Your website will benefit from long-form content because Google likes it, which is, in turn, because readers like it.
Back when the web was young, online copywriters would adhere to a simple rule: keep it short. After all, computer screens were small and download speeds were painfully slow.
It made sense. Most of us back then grew up reading print products, such as paperback books, newspapers and magazines. The most we ever read on screen was probably the description of a dungeon in a text adventure on a BBC Micro or Commodore 64.
In fact, what online writing did resemble most in those early days was Teletext or Ceefax (see below). This television information service gave reporters about 80 words to tell a story.
In the past decade or so, though, things have changed.
Long-form content reborn
First, the coming of smartphones, affordable eReaders such as the Amazon Kindle, and tablet computers like the iPad made on-screen reading the norm, everywhere and anywhere.
People began to seek out more substantial content – pieces of 1,500 words or more. Aggregators like Longform and Longreads came into being, helping people find chunky articles to save to apps, such as Pocket and Flipboard, to be read later like a bespoke magazine.
Then there’s social media. Though it’s often criticised for promoting endless grazing of low-value fluff, links to long-form content often go viral on services such as Twitter, and there’s evidence that long posts perform best on LinkedIn, too.
Finally, in 2011, Google made the first in a series of important changes to its algorithm which gave quality content a serious advantage in search results.
Various bits of research by SEO pundits suggests that content of around 1,500 to 2,500 words consistently appears higher in Google searches than shorter pieces.
Long-form but not dense
Now, it is still the case that large, dense blocks of text can be harder to read on screen, but that doesn’t mean you need to produce shorter items of content.
Just use more paragraph breaks than you might if you were writing for print – treating each sentence as its own paragraph wouldn’t be excessive. And use headings to break up the text and make it easier for readers to navigate.
Our in-house SEO expert, David Fowler, also makes a good point about how long-form content is taken in:
“People don’t necessarily read long-form content from beginning to end,” he said.
“They’ll find it through a search for something quite specific, visit the page, and then use CTRL+F to find the answer to their question in the text.”
This highlights another good reason to produce long-form content: it naturally and ethically provides opportunities to use keywords and phrases, and especially so-called ‘longtail’ search terms.
For example, the superstar keyphrase might be ‘accountants in Derby’ – highly competitive and difficult to rank for. But terms such as ‘dental accountants in Derby’ or ‘Derby accountancy firms’, though fewer people are searching for them, may well bring a steady flow of valuable leads to your website.
Don’t stretch your long-form content too thin
The American mystery writer Erle Stanley Gardner wrote heroic characters who were terrible shots. He was being paid by the word and could thus earn three cents for every extra ‘Bang!’ Pragmatic, but not how you end up with good prose.
The point is, it’s important to avoid writing long for the sake of it.
The trick to writing something long is to pick a really meaty subject and go into all the details.
Even better, if you can, is to tell a story – ask a difficult question, lay out a narrative with twists and turns, or provide a satisfying arc of problem + solution = result.
Resist the temptation to pad your text or repeat yourself – if your copy is coming up short, do some more research, or ask yourself another question.
In fact, even when you have made your target word count, all the usual editorial rules should still apply – trim unnecessary words and cut anything that doesn’t add real value.
How PracticeWeb can help
Talk to us about commissioning long-form accountancy and finance content written for your website.