Updated: Sep 21, 2020
Long content tends to work better than most other types of content. And I think it’s important to start this way – start by completely covering a topic. It gives you more chances to win in search, and social and gives your customers and your prospects more information that they need.
Let’s look at some of the data.
People who write long content say that they get results and are more successful.
People who write long content report stronger results (Source: Orbit Media Studios)
In a 2019 survey of 1,0001 content marketers from Orbit Media Studios, more than half of people whose average content was longer than 2000 words said they were really successful and saw strong results – not just good results, but strong results.
People who write long content feel like they’re getting better results from content than people who write short. In an analysis of 100 million articles, long content gets shared more.
After looking at 100 million articles, Buzzsumo concluded that long content gets shared more (Source: Buzzsumo and Noah Kagan)
Long content tends to do better in search engines, it tends to get more traffic overall – and even convert better.
The publishing platform Medium publishes data from usage of their platform so they know how long people spend on a post. And then you can correlate that based on how long the post is in minutes. 7 minutes is about 1,600 words. 1,600 words is where people, on average, engage the most with content.
Medium-length posts were the most engaging on average, but long content had the most engagement overall (Source: Medium Data Lab)
1,600 words is already a little bit longer than what a lot of people are writing for content. But as you get higher on the median, the average here decreases. But the range increases a lot at the 16-minute mark – that’s where we see people actually engaging the most if the content is good.
People really do engage a lot with content that is long, if the content is also good. Of course, it’s hard to make good long content. But if you can do it well, there’s a ton of opportunity.
How do you get people to read long content?
There are 2 ways to get people to read your long content:
Start with a narrow topic and answer it completely
Format for scanners
1. Start with a narrow topic and answer it completely
The narrower the topic a reader sees, the more likely they are to actually read that than they are to click in, scroll down, click out because they couldn’t find the thing that was relevant to them.
No more of these ultimate guides to nothing in particular. You see so many ultimate guides out there. The challenge with them is that ultimate guides are too broad, and they promise a general benefit.
If you were to read an Ultimate Guide to lead generation…you could write a whole book about lead generation. You need to narrow your focus and ask, ‘what’s the part that’s relevant to your customer?’ ‘What’s the part that solves the pain that makes them come to you?’ An ultimate guide is too general to get them to engage with your content because it doesn’t promise an answer to their specific question.
To give a specific answer, you have to use the words your audience uses.
This is an example from Copyhackers. It comes from a conversion test that they did with the headline, “if you think you need rehab, you do.”
Improved clicks by 400% (Source: Copyhackers)
This copy increased clicks on this page by 400% relative to the control copy. What’s interesting about that is that copy is not a headline that they wrote. It’s a headline that they pulled right out of an Amazon book review for a book about rehabilitation.
When you use the words your customer uses, you understand their pain points. You understand the exact questions that they have and you can answer in a way that uses the same language and understanding that they have.
Customer research lets you:
Completely answer questions
Find new content topics
Make people feel understood
You’ll find what people care about, then give them the answers they need.
2. Format for scanners
The Nielsen Norman Group published an article, How Little Do Users Read? On the average Web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely.
The idea that people don’t read online is sort of true. They don’t read online; they read about one-fifth of anything that you’re going to write – roughly one out of every five words is a way to think about that. But that’s actually not a problem. You can nudge them to read closer to that 30%.
You don’t need everyone to read every word of your content. You just need them to read the parts that are most relevant to them, you need to read the parts that make them believe that you are a solution to their problem.
How do you get them to read as much of your content as you can? More research from Nielsen Norman Group is an eye-tracking study on the F-shape on the scanning pattern that people use when they look at content online.
An F-shape heat map. (Source: Nielsen Normal Group)
People reading in English tend to read left to right. People tend to start at this upper left, go across, then down and across, then down and across and progressively less across it.
On the left is a blog post. In the middle is an e-commerce page, and on the right is a search engine result. You can see the pattern is a little bit more spotty. In the second two, people tend to read more content when it is an article. People scan down the left side of the page when they’re looking at your content. That’s the most common scanning pattern, but there are others.
Three fundamentals of a great offer:
Be clear—impossible to misunderstand
Say what you’re offering and how it will help
Use the words your audience uses to describe their problems
Info credit: Active Campaign, Orbit Media Studios, Medium Data Lab