There's lots of data out there showing that longer content has a significant positive impact on SEO and SEM, lead gen, customer conversions, and overall customer satisfaction. The sweet spot for meatier content is kind-of fluid, but pretty reliably falls between 1000 and 1600 words for posts and articles, and around 2500 for things like ebooks, white papers or posts on topics of high value/importance to your readers. For now, anyway, these are the optimal lengths for online content.
That's good to know, but for some content producers, it's tough to execute. In CMI's 2017 benchmark studies, a lot of content marketers say content creation/production issues impacted their ability to be successful:
I know from my own experience running my own brand journalism team and consulting with clients on running theirs that one factor challenging content creators is producing longer content quickly.
How to Produce Longer Content Faster
There's a prevailing perception that writing longer content takes longer. And, in one way it does. Obviously, it takes longer to type, revise and edit 2500 words than it does to type 500 or 1000. But that's mostly incremental.
At some point, and I think it's around 500 words, you have to do the same amount of planning/pre-writing and researching and interviewing regardless of length. You still have to determine the business case and purpose for the content, understand audience needs and questions, interview an internal SME and a few external folks, find your own and third-party data points, and do enough learning to put the project in the proper context.
So the "sunk costs" for most pieces longer than 500 words are the pretty much the same.
But that's not to say we can't make it faster and easier for content producers to create longer editorial content. We can!
Write Longer Content with The 3 E's
One of the best ways to make content longer without padding it like a high school term paper is to focus on key details. These are those important elements of support for your purpose and main take-aways, and that propel the audience to your call to action. Key details take 3 forms:
- Examples are stories and anecdotes that people can relate to. These are especially important for people at the top of the funnel, who aren't quite ready to make a decision. Think testimonials, mini-case studies, first-person accounts, hypothetical situations, etc.
- Explanations are descriptions of how and why. These are really helpful for people who need a deeper understanding of an issue or process, which explains why explainers and how-to pieces are so popular with content marketers and content consumers. SMEs come in handy for this stuff, offering insights on how something works or why it's important. This information can be included in the body copy as a paragraph, section or sidebar; or be illustrated as infographics, charts, graphs
- Evidence is data and facts (no alternatives!). Properly cited data and facts improve credibility with all audience members, and are crucial for people who are ready to act or decide, and want some validation. In the age of distorted data and misleading headlines, presenting meaningful data in context and transparently cited builds trust. Accomplish this through citations and/or contextual links to original sources (not just some other article citing some other piece of research).
Use These Strategies to Create Longer Content
Content marketers and brand journalists can produce longer blog posts and articles with two easy strategies:
Both strategies work for B2C and B2B content -- it just depends on your purpose and audience. You may not need a lot of qualitative details for a white paper, but it's terrific for descriptions of human outcomes or products. And they both have the same structure:
For the Idea and Tell sides, jot down an important concept to explore. If you're using an outline, you can put your main topics or sub-topics on the left side.
For the Details and Show sides, note important aspects of the idea you want to convey, using the 3 E's (especially for Details) or more qualitative aspects like emotions, senses, visuals, etc.
To get the most from these strategies, go fast and keep it short (ironic, I know). This is pre-writing and idea-capture, not writing. It's much easier to do this when we're writing it out versus typing:
- We're less likely to waste time over-thinking on the page when we write
- Our brains slow down when we write versus type, so our thoughts are often clearer
Revise More Effectively
I know you're probably not going to use either one of these strategies to plan your next content project. I get it.
So let's say you don't. Let's say you draft up a piece and go through it a couple more times to tune it up. But it's not quite at the length you want. Instead of just typing up some more stuff to make the word count, use the Idea-Details or Tell-Show to make the words count.
Either strategy can be deployed to flesh out drafts without just adding words. With Idea-Details or Tell-Show, we build out useful, insightful information that adds value to the piece. Use them to make your pieces better, not just longer.
The Idea-Details and Tell-Show Strategies are used with permission from Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc.