Have you seen those Tasty videos on Facebook? What am I saying - of course you have. It's pretty much impossible to not watch those fast-paced culinary transformations (especially when they involve things like ice cream churro bowls and mozzarella stick onion rings).
Why are they so appealing? They're short, they're engaging, and they're the kind of content that today's consumer demands. Within half a minute, you're back to your regularly scheduled social media scrolling (and probably thinking about your next meal).
You hear it all the time: People want bite-sized, digestible content. They want blog posts that don't require them to scroll for too long. They want videos they can watch during commercial breaks. Why? Some point to the declining human attention span. A Microsoft study found that the average human attention span has now dropped to eight seconds, down from 12 seconds in 2000.
If you haven't heard, that's shorter than the attention span of a goldfish.
So, in a world of short content - and even shorter attention spans - is there any use for long-form content in your marketing strategy? Yes - if you do it right. Here's why.
It boosts your SEO
While consumers may say they prefer short content, longer content actually performs better in internet searches.
Research has shown that Google ranks long-form content higher in search results - the average first-page result on Google contains 1,890 words - about twice the length of a typical blog post.
But it's not just length that matters. Another study revealed that content considered topically relevant (as measured by MarketMuse) usually receives higher rankings. While a brief blog post could, in theory, be very focused and written on a single topic, it's not likely that it would offer an in-depth look at the subject.
It positions you as an industry authority
Anyone can do some quick Googling and write a cursory overview on almost any topic, but the companies that can produce a cutting-edge guide, eBook, or white paper - they stand out as the ones who really know what they're talking about.
By publishing long-form content that does a deeper dive on the subject, your customers learn that you don't just have basic industry knowledge; you're an expert. It conveys that you have the experience and have done the research to have a command of the subject that your competitors lack. That's what leads your prospects and customers to trust you and to come back to your website for more content (and, ideally, to eventually purchase your product or service).
It's a lead generator
People expect (rightly so) to read blog posts without providing anything in return. Long-form content, on the other hand, doesn't have to be given away for free. In fact, it's often used as a bargaining chip to get information from prospects. They want the information in your eBook, so they tend to be more willing to hand over their personal information in exchange for the goods. Then, you have the opportunity to nurture them with additional content and guide them down the marketing funnel toward becoming a customer. Plus, it gives you something hefty to promote through lead generation emails or paid ads, if you choose to go that route.
But even if you know why long-form content should be an essential piece of your content marketing strategy, that's only half the battle - the other half, of course, is doing it right.
Sure, you could hammer our 3,000 words on some topic related to your industry and call it a day, but that's not going to guarantee success. To make sure you develop your long-form content in a way that captures your audience's attention, you have to:
Know your audience
If you don't know what your audience wants to read, chances are slim that you'll produce something of value to them. Ask yourself: What are they interested in? What challenges keep them up at night? What do they want to learn more about? You can write about what you think they're interested in all day, but if that topic isn't actually important to them, they're not going to download or read your content.
Want to know a great way to find these things out? Ask. It's OK to go to a few members of your target audience and ask them about the challenges they're facing or what topics they'd be interested in learning more about.
Another great avenue for getting those types of answers: Ask your sales team. They can probably tell you all day long about the pain points, objections, and desires of your prospects and customers. Voilà - relevant topics, right at your fingertips.
Know how your audience is evolving
Are you interested in the same things today as you were two years ago? Probably not. Over the span of a couple years, a lot of things can change.
In any industry, there's probably new technology, new research, new processes, new challenges - all sorts of things that change the way your audience now has to approach their work. If you're not keeping up with the way your audience and their interests are changing, your content is going to be irrelevant before it's even published.
Think beyond the content
To some, long-form content can inspire mental images of plain white pages covered in Times New Roman font. And very few people are going to want to read that kind of publication. That's why the use of good design is so important. The placement and spacing of your content, images, charts, and other graphic elements can completely transform your content into something that draws your audience in and keeps them there.
As marketing and technology evolves, however, you also have to think about new ways to present that information. Interactive content, for example, does a good job of breaking up long chunks of content and presenting them in a way that engages your readers, helps you collect valuable information about your audience, and gives them more of the content they want (and lets them skip over what they don't). Even in the midst of dwindling attention spans, that kind of innovation can help you create effective long-form content and grow and engaged audience.
While some research may suggest that your audience can't handle more than bite-sized chunks of content at any given time, there's also plenty of proof that your readers still want thorough, well-researched, long-form content. Give them what they want, and you'll reap the benefits.