We’ve been writing (and promoting) long-form content for years now. But is its popularity finally on the wane?
If you’re a blogger, journalist, marketer, or writer you’ll know about long-form content and the booming popularity that it’s experienced over the last few years.
Much research points to the fact that this longer format has positive effects on sales, loyalty, sign ups and much more.
But in an age of video, changing search algorithms, and fading attention spans, it’s smart to check in and see whether it’s still doing its job.
Let’s take a look.
What is long-form content?
There is no strict definition of what constitutes long-form content but I thought I’d have a go at making one based on what Google and some other bloggers seem to be working with:
Long-form content is any piece that is 2,000 words in length and generally includes text, images, and other media to enhance the article.
Generally speaking, a piece of long-form content will also have other aspects added to it like graphics, sound clips, videos, and sometimes tools or bonus material that enhance the actual topic itself.
For example, in our post on how to start a blog we also have a lot of graphics and a quiz at the end that helps you determine how ready you are for blogging and what areas you might need to improve on.
But we also need to think about other digital formats like podcasting where a long form piece might be something like Serial which was an entire series devoted to one case. That took years to research and produce and had incredible results as one of the most popular podcasts of all time.
So does long form content still work?
Unfortunately this is one of those times where we have to say a big old “that depends”.
If you take a look at all the different formats and platforms that are available to content producers now you will also notice that some of them lend themselves better to long form than others.
For example, the New York Times, which is largely a long form and detailed investigative news source, experienced a quarter one growth of 308,000 subscribers this year – their largest ever gain.
Similarly, we can look at Medium, a pretty new blogging site that is largely devoted to long form content, and see that it has grown 140% since 2016. It’s most popular article of the year has an estimated 10-minute reading time.
But then we can also see some signals pointing to the fact that long form style content is on the wane if you’re on a platform like YouTube.
As Derek (please subscribe to his channel as we need more science videos!) explains in this very interesting video, YouTube now seems to be prioritizing “fresh” content as opposed to “aged and proven” content which is encouraging vloggers to make more videos more often, which also leads to a drastically reduced quality of production.
This echoes some similar issues that website owners faced when Google started making some rankings more about freshness instead of authority or age or the number of links. That can have a huge impact on the amount of Google traffic you get to your website each week or month.
It’s interesting to note at this point that all of the above discussions is about whether or not long form content works in terms of the number of readers it attracts based on some algorithm or trend.
But we should also take a look at things like how many subscribers long form content gets, and whether or not it performs better in terms of sales or conversions on things like landing pages.
Here on Blog Tyrant, for example, we saw a huge increase in subscribers when we switched from a short free video to a 10,000-word free guide. This could be because people like the “value” of a long form eBook, or because they prefer it to a free video. Either way, it’s an interesting indicator.
One of my favorite studies into this area is by the guys over at Conversion Rate Experts who did an analysis of the Crazy Egg homepage to see if they could boost it by making it longer as compared to the short default.
Image thanks to Conversion Rate Experts. Link to source above.
They increased the homepage length by a factor of 20 and found that it converted 30% better than the shorter control. This is a really interesting outcome which the experts say is often the case when you are promoting a product that is either complicated or expensive and involves risk. In those situations it’s likely that you’ll benefit from a longer form.
Incidentally, that article goes on to ask the question about whether or not you can ever stop working on optimization, which is something that has always worried me. There does come a point where you start to notice that you’re writing less content because you’re focused too much on optimizing what is already there.
Where should we go from here?
At this point you’re probably a bit like me and are feeling confused about whether you should still be writing long form content on your blog. And that’s okay because it means that we need to do some individualized testing to see what works for our particular situation.
One thing you can do is go and take a look at your analytics and check out the top landing pages to your blog or website. Go through them all and note the length and style (does it have lots of images, tools, etc.) and start to get a feel for whether long form stuff appears to be working.
Next you’ll want to look at things like the time on site, bounce rate and referral source for each of those top articles. For example, is your long form content traffic mostly coming from Google, and when people land on that page are they taking actions and spending more time on the blog versus shorter articles?
At this stage you might also want to use a site like AHREFS to analyze the top performing pages as a way to determine where most of your links and traffic are coming from and whether that has a correlation to style or length or anything else.
Then we should also consider the medium that we are using, and what the best practices are for that format. For example, if you run a podcast you might have your regular schedule and then do a longer form paid feature like we looked at in this post.
It’s a good idea to study the top accounts on every platform that you use and really dive in to whether or not shorter or longer pieces are having the best effects and cutting through the most.
The main thing, as always, is that you test all of this for yourself. What is true for one blog will be totally different for another, and if you’re poring days and weeks in to producing long form content you’d better be sure that it’s actually doing the trick.
How does your longer stuff perform?
I’d love to know whether you write long form content and, if so, how that content has been performing this year as opposed to in previous times. Do you think it is on the wane, or is it just as strong as always? Please leave a comment below and let us know.