We’re going a bit meta this week and thinking about long copy. Long-form digital content is a bit like double denim, or pineapple on pizza - there are millions of reasons why it shouldn’t work, but it does. It’s one of those things that pretty much everyone predicted would disappear with the advent of technology, particularly mobile technology, but in fact the statistics show it’s just getting more and more popular, with a recent study by Moz and Buzzsumo confirming that content exceeding 1,000 words “consistently gets higher average shares and significantly higher average links” than competing articles that are shorter in length.
Long copy also ranks higher on SERPs than shorter competitors, with the average content length of top 10 results clocking in at around 2,000 words (serpIQ). Substantial posts are also generally great for SEO, thanks to Google’s updated ranking algorithm, which now favours quality (and quantity) over “short and snappy” content.
Despite claims that the average person’s attention span has now shrunk to eight seconds - less than that of a goldfish (Microsoft), long-form content continues to defy the odds. But why does long copy have such a high success rate? One key reason behind its popularity with both author and reader is the sweet, sweet freedom of longer content. There are so many different forms that content can take when you aren’t restricted to 500 words or even 140 characters - whether it is a listicle, an opinion piece or a 1,000 page epic (ok, maybe not that last one), it is just so much easier to be creative and informative when you have a little more time and space.
However, long content isn’t always perfect, and sometimes it can be downright dull. Luckily we’ve put together some handy tips to help your long copy stand out from the crowd.
Break it up
It might sound pretty basic, but it’s true - a picture is worth a thousand words. Some well-selected images can help take your post to the next level, and can help illustrate your point more effectively. If you want to mix it up a little more, try adding a subheading or two to make your piece more digestible and easier to navigate. It’s important to strike a balance between providing a comprehensive, informative piece, and not overloading your reader with information.
A huge block of text is no fun to write and even less fun to read, so make sure there are plenty of intervals. If it’s relevant, you could even add in an interactive element, such as a few links, a poll or a short survey to re-engage your readers after a particularly wordy passage. Another handy trick is to try and leave white spaces and separate your text in an aesthetically pleasing way. Thoughtful design is crucial to a successful post, and it’s important not to be afraid of a bit of blank space - it can offer a welcome relief and set your post apart from countless others.
Research, research, research
Publicity is good, right? Well…yes, most of the time. It’s great to be talked about, and everyone loves having their content read and shared. But sometimes posts can get attention for the wrong reason, namely containing incorrect information. We’ve all heard so much about it recently, but it’s important not to get caught out by fake news - and even more important to not contribute to it. According to a recent survey by Ipsos Public Affairs, a worrying 75% of people cannot distinguish fake news from the real deal. Scrutinise your sources carefully and remember, that whole “alternative facts” line doesn’t always work, and any incorrect information you post could contribute to some bad PR for you or your brand.
On a happier note, a well-researched article also helps to establish trust and loyalty amongst readers and would-be customers. Producing informed and comprehensive long content is key to long term customer engagement and brand loyalty - it sounds obvious, but if you don’t know what you're talking about, how can you expect a potential client or customer to take you seriously? And besides, the more you know about your subject of choice, the more confidence and passion you will be able to convey to your readers, and (hopefully) the more you will enjoy writing about it!
It’s all very well and good spending countless hours putting together a magnum opus, but getting people to read it can present a brand new challenge. As mentioned above, long copy gets more shares on average than shorter articles, but promotion is still essential when trying to get your post the attention it deserves, and this is still true when it comes to long-form content. This is where strategy becomes key - it’s important to strike a good balance when promoting content, especially long copy. It can be tempting to jump on social media and post new long-form content straight away…and then post it again…and again…and again. To an extent this is effective - everyone likes to have something to read while they’re having their morning coffee, lunch break or even if they’re popping to the loo, and diffusion is essential to rack up the hits on any lovingly crafted post.
However, less can be more when promoting content, and it’s important to remember that timing is of the essence when it comes to posting new content, particularly when it comes to long copy. Generally speaking, posts on most platforms perform best and receive higher levels of interaction when they are posted in the early afternoon. Of course, it’s not an exact science, but promoting a post at 1pm on a Tuesday will probably get a few more hits than tweeting about it at 2am on a Saturday morning. Aim to schedule posts for the same time each week - treat readers to a little lunchtime diversion, and then catch anyone who may have missed it by posting a little reminder the following morning. For more guidance, here’s a handy infographic illustrating times to avoid on various social media platforms.
Long-form content can be tricky to get right - as we’ve seen, there are a lot of potential pitfalls. But the good news is these mistakes are easy to avoid, and there are far more positives than negatives when it comes to the world of long copy. Challenging yourself to long copy can be a fantastic and rewarding experience for both the writer and the reader - it’s a chance to create something more comprehensive, more unique, and more inventive. What’s more, people prefer long-form content, and it can make the difference between a casual reader and a loyal customer.