‘Great Content’ and ‘Long-form Content’ Are Two of the Snakes Swallowing Content Marketing


When I saw Rand’s comments on Twitter, it rekindled a fire in me that has been burning for some time: The myths that you need great content and/or long content are choking content marketing like a weed.

Devil’s Grass

Let me tackle both, in order:

‘Great content’

Great content is a unicorn content marketers continue to tell us (a) is present and/or (b) will materialize but can find few examples of. I know, I know there are sites that get tons of visits, draw lots of engagement and feature excellent writing and visuals. However, there are lots of sites who have equally as good content but you hear crickets each time you visit the page.

Yeah, I know folks can and will say that’s a SEO or a UX, or whatever, issue. But the point is “great content” is (a) unique to the beholder, (b) is an admirable but unclear goal and (c) at best is a piece of a very large pie.

It also sets pretty much everyone up for failure, when you consider that only a small handful of brands can commit to or produce what would be deemed great content, and even those that can do so only infrequently.

What I wish is for us to stop telling brands that they must have great content and share with them that content is part of a repertoire of elements they need for lasting success.

Where should they start?

1. Knowing their prospects and their prospects’ NEEDS better than the competition

2. Understanding what those prospects desire in a product or service

3. Knowing the places they are looking for those products or services

4. Getting in front of those prospects with (assuming their overall entire web experience is up to snuff, including content strategy, website, dev and design, etc,.) content that surpasses what prospects or customers would expect to find in the category

5. Over-delivering with customer service, before and after the sale

In the end, the “produce great content” mantra amounts to telling brands “Don’t bother unless it’s special.”

A better approach is to share what folks in video marketing are great at saying. “Start creating content today. It’ll suck. But you’ll get better over time. And because of all that practice, you’ll learn to create strong content with frequency.”

That, to my mind, is what we need to be saying, instead of 10x or bust.

No one goes from great to even greater. As legendary powerlifter Dave Tate says, we go from shi-t to suck to good to great.

‘Long Content’

To answer the question in the tweet, it’s because we, as marketers, have told them/shared with them that’s what they need to be creating. After all, isn’t that what we see consistently ranking highest in SERPs for many queries? I’ve read numerous studies about how long-form content consistently bests shorter content, especially for traffic over the lifetime of a piece of content.

So, if I’m a business owner, I have two choices:

  • Long-form content, which is better for my site
  • Shorter content, which I can produce but is not useful for organic reach, so I don’t bother. Or, if I do bother, I don’t put much time of energy into the work, believing “Why bother?”

This bifurcation fallacy is the very head of content marketing’s most harmful snake. (Ed. note: I studied herpetology in college and have a huge affinity for snakes, especially the eastern brown shown below. The reptiles are being shown for affect.)

It makes sense that longer form content would have more shares, visits, links and the like, given that a quality piece that is longer should have more of the elements that people and machines would find valuable. However, they are many more millions of long-form posts that don’t do well organically, but those don’t show up anywhere for us to notice, giving rise to what’s known as survivor bias, whereby we limit our comparisons to only those things that worked. (My brother-from-another-mother, Ian Lurie wrote an excellent post detailing survivor bias.)

There a many reasons we don’t see shorter content performing better:

  • When it is created, it’s neglected
  • Brands don’t know their audiences as well as they should
  • Marketers aren’t committed to discerning the type of semantic, contextual understanding of the language their ideal audience is using

In fact, brands that nail these three elements can make some serious hay, in the SERPS and with conversions, with shorter content.

For example, a small business owner can often do very well by simple focusing on providing answers to any and all of the questions and/or objections prospects have about their products or services. I’ve seen posts of this type, which can be fewer than 350 words, do wonders for SMBs ranging from plumbers and HVAC companies to print shops, moving companies and bakeries.

Again, all it takes is (a) knowledge of your audience, (b) an understanding of the semantics they are using to search for you — as Ruth Burr says, “People don’t search for their problems.” They need solutions. If you deliver those solutions in an easily digestible post you could easily become the go-to resource in your area or vertical.

(For more information on this topic, check out Local SEO expert Phil Rozek podcast with Dan Shure.)

Again, this is a topic I’m very passionate about, in large part because I think it’s hurting online marketing, primarily by making small and midsize business owners think there is but one (or two) way(s). And if they cannot go big, they must go home.

This is a harmful farce that needs to be curtailed.

I’d be very interested to see how others feel on this topic. Do you think the “great content” mantra and long-form or bust are hurting content marketing?