Does long-form content have a place in SEO?

Is there a place for long-form content on the internet? Evidence suggests that this type of content has tangible SEO benefits.

Most of us are likely to know what tl;dr means. If you don’t, basically, it means you thought an article was too long and boring to read, so you didn’t bother: too long; didn’t read. There’s a common perception that long articles on the internet are dull and a waste of time and if it can’t be read within 30 seconds, you may as well not bother.

Yes, there are countless throwaway pieces of content on the internet – and to quote The Guardian, “more and more articles are written as lists”. There are a couple of obvious reasons why: we have short attention spans and who really wants to scroll through thousands of words on a phone screen? We all know that content is king – but unfortunately, that has translated into something along the lines of “lists are king”.

So where does that leave long-form content? But more importantly, does it have any SEO benefits?

Defining long-form

First of all, we need to define what long-form content is – there’s some disagreement on this, but for the purposes of this article, it will be defined as content that is at least 1,500 words in length. It can be presented in a few different ways, such as an eBook, an in-depth guide, an article, or a case study. In this case, the more words the better.

So you have thousands of words, but will it have any benefit to your SEO strategy? The answer is, of course, yes…

More words = higher rankings

In 2012, serpIQ conducted a study of more than 20,000 keywords and found the average content length for the top 10 results was more than 2,000 words. One reason for this is because you can include more keywords. Trying to shoehorn in specific keywords in an article that’s only a couple of hundred words long is tough and it often looks unnatural or poor quality – something that Google hates. The longer the content, the better the opportunity to include both short and long-tail keywords.

In addition to this, publishing long-form can establish your brand or site as an authority on the subject – something that will ultimately improve your rankings over the long-term.

Link building is easier

Backlinks from relevant and strong domains are important because Google depends on certain signals when ranking sites. Links from other sites are considered a “vote” and tell Google that your site contains useful information, which can improve the ranking of your site. A study by Moz found a correlation between the length of the content and number of links pointing to it, so yes, people do want to read longer content.

Long-form content is also very easy to promote. How many emails do you think the likes of Buzzfeed and Wired receive every day, promoting the same old recycled article idea? Probably thousands. However, sending original research in the form of an in-depth case study? Much more useful, and much more likely for their editors to take notice and say, “hey, we just received this really interesting study that I think we should talk about” (and obviously include a link back). Link building shouldn’t be difficult and forced – people should want to talk about your content.

Social media likes it too

This is venturing out of SEO, but studies show that long-form content is very popular with social media too. In an analysis of major news outlets, Buzzsumo found the number of social shares based on content length was 138% higher for articles over 3,000 words. Although social media activity doesn’t directly affect SEO, marketing strategies need to be integrated and it makes sense to create content that can cover a variety of channels.

Your mileage may vary

Remember, not all content needs to be long. If you’ve created a video, it doesn’t need 2,000 words to accompany it. Long-form content works, but your strategy should be varied and include a mixture of videos, case studies, original research…the list goes on.

It’s also important to avoid the happy medium. News site Quartz rarely publishes articles that are between 500-800 words, because they feel these don’t perform well (it’s a good thing I’m not sending this to Quartz, then). Articles between 500-800 words are too short to be in-depth and considered to be authoritative, but too long to be digested quickly and shared.

Long-form content is here to stay. The benefits for SEO are clear, so if you haven’t stepped out of your content comfort zone, why not? There’s a lot more to content than cat GIFs and lists.

by Natasha Walker, SEO Executive