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The Advantages of Long Form Content

20 May 2013 BY

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The resurgence of long-form content on the internet is a hot topic at the moment. Last year Jonathan Colman wrote his powerful call to arms for the SEO industry to up their game and create more value with the content it publishes, and I joined the chorus with my own thoughts on how SEO could come to embrace long-form as a legitimate approach to content.

Long-form content, and whether or not it works on the internet, has been an ongoing debate for many years. Nicholas Carr’s alarmist book The Shallows suggests the internet ‘trains’ us to prefer short snippets of content, but the evidence is mounting that long-form is a legitimate publishing approach online resulting in a positive impact on many different fronts.

Last week Co.Labs published the results of their own long-form content experiment, in which they changed their usual quick & dirty tactic of getting stories out there quickly to a different approach, where they revisited and expanded existing articles and turned them in to growing stories.

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The results were significant: while their traffic did not increase as such, the engagement of people with their content showed remarkable improvement – a massively lower bounce rate combined with a much longer time on site:

Co.Labs saw massively lower bounce rates and greatly improved time on site.

This is strongly indicative of readers taking the time to properly consume the content and absorb it in much greater detail. And that is something every brand should strive towards when it comes to their own content. Who doesn’t want a captivated audience taking the time to thoroughly enjoy your brand’s messages?

The advantages of long-form content are not a novel discovery. Many online publications have thrived on long-form content for many years. Take the case of the successful magazine The Atlantic, which is endeavouring to make all the articles they’ve published in their 150+ year existence available online.

And it pays off for them: one of their older articles, a 9900-word piece on the diamond industry written in 1982, regularly appears at the top of TheAtlantic.com’s traffic reports. Ironically Nicholas Carr’s book I mentioned earlier, about how the internet is making us prefer short content, emerged from a long-form article he wrote for The Atlantic entitled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”.

Recent tools and apps are helping enable the consumption of long-form content online and on mobile devices. Services like Instapaper and Flipboard allow you to save the content you discover for later reading at a more leisurely pace. And social bookmarking sites like Delicious have been around for years, allowing you to save articles for postponed consumption.

Lastly, the SEO advantage of long-form content should be blatantly obvious to all: an abundance of well-crafted, rich content that engages readers; it’s exactly what search engines want to see more of nowadays.

We see it right here on State of Search, where long articles that are properly researched, well-written and illustrated by great images – like this one, and this one, and this one – tend to enjoy the most amount of social shares, incoming links, and comments.

All this on top of the fact that long-form content that adds genuine value will help establish you as a thought leader in your industry… it makes you wonder why more companies aren’t embracing it wholeheartedly.

So, why aren’t you?

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AUTHORED BY:
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Barry Adams is one of the editors of State of Digital and is an award-winning SEO consultant based in Belfast, delivering specialised SEO services to clients across Europe.

82 Responses to “The Advantages of Long Form Content”

  1. [...] State of Search: Building The Case for Long-Form Content [...]

  2. Two things this article should have been around 15 words! Plus my god how many automated links did SOS put into this article?

  3. Anthony Pensabene says:

    good thoughts, Barry. In some ways, the notion of ‘long’ seems counter-intuitive that of being succinct. I believe those who enjoy reading as an experience enjoy longer content. For adults, i think reading is associated with intelligence, and though there are associations, it’s not entirely causal. Some enjoy the quick read (and some points and journeys of communication warrant such brevity). However, with longer content, i think we need a dedication from the author as much as the reader. some authors/stories inspire more communications, facts, examples, ventures into opinion, etc. It’s the responsibility of the author to compel in relation to length (imo).

    Also, i can’t say enough of my personal agreement with your closing statement. I often wonder why more people don’t comment more; because, isn’t commenting after the same ends, establishing one as a thinker/contributor? Leader is relative. I never followed, and always told people to walk beside me for a better view. :)

    • Barry Adams says:

      “It’s the responsibility of the author to compel in relation to length” – very well said Anthony. A piece of writing is not a one-way broadcast, the writer has a responsibility to make consumption of his writings a rewarding experience.

      Long articles just for the sake of word count are plain wrong and missing the point – it’s about adding value to your readers (something Jonathan emphasised in his original piece), and often (though not always) longer articles are better at that.

  4. Daniel Smulevich says:

    Good point, but it turned out Co.labs experiment’s data, are not reliable as they were firing GA events that increased time on site and decreased bounce rate. As these two metrics use engagement hits, my guess is that when firing events they hadn’t set the “non interactive” value as true. In fact, it is impossible to decrease bounce rate without increasing the average number of pages per visit, which is the case, in this example.

    TL;DR: the data you used in the example are unfortunately NOT TRUE, but I’m sure we could find other examples to support the case for long content

    • Barry Adams says:

      Thanks for pointing that out Daniel – I’m a firm believer in using data to inform decision-making, but that does mean we need to make sure the data is accurate!

      Hopefully others embarking on the long-form journey will happily share their (accurate) data to bolster the case.

  5. James Carson says:

    Gah – that colabs piece again! it’s based on totally dodgy data. Rather than the content having that impact it’s because something went wrong in their analytics (check Dan Barker’s comments). No way could the content change create such a dramatic swing!

  6. twitter_mrjamescarson says:

    Gah – that colabs piece again! it’s based on totally dodgy data. Rather than the content having that impact it’s because something went wrong in their analytics (check Dan Barker’s comments). No way could the content change create such a dramatic swing!

  7. Bill Sebald says:

    If long form content generally engages and/or converts better, I’d be surprised. I bail out of most long SEO posts, non-SEO posts, and sometimes news posts. A) because I’m busy, which is a real issue, B) because it’s just not comfortable to read online for me, and C) some writers think filibustering is more important than getting to the point. That one is the biggest reason.

    I was privy to eye-tracking studies on informational searches that showed readers read more intently than casual readers. Sounds obvious, so I have to think, if long form is to perform better, it’s relative to referrals.

    Personally I do believe that there’s a perception that long-form content may influence people to support something more. I’ve seen some horrible, long, redundant SEO posts that I can’t imagine anyone had time to finish, but still received mad praise. That needs to stop.

  8. [...] Post from Barry Adams on State of Search Building The Case for Long-Form Content [...]

  9. […] for telling a whole story, leveraging the power of search and showcasing expertise. And on the State of Digital blog, Barry Adams shows that in-depth articles have long-term staying power in search engine […]

  10. Bijutoha says:

    long-form content ! Actually I want to know What is the measure of a long-form content ? Barry Adams ! could explain something

  11. […] SEO friendly content. But again, things change. Longer content (over 1000 words) is now being held as the ideal word length for SEO friendly articles and web content. Why? Because longer content generally adds more value to […]

  12. […] content for search engine optimization is another one of its key advantages as discussed by State of Digital. Long-form content is exactly what search engines are designed to value as they tend to be high […]

  13. […] – 2,500 words, generally speaking) can provide readers with more in-depth feature posts that research shows can lead to lower bounce rates, higher engagement rates, and longer average time on […]

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