10 Tips to Make Long-Form Content Readable and Valuable

Jack Vawdrey
Dec 31, 2019 · 6 min read
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You’ve likely heard of the merits of long-form content, that it performs better both among readers and search engines.

The way many people talk about long-form is as if it’s the one-stop shop to solve all a writer’s problems. “Just make it longer!” say the experts. Yet I find myself often on blog posts thinking, “Get to the point, this is too long.”

Just making it long won’t necessarily mean a successful article. A long-form piece could lose readers’ attention. For the writer, it can result in scroll blindness and inefficient writing.

There’s a right way to do long-form content, and a wrong way. From my experience, here are 10 tips for how to write long-form content better.

1. Give your posts an honest length

But not every subject merits a 1,000–2000-word article. Sometimes readers in a hurry just need a quick answer (which is why forums are such a popular online medium). Be honest with yourself about a subject: How long of a post does the subject warrant?

If you feel the need to split an article into a series, it’s usually because what you’ve written is just too long for the subject at hand, but you don’t feel like cutting it down into a single written piece. Do what’s hard and make it shorter.

To paraphrase content marketer Joe Pulizzi (who was quoting a friend), a blog post should be long enough to cover everything, but short enough to keep things interesting.

2. Kill your darlings

In writing, sometimes you must remove some of your favorite writing simply because it’s too much.

The mandate to “kill your darlings” can be hard, because you think to yourself, “But dang, I’m such a good writer, I can’t deprive the world of such beautifully written prose” or “It would be a crime to cut out this paragraph-length metaphor” or “Every single one of these statistics is entirely relevant to what I’m saying.”

But sometimes you have to make a hard choice and kill your darlings for the sake of the reader.

3. Write long-form content like an economist would

Here are two principles of economics you can apply to your writing to make it more efficient:

  1. The principle of sunk costs. Sunk costs are costs you have already incurred that cannot be recovered. Because sunk costs are lost no matter what you do, you should not factor them into your decision-making. So just because you spent an hour writing a paragraph doesn’t mean it’s in your best interest to include it in your final draft.
  2. The principle of trade-offs. Any amount of time someone spends reading part of my article, they can’t read another part. What parts will give them the highest return for their time? If your article isn’t valuable every step of the way, your readers could be better off doing something else. And that’s probably what they’ll end up doing.

4. Include a table of contents

Include a basic table of contents in your longer blog posts to help readers navigate the sea of words.

5. Break up long-form content with visuals

6. Use rich media

7. Keep the introduction short

8. Give examples

9. Use SEO best practices in long-form content

I’ve seen long-form go both ways with SEO. Long-form content done well does have greater potential to perform well in SEO. But that doesn’t mean it will.

All things equal, long-form will perform better than other pieces. All things equal. All things are never equal. So you shouldn’t be frustrated if a piece you spent many an hour writing doesn’t skyrocket to the first page of search results.

There are, however, some best practices you should always follow when writing long-form content:

  • Make sure to have an appropriate keyword density (between 0.5–2.5%)
  • Include variations of keywords. Some places you can look are on Google’s Keyword Planner (if you have access to a running Google Ads account) or the search recommendations at the bottom of the search results pages (see below).
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  • Include alt descriptions and titles for all images (without keyword stuffing)
  • Include variations of keywords in headers
  • Include internal links to your own content

10. Provide appropriate statistics/market research

But be careful: you’ll want to avoid some of the basic pitfalls of adding statistics to your written work. Statistics can be amazing, but only when used correctly.

Have any more tips for writing long-form content? Feel free to comment below.

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Jack Vawdrey

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Content marketing in the day. Learning new skills at night. All content is available for syndication. Comment for more info.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +773K people. Follow to join our community.

Jack Vawdrey

Written by

Content marketing in the day. Learning new skills at night. All content is available for syndication. Comment for more info.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +773K people. Follow to join our community.

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