Why Long Form Content Is Now King.

UPDATE: EIGHT MONTHS after I published this blog, Google has finally launched an algorithm to reward Long Form Content with higher rankings – this algorithm was rolled out approx. Aug 3rd 2015. The upshot is that Google now scans short content and assumes it doesn’t contain much useful information. The result is that shorter content doesn’t rank as well. It’s now better to “go long,” so try this formula – for every 10  blogs or articles you write, aim for seven 500+ and three 1000+.  Also use synonyms. Google understands what synonyms are and rewards them as good writing that’s more likely to be of interest to readers. The result is a higher ranking.Strong writing skills are more of an asset now than ever before, because Google rewards well-written content. So, stop writing for what you thought Google wanted – and start writing well again. 

PS – eye catching, images also work.

Ultimately, this is a post about how you can get more traffic and better ranking from SEO and content marketing, but first I want to set the scene.

No matter how much time and money you throw at search, there is no way that results can be guaranteed – you’ll never be certain that you will be on page one of Google for a competitive keyword phrase. This is the harsh reality of online search. This is the bottom line.

And here are two certainties, in the uncertain world of search marketing.

  1. SEO is getting harder
  2. Content is becoming more important.

And if you sell products or services, some of your customers will use content to inform purchase decisions. This is another certainty. Content diversity, therefore, is becoming more and more important, but content doesn’t always get the attention, links and social shares it deserves, mostly because there is too much content out there already. This is the vicious circle of SEO content marketing.

The high majority of businesses are doing content marketing – probably 95%  – and approximately 400 blog posts are published every minute. That’s over half-a-million every day. And many are written for search engines (keywords), not humans.

This is more than overkill. It’s a relentless conveyor belt, driven by manic behaviour – not customer acquisition. And it’s largely Google’s fault. 

Years of algorithm deployment designed to “patrol the web” and keep content “quality, useful, meaningful,” has fuelled our obsession with search performance – SEO and Content have become like hamsters on a wheel.

Over the last four years, Google’s algorithm has had close to 100 noteworthy updates, including the famous five – Penguin (the illegitimate link buster), Panda (the thin content penaliser), Hummingbird (the judge of context), Pigeon (the local search warden) and Payday (the spam destroyer).

In real terms, it means the odds are stacked against you because the rules keep changing. Let me give you a relevant analogy. I have been working for a major well-known casino chain – helping them with organic search. The keyword ” how to win at roulette” has 16 million results in Google. So your blog post ” how to win at roulette” needs to be very special or very lucky to rank in the top 5.

Ok that’s the scene set – now for the 64 million dollar question.

 What can you do to get more traffic from SEO and content marketing?

There are several proven content formats that you can use to get traffic and backlinks, including How-to/tutorial posts, Problems-and-solutions posts, Comparison posts, Research posts, FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) posts, Reviews, Cheat sheets, IG’s, Video, Surveys and polls, Reviews, Contests…and the list goes on and on…part of the vast half-a-million blogs published every day.

I want to focus on one, little used, format, which, I predict, will be massive in the next few years – in terms of influence over search performance.

It’s called Long Form Content Marketing. There’s no trick to understanding the term. It’s basically marketing, delivered through content such as writing, audio, or video, and it’s long – meaning longer than a 30 second TV spot, a one-page magazine ad, or a billboard. I want to focus on written Long Form, which is  between 1,200 to 2,000 words and takes around 20 minutes to read.

The essence of Long Form is the power of storytelling and the backstory – in this case – is how storytelling has evolved to become a critical SEO tool.

The three criteria for good Long Form are: 1) is the story well written 2) well designed, and 3) fascinating. If you meet this criteria, then readers won’t be able to stop reading.

Scientific research shows that Long Form content is beneficial for SEO and can lead to increased conversions. Although when it comes to SEO, Long Form content is only to be used judiciously, under the right circumstances. It is not a silver bullet. Posting quality, bite-sized articles multiple times a day versus once a day produces more organic search results, but when you need to generate search traffic that converts to signups, long-term relationships, and larger amounts of organic traffic over the long term, Long Form content is more effective.Long Form has a pivotal role in taking prospects further down the sales funnel

Long Form is also becoming a significant ranking factor.  John Fig, an SEO scientist, recently performed an experiment, testing new Long Form content centric websites against 2-5 year old Short Form rich websites.  According to Fig the Long Form content centric websites ‘zoomed’ up the rankings, making the top three in highly competitive searches in less than three months. None of the competitor websites had Long Form content.

Long form content marketing pieces can also become successful if they provide actionable tips. Moz’s free Beginner’s Guide To SEO has been visited over 1 million times, and according to Majestic SEO has been linked to more than 36,000 times. It is perhaps one of the greatest pieces of long form content marketing ever created.

We have already looked the criteria for good Long Form. Now here are a list of tips for creating a Long Form content marketing piece.

  1. Create content you would read
  2. Include actionable tips that generate real value
  3. Make your content 1,200 words or longer
  4. If you’re talking tech, tell what it does, not how it works
  5. Tell a story
  6. Don’t sell
  7. Tell secrets, just like Moz gives complete instructions on how to do your own SEO
  8. Include imagery and great design
  9. Don’t expect it to be easy or quick

But it’s worth it – Long Form content is the future and will stand out from the rehashed and vague SEO info that’s pushed out everyday.

Now back to my “how to win at roulette” example…

How could a casino/online gambling site publish Long Form that stands out? Here are a few angles they could cover:

  • A story about the scientists who unlocked the physics behind the game to give players a better chance of beating the house.
  • An in depth look at why most systems fail to win at roulette, including a detailed list of the most common “fallacies” players use to develop systems and why they don’t work
  • How one man beat the house at roulette with Chaos Theory
  • A history of roulette tables, including a look at some of the most infamous players of all time


About the author: Phil Shirley

“Phil Shirley is a marketing entrepreneur who helps ambitious growing businesses make their marketing pay. He has helped over 500 businesses make more than £500 million. Phil is also an experienced copywriter, ex-journaist and author of several successful books.”

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