Long-form content is taking over. These are the pages on your website that provide a great deal of information on one single subject. They establish you as an informational resource on said subject. The official number of words required varies, but I like to say that these content pieces have at least 1,500+ words. When I tell clients they need these kinds of assets on their website, I brace myself and watch their eyes bug out. Then the excuses start. “It wouldn’t look right on my website.” Or, “my customers don’t want to read that much.” In this case, they’re usually right. Customers don’t want to read that much. They have notoriously short attention spans. In fact, most of you may have already stopped reading this blog post, save a few of my biggest fans. (Hi, Mom!)
But you know who likes reading all those words on your website? Google. And if you ever want people to find you, you need Google on your side. The simple truth is that without all those words on your page, Google doesn’t have any way of knowing what your site is about.* When this happens, you’ll never rise in search results and forever be on page 10 or higher with the rest of the spam. Or worse, never indexed at all. Don’t believe me? SerpIQ conducted a research study in 2012 and concluded that the top performing search results each contained well over 2,000 words per page. I bet that 1,5000 is sounding pretty good, now.
Why should you take my word for it?
When it comes to writing, I get to call myself an expert. My sister was the first one to tell me that I should be a writer one day, and I heard it more and more as I got older. It wasn’t until college was over and no one was making me write anything that I realized I actually liked doing it. I can proudly say that my claim to fame is the first long-form blog post I ever wrote as a mere intern. At this point in time it has over 1,700 social shares. (It’s currently ranking at the middle of the second page for ‘pinterest ecommerce sales,’ so keep linking, people.) Never you mind that most of the posts I’ve written subsequently have just bounced around between mainly my family, friends, and co-workers.
I get a lot of questions about how to write such lengthy content pieces. It’s not nearly as hard as people initially assume. My way is definitely not the only way, it’s probably not even be the best way. I give you a long form blog post about how to write a long-form blog post.
Step One: Plan It Out
It’s like going to the gym, half the challenge is just getting there. So when you’re looking at that blank sheet of paper and starting to regret your decision, remember that the world is at your fingertips. You’re doing a wonderful thing for yourself, and for anyone who will read what you’re about to create. Let’s get started.
It’s best to begin with your “big idea” sections. I generally find myself breaking up long-form pieces into five main ideas.
What is your subject?
Why do people care about your subject?
What makes you an expert in your field?
Why is your knowledge about your subject special?
Now that people know more about your subject, how should they proceed?
Boom. You now have five starting points that apply to pretty much any scenario. The first thing this strategy does is get you organized, but the real beauty is that your work load just got a lot lighter. Those daunting 1,500 words on one topic just turned into 300 words on 5 smaller, much more manageable subjects.
More is Less
If I’m writing about a topic I don’t know as much about, I’ll aim for 10 main points instead. There’s more leg work involved up front, but now have the lesser task of explaining each sub-point in 100 words, plus a short intro and conclusion.
“It wouldn’t look right on my website.”
Lets say you make jewelry. Your website is your online portfolio, maybe one day you’ll even build up to ecommerce. Your first instinct is probably to let your work speak for itself, but now you know that without awesome content, no one will be able to buy your beautiful merchandise.
The best way to decide what your big ideas should be is to follow the natural train of thought of your customers. What do they usually want to know? Talk about the history of your business, the different materials you use, or why your products are so unique. You know your customer better than anyone. Remember that if you’re not passionate about your brand, they won’t be either.
No matter what your topic of choice is, it’s important that you’re passionate about it. When you write from the heart, you write better. Trust me.
Step Two: Fill In The Blanks
I’m going to assume that if you’re going to commit the time to write 1,500 or more words about one topic, it’s a topic that you’re passionate about. When I’m in this situation, thoughts start to flutter around in my head. Don’t let them flutter. Assign them to one of your big idea sections and move on before you forget the next one.
At this point, it will be messy. You’ll read your outline over and never be able to see how all these seemingly random points of thought could possibly ever fit together. If my process is anything to go by, that means you’re doing it right.
Step Three: Do Your Research
Depending on what you’re writing, this may or may not apply. Most of the time, though, it’s a good idea to back your own thoughts up with quality evidence. Throw in some hard facts. Take this time to gather outside resources to back you up. You’ve been stuck inside your head for the entire process. This is your brain break, and trust me, you’ll need it. Quote your favorite industry expert, add a bullet point list here, a chart there, do whatever it takes to show that you’re not the only one who has your opinion.
Step Four: Flesh It Out
This is without a doubt the toughest part of the entire process. You’ll feel your determination start to slip away. You’ll wonder how the first 12,000 words could be so easy and the last 300 are no where in sight. If you write your first drafts in Google docs like me, you’ll probably start excessively using the word count tool. Yes, I just checked, and I am at 1,209.
What ever you do, don’t stop writing. Jump around, have fun with it. Add a couple sentences to one section, then jump to the next one. The important thing is to just keep going. This is where you start to connect the dots. Before long, you’ll have your very own “Eureka!” moment. Before your very eyes, you’ll see your content piece begin to flow together, and soon you’ll be typing the very last word. Take a moment to soak it all in. You did it! The worst is over.
Step Five: Clean It Up (But Not Too Much)
Now is time for the fun part. Formatting! If step one was like getting to the gym, then this part is like remembering to stretch after your workout. If you try to put it off until later, you’ll only end up hurting yourself. So have yourself a good long look at what you’ve done, and make it look like the masterpiece it is. Throw in some headers, Images, split those paragraphs, go nuts. You’ve earned it. Read it over once, make your changes, forward it to a few of your most trusted friends, and push that sucker live.
A word of caution here. If you’re like me, your blog post will never be ready. You’ll always find that one sentence you don’t like any more. You’ll notice two of the same word that are just too close together. Swapping a few phrases around will turn into a full paragraph rewrite. You may even begin to doubt that your post is worth all the time and effort you’ve put into it. You’ll wonder if your ideas are good enough to share.
My boss once told me that to be great, you also have to be vulnerable. If anyone ever tells you that writing a blog post isn’t scary, they’ve probably never written one. No matter what you’re writing, taking words from your heart and putting them out there for the world to see is a daunting prospect. Writing for your business, no matter what your brand name represents, means taking your innermost passions and sharing them with everyone else. You have every right to be scared. So take a deep breath, be proud of what you’ve done, and hit Publish.
* Disclaimer: As a professional SEO content writer, I will never underestimate the importance of high-quality, thoughtful content on a website. That being said, we all have a natural tendency to inflate value of the areas we’re most knowledgeable in. While I absolutely believe in the power of the written word, by no means am I suggesting that great content alone is all you need to be successful.
Abby Olson: SEO Copywriter @Snap Agency. Strategist, Content Optimization, SEO powerhouse.
Tim’s endorsement: Abby is a humble expert who works day in and day out finding ways to better serve clients and her agency. Don’t forget to connect with her on LinkedIn. I’m stoked to be able to work with her on this piece, and to work with her in the day to day at Snap Agency.
Besides ‘How to write a long form blog post‘, my blog has other longer form articles, and long form posts in the arsenal. You are invited to these deeply researched posts on my website: my multiple chapter “WordPress for Noobs” series, interview with 5 Minneapolis freelance web designers post “How to find a good fit for a Minneapolis Web Designer,” and my first real giant post, “A Crash Course in Hand-lettering.” I love doing WordPress web design in Minneapolis, so if you need anything along those lines, get in touch.