perceived as authoritative and attracts significant search, and in some instances, social traffic. However it is the tactic that not enough brands are using and that could mean missing some very significant opportunities.

Ashley Norris, Consultant Editor, The CMA

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