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Last updated: October 2, 2020
You’ve probably heard it a million times before. Write long-form content if you want that content to rank!
I call bullsh#t.
If someone tells you to always publish long-form content, without any further explanation or context, then that is very poor advice.
I know many may not agree with me, but please read on to find out why I think publishing long-form content is actually, in many cases, bad practice.
What Is Long-Form Content?
Remember the days when we could rank an article with only 300 words and perhaps a couple of backlinks? That was a loooong time ago.
The Internet has changed a lot over the years. Google has evolved, SEO has evolved and copy writing has evolved.
Content is king, and it has been king for quite some time now. And for some, this means content needs to be long. Especially in the world of affiliate marketing, writing ridiculously long articles has turned into a competition.
Savvy (or perhaps not-so-savvy) affiliate marketers are trying to outrank one another by simply adding more words to their affiliate articles.
They see a 3K-words article on a competitor website about the “best vacuum cleaners for apartments”, so they write a 3.5K-words article. And the next affiliate marketer makes it 4K words. And so on.
Too many people think that long-form content ranks. But it’s not the length of the article that makes it rank, it’s the quality of the article. And a whole lot of other factors of course, but let’s ignore these for a moment.
Quality Content Does NOT Equal Long Form Content
As with anything related to SEO, people tend to copy eachother’s ideas and spread these around the Internet. As a result, they often become a mainstream thing.
So if an SEO “expert” tells their readers to always write long-form content, then a lot of these readers will take that advice as gospel.
And then before you know it, half the blogging world believes you need to write long-form content in order to rank. Just like that. Without any further context.
Then you get silly comments like this one here:
That comment was placed on Tung Tran’s blog Cloud Living a while back. So Kumar is saying he knows “a trick”. And this magic trick involves adding 200 extra words to articles every month.
Sadly, a lot of people think the same way. Just keep adding more and more content, and your articles will magically rank.
It’s terrible advice. Here’s why.
As a consequence of the general misconception that we always need to publish long-form content, we’ve seen a huge rise of ridiculously long articles with sections and paragraphs that talk about absolutely nothing.
Read those articles out loud and you will cringe. Too much fluff. Boring.
Sadly though, a lot of Internet marketers have had success with this approach. They’ve taken the long-form content approach to a whole new level. Some very big review websites have been doing it as well.
But if savvy Internet marketers and big websites know this trick, to just add more and more fluff content, then of course Google knows it too.
The Google algorithm is constantly evolving and is able to recognize the difference between fluff content and relevant content. Google’s Rankbrain plays a big part in that as well.
So if you still think that just adding more and more irrelevant words to your articles will make them rank better, think again.
If you’re just adding more words for the sake of adding more words, the search engines will find it harder to understand what your article is about.
In addition, the density of your keywords may also be negatively affected, potentially causing your search engine rankings to drop further.
Writing long-form content is an art form. It requires skill. You need to stay on-topic otherwise your readers will simply go elsewhere.
In other words, a well-written 1K-words article is better than a 2K-words article that consists of 50% fluff. The shorter article will most likely rank better.
Bounce Rate, Dwell Time and Time on Page
If your long-form article contains too much fluff and unrelated nonsense, your readers will drop out. They will simply go elsewhere to find what they’re looking for.
Your bounce rate and dwell time will suffer. I personally don’t worry too much about bounce rate as an SEO metric, but dwell time (or time on page) is in fact very important. If readers consistently leave your article within a matter of seconds, you’re in trouble.
It’s even worse when they land on your article via Google and return to Google within moments. This concept is called pogo-sticking and it’s generally not a good thing.
This is a signal that your article simply isn’t good enough, which can have a big impact on its rankings.
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How to Publish Content the Right Way
I take on-page SEO and HTML structure very seriously. That, combined with well-written content, will make your articles rank.
So here’s a few things to keep in mind when publishing content:
- Make it readable and easily digestible, for readers as well as for search engines.
- Make it well-structured, so that readers and search engines can easily interpret it.
- Keep it to-the-point and avoid fluff at all cost.
- Answer questions in your content.
- Support your content by including internal links and outbound links.
- Be unique and add your own insights.
This would often RESULT in long-form, but it’s not the long-form aspect that makes an article rank.
Do you really think that Google wants you to write 2000 words about something that can also be explained in 1000 words?
You would be in Google’s good books if you to write the shorter article. Provided that this article is well-written, well-structured, well-researched (supported by external sources), to-the-point, and answers questions that Google searchers are asking.
An important thing to keep in mind when writing content is user intent. If you’re going to write an article about “top things to do in Tokyo”, you don’t necessarily need to write a 10K-words essay.
Think about the user. Someone searching in Google for “top things to do in Tokyo” will most likely just want to see a simple list of 10 things they can do in Japan’s capital. There really is no need to go into too much detail.
Simply write an article that is well-structured and has a logical hierarchy. Use bullet-points or sub paragraphs to list the top things to do. This way the article is easy to digest, for the reader as well as for Google.
When Does Long-Form Content Work Well?
The point I’m trying to get across in this article is that long-form content in itself is fine, but you need to do it the right way.
And you only need to do it when the nature of the topic you’re writing about requires a long-form article.
But keep in mind that when writing long-form content, you still need to stick to the guidelines that I mention above. Don’t just add another 400 words just for the sake of increasing the length of your article.
If those 400 words actually add value, then yes go for it. If these 400 words suck and don’t add value, don’t bother.
Here are two examples of long-form content that is very well executed.
1. Brian Dean’s GSC Guide
Brian Dean published an article on his blog Backlinko earlier this year explaining everything about Google Search Console.
It’s a massive article with more than 10K words, according to SEOquake. It is ranking in Google’s top 10 for “google search console”, a keyword with a search volume of 90,500 in the US, according to SEMrush. The traffic to this article is huge.
This article is an excellent example of how to write long-form content.
It’s extremely well written. It has perfect formatting with lots of paragraphs, headers, sections, images, content boxes, etc. It’s easy and pleasant to digest, for users as well as for search engines.
More importantly, the nature of the topic is such that the article needs to be long-form in order to rank. There is just so much to say about Google Search Console that a 500 word article wouldn’t go anywhere.
Mind you, you can also choose to write an article about a more specific feature within GSC. In that case you wouldn’t have to write such a long article.
But it’s obvious that Brian wanted to go all out and target the big keywords + the long list of long-tail keywords. And he’s done that really well.
2. Guide to Amazon Associates on Authority Hacker
This is a gigantic piece of content written by Perrin Carrell explaining everything one needs to know about the Amazon Associates program.
It’s huge, it’s awesome, it’s fun to read, it contains tons of useful info, with zero fluff.
Here’s a screenshot from SEMrush to get an idea of how much organic traffic that one article attracts. Enough said.
We all know content is king. But sadly, too many people believe that quality content equals long-form content and that we should always publish long-form content to please Google.
It’s wrong. It’s an SEO myth.
Quality content is not the same as long-form content. Quality content often leads to long-form content, but they are two entirely different concepts. So-called SEO experts that tell you to “just write long-form content” are not SEO experts. It needs more context.
When writing content, focus on quality. Content should be…
- Readable and digestible
- To-the-point (avoid fluff)
- Answering questions in your content
- Supported by external sources
- Unique and insight-full
Write long-form content when the topic you’re writing about forces you to make it long-form. Don’t write long-form content just to please the search engines.