The online world has become saturated with content. The definition of content has become an industry buzzword that means something different for everyone. This over-populated and loosely defined practice has caused problems for businesses and institutions trying to stand out in the crowd.
When content marketing was introduced to the advertising word, the objective was simple—produce as much content as possible and publish it for everyone to see. Today’s online environment has demanded a change. No longer can people produce short, low-quality content and expect it to perform well online.
This problem caused many people to wonder—is content marketing dead? And if it’s not, how can I produce content that benefits my business?
Long-form content is the answer. Detailed content that covers a topic start to finish.
For higher education, this practice has become the solution for colleges looking to better inform and connect with existing students, potential students and alumni. In this article, you’ll find out why long-form content is dominating the online environment, how your college can incorporate this type of content into your marketing plan and examples of institutions doing it well.
Before we go on, it will be important to outline what exactly we mean when we say “long-form content.” The truth is, everyone defines long-form their own way. For some people, a 750-word blog is long, and, for others, long means 3,000 words.
Forbes.com defines long-form content as “marketing, delivered through content such as writing, audio or video, and it’s long—meaning longer than a 30-second TV spot, a one-page magazine ad or a billboard. While there is no exact definition of what 'long' means, most experts peg it at 1,200 to 2,000 words when it comes to the written form.”
It’s also important to point out that content doesn’t just mean blogs. Content itself can be videos, audio recordings like podcasts or research-based documents—all of which can be created in long-form.
As we discuss the definition of long-form content, it’s also important to point out the justification for spending the time and resources developing this style of content. Obviously, the longer an article or video is, the more time it will take to create. So with that in mind, the question must be asked—is it worth it?
Jacob Runia, a digital strategist at Epicosity, explains why longer content performs better, “Long-form content beats short-form blogging, because it comprehensively answers questions your audience searches for online. Secondly, the more ground you can cover on a topic, in a high-quality manner, the more authority your domain can build with search engines.”
The short answer is yes, it is worth it. And there are three main reasons that I’d link to point out as to why.
One of the main benefits from longer content is the time an individual spends reading or watching it. In terms of website traffic and performance, this is a valuable metric. When a visitor spends more time on your website, he or she is exposed to more opportunities to engage with you. Blog platform Medium compiled data on its most successful articles by measuring the average time on page in relation to post length and the amount of time it takes the average reader to finish the post. Based on this data, the ideal blog post takes seven minutes to read and is around 1,600 words long.
The No. 1 spot on search engines is a goal for any business who wants people to find them. The process of winning that spot, however, is one that very few are able to achieve. In an attempt to claim the top spot, businesses have turned to long-form content and search engines have approved. Today, it has been proved that search engines favor longer content when answering a search query. This is because longer articles usually cover a searched topic more in depth. This is seen as a quality answer by the search engine.
This idea was tested by CoSchedule, who searched multiple different queries in order to compare the results: “Long-form content ranks higher on average than shorter pages. In my results, the pages in the top five (1-5) averaged more than 2,000 words per page. In the bottom half (6-10), the posts only averaged 1,400 words. Long-form content was absolutely weighted to the top of the list.”
But wait! What are backlinks? Backlinks, also called "inbound links" or "incoming links," are created when one website links to another. The link to an external website is called a backlink. These links are very important when it comes to SEO. Search engines take the number of backlinks on a site into consideration when ranking that website on results pages. Back in 2011, Moz found that there seemed to be a direct correlation between the number of backlinks (links to their blog post from other websites) and the overall length of the content itself. So as your word count decreases, so too does the number of websites linking to your content.
So with all that said, what is the right number of words you need to create long-form content? Like I said earlier, everyone seems to have a different answer. However, looking at research can give a good idea. The average word count of a blog has increased over time. This is due to people using search engines looking for complete information. Higher Education Marketing explains this process: “This has resulted in the average length of top-ranked pages increasing by more than 200 percent over the course of seven years—although it should be noted that it has now dropped slightly from its 2,400-word peak in 2016.”
In addition to the increase over time, the length of a blog post will vary based on the industry for which it is written. Marketing blog ViperChill put together some data on the average word length of a random sampling of blog posts categorized by industry.
When discussing higher education, the answer remains vague, but based on the research above, developing content for this particular industry we can say that it involves some level of personal development and perhaps elements of finance depending on the topic. Also considering the industry average of approximately 2,000 words—we can say with some certainty that the ideal word count should fall anywhere between 1,200 and 2,000 words.
While it may seem difficult to imagine long-form content being utilized in the higher education space, the truth is, colleges have a lot they can tell people about. Many larger universities have academic research, expert opinions and complex subject matter they can use in content development. These kinds of articles can give prospects a clearer picture of what they can expect to learn while studying at your school and, if done well, can even ignite their passions about particular subject areas.
The London School of Economics and Political Science maintains a series of in-depth blogs around different academic fields, featuring cutting-edge research and expert analysis. This 1,800-word post from one of the school’s sociology lecturers explores research into the correlation between religion and political preferences for the Religion and Global Society blog.
While the above example is very academic-heavy and research-based, not all content needs to focus around those two things. Universities can create articles that highlight outside-the-classroom information to help prospective students understand the impact the institution has on the community. This can include on-campus events, activities and trips.
A 1,400-word piece titled “Border Town” on The University of Notre Dame’s website highlights one of the volunteer experiences the school offers for students.
Lastly, have fun with the content your college creates. It’s also important to remember that long-form doesn’t necessarily mean you have to write complex, high-brow think-pieces. For instance, you might create a blog using the listed format about things to do in your location and simply add more items to the piece than normal.
This blog from EF English entitled “50 things we love about the US (and know you’ll love too)” is more than 2,200 words long but is still written simply in order to remain accessible for an international audience.
So when it comes down to it, long-form content is created for the purpose of engaging with a target audience by providing them detailed, helpful information. The benefits of lengthy content include longer visits to your website, higher search results and more backlinks. Remember that content exists in many different formats, so don’t be afraid to play around and try new types of topics. Consider academic topics like research or expert options, but also talk about how your college is engaged with the community. Finally, tell prospective students what they can look forward to when they choose your school.
Long-form content is here and belongs in your college’s marketing plan.