Content: the long and the short of it
With the demand for fast information, and snappy opinions, easily digested on a mobile device, you would be forgiven for thinking that long-form content is no longer relevant.
by Phil Brown
December 11, 2019
With the demand for fast information, and snappy opinions, easily digested on a mobile device, you would be forgiven for thinking that long-form content is no longer relevant. However, higher word-count publications (>1000 words) have hidden benefits, and changes in B2B purchasing trends are driving the demand for greater depth.
So why is long-form content still relevant?
B2B buyers prefer to find their own answers
Millennial buyers are pushing sellers out of the discovery phase of the B2B buying journey. According to LinkedIn, there are more than 11 million Millennial global decision makers on their network, and they have different expectations on how to interact with suppliers.
Recent research from Forrester found that 68% of B2B buyers prefer to conduct online research on their own. Furthermore, 63% say they are perfectly happy and “totally capable” of developing an RFP based on content they find themselves.
As a result, if a B2B company wants to be considered, they need to make sure that their buyers can find the information that they need, at a depth that will be meaningful and insightful, without having to contact a sales person. When asked at which point they wished to engage a seller, 70% of buyers said that they preferred to wait until after they already had a clear understanding of their needs.
Therefore, going into greater detail about your company, your insights and your products and services, gives B2B buyers what they are looking for, making sure that you are in their consideration set when they are ready to engage with suppliers.
Longer content makes you easier to find
One of the unexpected benefits of long-form content is its positive impact on search engine optimisation (SEO). A study by Backlinko found that pages with longer content ranked significantly higher in a Google search than short content, with the average word count of a Google first page being 1,890 words.
This is partly because long-form content generates more backlinks, and this is an important factor in the Google ranking algorithm. Earlier this year, a Backlinko analysis of 912 million blog posts revealed that content longer than 3000 words gets an average of 77% more referring domain links than content shorter than 1000 words.
They also found that longer content outperforms short blog posts for number of social shares, although this is only to a point, and over 2000 words the benefit tails off.
The increased social shares, and higher number of backlinks could explain why longer content rates highly in Google, but it could also be due to a higher number of keywords and greater depth of relevant content. Either way, it is a useful piece of intelligence for B2B content marketers.
Depth can help you stand out from the crowd
A higher word count allows a topic to be covered in greater depth, with more developed thinking and granular information, which helps to build credibility and trust.
The more good quality information that you have available on your website, the longer the average dwell time, which makes it more likely that B2B buyers will remember you. A programme of insightful long-form content can also help with retention, keeping customers interested in what you have to say and giving you more authority and influence.
The internet is swamped with short opinion pieces, but more detailed articles are less prolific, meaning less competition and an increased likelihood that you will get noticed. In terms of aesthetics, long form content offers more scope for creativity and can improve ‘scanability’, with more white space and room for diagrams or photographs.
All of this will help you to stand out in a very overcrowded content world.
Issues to look out for
- Long-form content requires a greater depth of research and understanding, which makes it more expensive and time consuming to produce. To make the most of your investment, ensure that you repurpose and reuse the content in as many ways as possible e.g. to create blogs, infographics and white papers
- With attention spans shortening, your content needs to grab attention with the title and opening paragraph or people will not make the effort to read to the end.
- Long-form content is not very mobile friendly. You can get round this by offering mobile-friendly “teasers” with the opportunity to read the full report on another device at their convenience.
- Due to the scale of effort required to produce longer content, publication will necessarily be less regular. Therefore, long-form should only be one part of your content strategy, with gaps filled with more regular short-form items such as blogs.
It’s all about balance
Ultimately, it is clear that any marketing content strategy needs a mix of content types and lengths. Different formats will appeal to different audiences depending on a wide range of factors including:
- Stage of the buying journey – more depth is required in the exploration and evaluation phase i.e. briefing papers, ‘how to’ guides, detailed service specifications, webinars and tutorials
- Nature of the enquiry – researching a technical solution will be best answered with a detailed product manual whereas someone looking for a brief synopsis of your company won’t want to trawl through 10 pages to find out where you are based.
- Method of access – long-form lends itself to desk based research whereas shorter blog-type posts are better for mobile users
What is clear, however, is that there is a very long list of reasons why we still need long-form content as an essential part of our B2B marketing mix.
 Forrester (2018) Beyond the Lead: How Content Marketing Builds Lasting Relationships https://tools.marketimpacttools.com/go/forrester/beyondthelead/?lang=en-us
 CSO Insights (2018) The Growing Buyer-Seller Gap: Results of the 2018 Buyer Preferences Study https://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/6650584/One_GTM_may2020/Blog%20Images/Growing-Buyer-Seller-Gap-White-paper_FINAL.pdf
How vertical should you be?
In this blog, we look at the key considerations you need to evaluate when deciding what level of verticalisation is right for you.