When you’re building a B2B content strategy, you need a mix of content lengths. Long-form and short-form content are both vital tools, and each has its own specific use.
If you want to present a snack-sized stat to your readers, for example, or to promote a new product or service, you’re likely to use social seeds or a short article, rather than a ten-page white paper. Likewise, tackling a subject like “Everything you need to know about writing a B2B case study” is going to require more than a 280-character tweet.
But there’s no doubt that across the B2B industry – and in content marketing generally – longer content is becoming increasingly popular. According to Orbit Media’s 2021 blogging survey, the word count of a typical post is up 57% since 2014 – from 808 words to 1,269.
So how exactly can we define “long-form content”? Why is it gaining in popularity as an effective marketing tool? And how can you ensure that even your longest pieces still have impact? I took a look at the research – and completed some semi-scientific studies of my own – to find out.
What is long-form B2B content?
For starters, it’s not just lengthy blog posts. Although blogs are still the most popular B2B content format, long-form content can many other formats, including eBooks and whitepapers, guides and tutorials, and webinars and virtual events.
Essentially, it’s any piece of content that educates your audience on a specific topic or answers a specific question – in an in-depth, informative way.
There’s also a lot of debate around how to define “long” word count, with definitions ranging from 700 – 1,200 words. In truth, there’s probably no set figure; it’s more about the role your content plays. But for the sake of this blog, and in deference to science, I’m defining long-form as anything 1,000 words or over. (Even if it is just to make the maths that bit easier in my own research…)
How can long-form content boost your B2B marketing?
According to the research, writing more long-form content could help you boost your online presence and even drive conversion rates. Here’s what the stats tell us:
Fact #1: Long-form content tends to rank higher on search
You’ve probably heard that long-form content ranks higher – but I wanted to know how true that is for B2B. So, I searched 16 common terms and phrases, like “writing a B2B ebook” and “original research for B2B content”, then recorded the word count of the top five results.
Here’s what I discovered:
- Across all 80 results, 76% were over 1,000 words, and 31% were over 2,000
- Of the 16 top results, 12 of the posts were over 1,000 words
- On the longer end of the scale, 13% of the results were over 3,000 words – and just 4% were over 5,000
- 35% of the 80 results were between 1,500 and 3,000 words
So, it holds true: long-form content does seem to rank higher. But why?
Some studies suggest that it’s easier to grow organic traffic, and employ SEO tactics, as there’s more scope to include keywords or backlinks (more on this in a moment). But there’s also a simpler explanation: it gives you the opportunity to provide something of real, tangible value for your readers, that they’ll enjoy and want to share.
Fact #2: You can provide your customers with greater value – and showcase your subject authority
This year’s CMI B2B benchmarking report found that 83% of B2B marketers who reported high levels of success in 2020 said this was because of the value their content provides.
And long-form content is the perfect vessel for providing that value. It gives you the opportunity to create more in-depth content on a high-value topic or challenge that really matters to your customer – and (as long as it is genuinely helpful) build up a positive association with your brand in the process.
Side bar: When I searched for common B2B phrases, 44% of the top results were ‘How to’ articles (and all bar one were well over 1,000 words). Only 19% were listicles. So format is likely quite important – the value you’re presenting needs to be really obvious. My colleague Katy has written a splendid blog on how to achieve it.
Fact #3: You could get more traffic, more shares, and more backlinks
According to Semrush’s 2020 Content Marketing Survey, super long-form articles with over 7,000 words drive nearly four times more traffic, and 43% more shares, than shorter articles. And while it’s unlikely you’re going to be writing such bulky pieces on the fly, there’s a clear correlation between long-form content and the amount of traffic it creates.
On the other end of the scale, 59% of published content with between 300-600 words isn’t shared at all. And posts between 300-900 words are likely to gain 21% less traffic – and 75% fewer backlinks – than articles of 900-1,200 words.
And when it comes to Google rankings, backlinks are crucial. The top result on Google has an average of 3.8x more backlinks than the following nine – and the same study found that long-form content generates more backlinks than shorter posts.
So, how can you write long-form content with impact?
Knowing why long-form content works is one thing. Knowing how to write it in an engaging, impactful way is another. Hopefully, these tips will help:
Tailor your content to your audience’s interest
Reading takes time. So you’re asking your (probably very busy) reader to do a lot – especially if your content is above the 2,000-word mark. Make sure you’re rewarding them for that time, and providing information that’s genuinely helpful and tailored to their interests or challenges.
There are plenty of sites to inspire you, and help you cut to the core of whatever conversation is happening in that industry. AnswerThePublic is a great place to start, and BuzzSumo’s content search engine can help you see what articles your customers are already engaging with.
Make sure your content is easy to navigate and read
When you’re writing long-form content, presenting your reader with a wall of words is only going to turn them off. So it’s critical that you make your copy as easy to navigate as possible:
- Break down sections into smaller, skimmable chunks or bullet out the key points or stats you’re making (see what I did there?)
- Include headers and subheaders that summarise what’s contained in each section
- If it’s a really long piece, you can create a content page, so it’s easy for your reader to skip to the parts that most matter to them
In short, make it easy for the reader to see the value of your content upfront, and help them find the information they need quickly.
Use tried-and-tested approaches to make your reader comfortable
Bit boring, I know, but there’s a reason that 44% of the top results were “How To” guides. Sometimes, the tried-and-tested formats just work the best, and are familiar and approachable for you reader.
Update your work regularly
According to Orbit Media, bloggers who go back and update old content are more than twice as likely to report “strong results”.
So even after you’ve written and published your content, go back and update it when necessary.
Just because long-form content works, it doesn’t mean that everything you write needs to be over 1,000w. Sometimes, less is more – and padding out work with waffle, just to hit a word count, won’t go unnoticed by your readers.
Got any questions? Just pop us a tweet at @radixcom or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or if you want more B2B content writing tips delivered straight to your door (or at least your inbox), sign up to our monthly newsletter.