You put plenty of time and energy into creating a valuable, well-written online piece of content, and then you invest even more time and money into optimizing the content for Google. So, when it doesn’t get the search engine traffic it deserves, that can be downright frustrating.
If that scenario sounds familiar, then here’s a strategy to consider: write more long-form content. A recent study, published in April 2016, studied 1 million Google search results, and revealed that longer content usually ranks more highly in these search results. The average piece of content found on Google’s page one, in fact, averaged 1,890 words. (Insight into how some writers entertain themselves: this post was turned in at 1,890 words!)
You can find more information about how Google loves the long form at SearchEngineLand.com. You can also access a Moz.com study via this article that demonstrates how longer content typically gets more backlinks, which is a crucial ranking element.
Another study cited showed that long-form content increased conversion rates by more than 37 percent, along with other studies that show how longer content is more shareable on social media sites.
So, how do you write engaging long-form content for clients? Here are tips from the trenches.
Tip #1: Choose and Right-Size the Topic
First, take a look at the client’s audience. You want to write an informative, non-promotional piece that would be of interest to this audience. This should be a journalistic piece (more about a marketing tie-in in the two examples provided), and the topic must be broad enough and interesting enough to be worthy of thousands of words. As soon as you find yourself padding an article to make it longer, take a step back to see how to widen the topic. Occasionally, you may find yourself dropping a topic altogether and starting over, although you can often salvage it. Finally, choose a topic that is evergreen (not super timely) so you can promote it on social media over the long haul.
Tip #2: Select Quality Sources of Information
This can include interviews with your client and other experts, along with trustworthy secondary sources. Interviews can be quoted in the piece or used as background information for your research. If you need to use a questionable source for information, explain why you’re nevertheless using it and its limitations, credibility-wise.
Tip #3: Focus on a Core Keyword
If you’re going to go through all the effort that a long-form piece of content requires, have it benefit a keyword that really matters to your client’s business.
Tip #4: Make the Piece Flow Well
Because you’re including lots of information, it’s more important than ever to organize it well. Strategic sub-headings work well.
Tip #5: Continue to Promote in Social Media
Write a piece that is worthy of ongoing promotion – and then follow through. To quote the SearchEngineLand.com article, “Neil Patel conducted an experiment with some of his own content on Quick Sprout, a blog that offers tips for digital marketers. Patel found that out of 327 blog posts he wrote, the posts under 1,500 words received an average of 174 tweets and 59 Facebook likes. The content that was over 1,500 words, on the other hand, received an average of 293 tweets and 75 likes.”
As anyone who ghostwrites content knows, it can be hard to share your work publicly because clients often like to keep authorship private. Fortunately, two clients for whom I recently wrote long-form content gave me permission to use their posts as examples. I can’t report on how well they will do, long-term, because they are so new, but I can dissect them so you can replicate the process in a way that makes sense for your clients.
Example #1: SplashCam Underwater Video Cameras
The first client designs and sells the SplashCam underwater camera, the brand that is used by The Deadliest Catch on the Discovery Channel. My topic was Underwater Cameras: See (and Explore) New Frontiers. This topic was pretty easy to come up with, as it clearly dovetails with his target audiences and is broad enough to support a longer piece. It’s evergreen and I never came close to worrying about padding. It also lent itself well to respectable sources of information, including captivating videos that would entice just about anyone into wanting to explore underwater. As far as the structure:
- I needed to start with an all-encompassing paragraph that shared why underwater exploration is so amazing. It reads this way: “According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, approximately 71% of our planet is water – and an in-depth 2012 study estimates that 700,000 to one million species live in our oceans, with one-third to two-thirds not yet named or even described. This means there are literally hundreds of thousands of marine life species waiting for someone to capture them on video and share them with the world.”
- I then sought out and included three videos that showed incredible underwater life to draw readers further into the subject.
- If a topic has an intriguing history, that can be great to include. After I felt I’d hooked readers with eye-catching video, I segued into the history: “Underwater cameras, including video cameras, have clearly played a crucial role in our learning about marine life and in conservation efforts. This is a fairly new phenomenon, as photographers have faced numerous challenges in filming underwater. Here’s more about the evolution of this endeavor.”
- I presented the history in a logical way, from underwater cameras to underwater video cameras, including relevant images (including an infographic) and multiple videos. This keeps the visual reader more engaged.
