By Neil Patel
Creating long-form content is one of the best things you can do for your online marketing strategy.
Long-form content that passes the 3,000-word mark blurs the line between an article and a guide, making it a unique type of content. It’s detailed, but it’s not too long.
It’s the perfect type of content to truly help your readers.
Not only that, but long-form content also sets you up as an authority, attracts backlinks, and helps you create a sustainable content marketing system.
Throughout my career, long-form content has always been an important part of my marketing strategy. And most of the radically successful entrepreneurs I know also use long-form content. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
I know what you’re thinking: “But how can I write these humongous articles? I don’t even know where to start.”
If you have an idea for an article in mind, that’s enough to get started. All you need is an idea, some time, and good Googling skills.
Over the years, I’ve honed the process of writing long-form content that works for any topic. It’s so easy to learn, I bet you’ll finish your first 3,000+ word article within a few days.
Ready? Let’s get started.
Write about what you know
First, I want to tackle an issue I see all the time.
I’ll read an article that ticks all the right boxes, but the content sucks. And it’s extremely clear that the author hasn’t studied the subject.
If an article makes a lot of vague statements and relies heavily on others’ quotes, you can bet that the author doesn’t really know the topic.
And when you’re writing 3,000+ words, you need to know what you’re writing about.
I can crank out 3,000 words on marketing, no sweat. But if I tried to write a 3,000-word post on how to backpack across Spain, I’d be totally lost.
Writing 3,000 words requires you to know a lot about the topic. If you’re fumbling and making things up as you go, your finished product won’t be that good.
But when you write about what you know, your experience shines through. Your readers will be able to tell you’re an expert on the subject.
Most importantly, your article won’t be boring. It’ll be informative and in-depth.
With that out of the way, let’s look at the process of writing long-form content.
Building your outline
When most people think of an outline for writing, they think of this:
While these outlines may be great for writing academic papers, they’re convoluted for articles.
You can use a much simpler form of outline. For example, your outline might be a list of all the subheadings in your article. Or it could be a bullet point list of things you want to write about.
Whatever you use for an outline, don’t spend too much time on it. You want to move to the drafting part of the process as soon as possible.
Getting your sources
Sources are vital to an article’s success. If you don’t have good sources, your readers won’t trust your points.
Your sources need to meet two important criteria: they need to be trustworthy, and they need to be relevant.
Try to use sources known for their credibility. Case studies are always safe bets.
Here are some great places to look for sources:
- Online publications
- Research-based sites (e.g., MarketingSherpa, HubSpot)
- Industry blogs
Always choose primary sources over secondary sources. A primary source is original research or content.
Here’s an example of Buffer using a primary source:
Of course, your primary sources don’t have to come directly from you or your company. For example, you could cite the Buffer post above, and that would count as a primary source.
Here’s one of the best writing tips I can give you: Find your sources first.
If you wait till later to find your sources, it’ll be tougher to organically implement them into your writing. But if you find them at the beginning, you can write using your sources as the basis of your article.
This makes your writing flow smoother and your arguments stronger. It also saves you time in the long run.
Look back at your outline, and identify the main points you want to make. Find one or two primary sources for each point. This will ensure your arguments are sufficiently supported.
Draft with detail
After you have your sources, it’s time to knock out your first draft. When drafting, keep one important thing in mind: detail.
That’s one of the reasons why I generally dislike short content—it’s not detailed enough.
If you asked me to write a 500-word article on long-tail keywords, I’d have to sacrifice a lot of detail just to fit in the main points.
Shorter content can work under the right circumstances, but if you’re trying to build authority and grow your readership, you need longer content. And that means detail.
Many bloggers make the rookie mistake of assuming that their readers will know what they’re writing about. But you can’t make that assumption. If you do, you run the risk of alienating some readers.
As a rule of thumb, it’s always better to go into too much detail than not enough. Keep that in mind when writing your articles.
When you start writing, just let it flow. Write whatever comes to mind even if you think it’s bad. At this point, your goal is to get words on the page. If they suck, you’ll edit them later.
While you’re drafting, try to keep the following two points in mind.
Break it down
When you’re writing an extra-long article, you need to make sure everything is broken down into parts. Explain each aspect thoroughly.
When you write your first draft, try to answer some fundamental questions:
- If you were completely new to this topic, what questions would you have?
- Have you broken down every area into easily digestible parts?
- Have you defined terms some readers may not understand?
If you’re writing about an advanced application of a topic, include a beginners’ guide somewhere in the opening of your article. That way, uninitiated readers can learn the basics before moving on to your article.
You might consider including a table of contents at the beginning of your article. Kolakube uses them nicely:
Remember, your goal is to help the reader, and a table of contents helps break down the article into smaller, bite-sized chunks.
Revisit your outline again, and take a look at your main points. You should have 5-7 points you want to make.
These 5-7 points are your pillars, and together, they support the central argument.
For example, take a look at this Kissmetrics article:
The title is the main point, and the subheadings give you the pillars of the article.
That’s the format you want to aim for. I like using subheadings as the pillars, but as long as you have your supporting sections, you’ll be golden.
One final word about your first draft: Try to make it longer than you want your post to be. That’s because during the editing process, you’ll usually cut out a lot more than you think.
I recommend going about 400-500 words over as a safety net. If you want your final post to be 3,000 words, aim for 3,400-3,500 words in your first draft.
Next, it’s time to edit.
When you edit your own writing, you have to be brutally honest with yourself. It’s easy to develop editing blindness: you’re too familiar with your own writing and can miss mistakes.
To battle this, leave your article for a day or two. When you come back to it, you’ll be able to be more objective when editing.
Start by reading through your article, preferably aloud. (Yes, it’ll take a while, but it allows you to notice mistakes you might not otherwise notice.)
At the very least, give your article a close read all the way through. Do all sentences make sense? Are all phrases unclear? Be ruthless with your editing.
It’s also a good idea to use apps to help refine your drafts. First, put it through a spell checker, but be careful because a spell checker won’t catch everything.
(For example, if you wrote “I through the baseball” instead of “I threw the baseball,” a spell checker won’t catch it even though it’s incorrect.)
Next, use Grammarly. It’s a free grammar checker that will highlight any errors and help you correct them.
Finally, run your article through the Hemingway app. This is a fantastic text editor that will point out long sentences, complex words, and adverbs.
The idea behind Hemingway is to make your writing more concise and more powerful.
Finally, give your article one last run-through, and if it looks good, it’s ready to be published.
That wasn’t so difficult, right?
And the best part is, once you do this over and over, you’ll get better and better at it, and it’ll be easier and easier to do.
Writing a long-form article is simply a formula that you can apply to any topic. Find your topic, get your sources, build your pillars, write with detail, and edit. Rinse and repeat.
If you write about something you know well, the formula can’t fail. All you need is a few hours behind your screen and some motivation.
In fact, I’d say that writing 3,000+ word articles is easier than writing short (500-700-word) articles. You can cover a lot of ground in 3,000 words without having to worry about rambling on.
But it still takes a lot of practice to write great long-form articles. (I’m still practicing after 10+ years of blogging.)
So, take this formula, and use it to create some awesome long-form content.
What’s your biggest challenge with writing long-form content?