- Next, the history section naturally flowed into describing a significant use of these cameras: marine archaeology. Again, I included links and video.
- It was then easy to transition to other uses of the camera, and here is where I started to slip in semi-promotional material, writing about The Deadliest Catch. After I wrote about it factually, I added a compelling testimonial that the directors of the program wrote about SplashCam after being nominated for their third Emmy for Outstanding Cinematography.
- I then ended with a call to action section, sharing how a reader could buy a SplashCam – or rent one if trial use was more appealing.
Example #2: Cool Savannah Tours & Gifts
This long-form piece of content worked out well, I think – but it very easily could have been one where I needed to ditch the topic and start over. Cool Savannah offers tours of historic Savannah, including ghost-related ones. They recently had the Savannah Ghost Research Society investigate their building, which is located in the heart of the historical district. So, as step one, I interviewed Ryan Dunn of the research society, and he was extremely generous with his information. So generous, in fact, that next month I’m going to write a long-form piece of content specifically focused on his findings in Cool Savannah.
But, first. First, I simply had to explore a side note in the material he shared – and that led to Wandering, Seeking Spirit in Haunted Savannah, a piece of content that perfectly dovetails with this business. I knew that I needed to draw readers in from the start, to get them as curious as I was:
“You know someone is up there, right? On your couch?”
“Her neck. There’s something wrong with her neck . . .”
“She’s not scary, no. More like very proper looking, in a Victorian-style dress. But her neck. There’s clearly something wrong with her neck.”
Over the past two years, at least five or six customers – unrelated to one another – have reported seeing a well-dressed Victorian-era woman calmly sitting on a couch at Cool Savannah, located at 42 E. Bay Street in historic Savannah. Two things they have in common: these eyewitness reports have all been unsolicited and they all mention her neck. Some believe she was hanged. Others simply refer to a neck trauma or mention her clothing around her neck – but all of the customers have rubbed the fronts of their own necks, as if elongating that body part, when describing her.
Who was this woman? Why was she in this building? What happened to her while she was still living? The reality is that we simply don’t know – but that doesn’t mean we’re not trying to find out, searching historical references and collaborating with experts in detecting spiritual presences.
I decided that I was going to ghost bust, having no idea whether this would work or not. So, I started to research and write down what I did, which included this process:
- I first nailed down what was considered the Victorian era, and what women’s clothing styles were like in each decade. At least one eyewitness of the spiritual presence noted a high-necked gown, and that was in style from the 1860s-1890s.
- I then researched names of women known to be hanged in Georgia from 1860-1899. I found three, only one of them white, as the ghost was: Susan Eberhart, executed in 1873 for conspiring with her employer to kill his wife.
- I then researched Susan Eberhart, and was thrilled when I discovered that this event was covered by the New York Times! I shared her bittersweet saga in detail, confident in my source.
- I also found coverage from the Georgia Enterprise, a newspaper that was willing to use purple prose, such as this: “She is dead. Her soul has gone to the great God who gave it; and idle words can avail nothing now . . . Her career is ended. Poor, unfortunate, friendless, young and beautiful, she has paid now the full penalty for the crime she was charged with. Let her faults be as countless as they may, they now slumber with her remains in the disgraceful grave that she has been compelled to fill.”
- Next, I shared reasons why a previous ghostbuster felt that spirits congregated at the Cool Savannah location. He called it a “toll booth on the spirit world highway” – and I offered up this conclusion: “None of this, of course, proves that the ghostly visitor is Susan Eberhart. But, are you entirely sure that it’s not? Perhaps she still haunts the earth where her life was cut short, maybe to finally find redemption, or perhaps to warn others off from the dark path she’d trod. Maybe, in spite of her claims that she was ready to die, she still has unfinished business on the mortal plane.”
- I then invited readers to come see the building for themselves, especially if they felt empathy for Susan, who was described as being more sinned against than sinning.
- Asking people to sign up for a ghost tour was a natural concluding call to action, one that would surely appeal to people who’d decided to read the entire piece. I also included plenty of images.
And, really, that’s all there is to it! If you’re new to long-form content, it can feel intimidating at first, but it’s a skill that you can develop like any other – and, when you do, you’ve got a marketable skill, and you can also share with clients the benefits of adding long-form content to their sites. If you have any questions about this type of writing, I’d be glad to answer them for you! Best of luck.