In the content-marketing world, it has long been an article of faith that short, snappy, well-optimized blog posts are preferable to longer blog posts. This is a seductive thesis that's backed up by a broad body of circumstantial evidence.
For many website owners, short, catchy blog posts attract more page views and generate better time-on-site readings. In a distraction-filled world that's constantly pulling readers' attention in different directions, it seems plausible that content creators should focus on snappy, easily parsed pieces that beg to be shared.
There's certainly a place for short blog posts in your content marketing strategy for 2014 and beyond. In fact, short pieces can complement and strengthen longer, more descriptive blog posts in a big way.
That said, they can't support your marketing efforts on their own. Here are five reasons why you should get in the habit of using long-form content marketing to improve your website's search rankings, attract loyal readers and optimize your Web presence for conversion.
1. Long Posts Consistently Outperform Short Posts
It's widely assumed that short blog posts are more likely to be shared and linked to -- and, therefore, rank higher -- than longer blog posts, but the evidence doesn't agree.
First, the average word count of a top-ranked piece of content exceeds 2,400, a staggering figure for proponents of "bite-sized" content. Since they're longer and speak about a wider variety of topics and sub-topics, longer pieces attract more inbound links than their mere lengths would suggest.
Studies have shown a nearly geometric relationship between the length of a post or article and its inbound link density. Although it's hard to establish causation, this is probably due to the fact that comprehensive content pieces are more authoritative and, thus, more likely to attract quality links from high domain authority sites, including widely read news sites, blogs and university-affiliated webpages.
Since CPC and display ad revenue directly correlates with traffic, marketers often give too much credit to raw visitor numbers and time-on-site metrics. While these figures are important, lead generation and conversion data are critical too.
Multiple studies have shown that longer blog posts and pages of website content convert readers at far higher rates than thinner pages. Even after factoring in the financial and temporal costs associated with creating in-depth content, descriptive blog posts and other forms of website content may boost conversions -- and thus ROI -- by more than 40 percent.
It's worth noting that Google's algorithms don't actively punish websites for questionable content until their pages' average word count dips below 300, and a manual penalty isn't guaranteed until a site breaks the 200-word barrier. Still, a few long, descriptive blog posts can help offset the effects of any thin, outbound link-rich pages on your site.
2. The Internet Has Moved Beyond Plain Text
In 2014, content marketing strategy looks different than ever before. Improving bandwidth and creative development strategies have enabled website owners to deploy a range of attention-grabbing tools in the service of their traffic-building strategies.
A long-form content marketing operation no longer requires 2,000 words of plain text in large, awkward paragraphs. The most innovative website owners use infographics, pictures, embedded videos and other multimedia content to break up long sections of copy and reinforce concepts introduced in the text.
Although lists can, and often are, used over-zealously, they can also play a central role in the organization and streamlining of longer posts and articles. Since many readers prefer to scan longer articles, visually breaking up blocks of text with cues that underscore key points ensures that they'll get the most out of each piece of content -- and be more likely to visit other sections of your site.
3. Attention Spans Are Longer Than You Think
After spending hours crafting and publishing a comprehensive piece of content, it can be frustrating to review its traffic data and find that the average user has spent mere seconds with it. To put it generously, attention spans aren't what they used to be. With so much competition for their time, readers have become adept at scanning, multitasking and other efficiency-enhancing strategies.
This would seem to be an open-and-shut argument for shorter blog posts, but a closer look at the data suggests that the right types of long-form content marketing can be devastatingly effective.
Since users view longer blog posts in an F- or E-shaped pattern, spending considerable time with the first few lines before scanning down to one or more interesting junctures within the text, it's a good idea to restate key ideas and use visual cues, including bullet lists, to organize important material.
Over time, this will increase the likelihood that readers will share and link to your articles. Both activities are critical to a sustained run at the top of the search rankings.
4. Long-form Content Is a Great Promotional Tool
We've talked a lot about long-form content as a draw for inbound traffic. Many of the attributes that make long blog posts magnets for links and shares also make them ideal for shaping the conversation around your website or brand.
Google has explicitly stated that lengthy, information-rich articles and posts will come out ahead in its search rankings.
As key drivers of site traffic, these posts can serve as portals to less-traveled but still critical bits of your Web presence, including landing pages or forms that drive lead generations and conversions. Perhaps more importantly, they lend a valuable air of thought leadership to your company and its employees. Using Google Authorship, you can create close associations between your public persona and the high-level content that you create.
5. More Content Means More Content Marketing Opportunities
Beyond thought leadership, longer, more detailed blog posts create additional content marketing opportunities. First, long-form content naturally generates more material for promotional activities and allows you to increase the "marketing mileage" you get from each piece of original content.
When your blog posts cover five discrete topics and 15 fully-formed subtopics, it's easy to create multiple Facebook posts, Twitter blasts and Google Plus blurbs in their service. By the same token, longer posts and articles attract a broader readership by covering stories from multiple angles or discussing multiple topics on the same page. Longer posts also make it easier to create more internal links without producing needless clutter.
Perhaps most importantly, long-form content is more informative. By answering more of your readers' questions upfront, you'll make their engagement with the rest of your site more efficient and ensure that their browsing experience is pleasant enough to result in a return visit.
Leverage Lengthy Blog Posts for Better Results
The data points don't lie: Longer blog posts have a critical role to play in a comprehensive content marketing strategy. After years of persisting in the face of evidence to the contrary, the pervasive "shorter is better" myth is slowly loosening its grip on the online community.
While no one expects you to produce Pulitzer-quality long-form content overnight, a gradual realignment of your content marketing strategy should favor bigger, more descriptive blog posts that engage readers and generate solid leads. Lengthy, informative pieces of content establish you as a thought leader, encourage sharing among readers, and create marketing opportunities without insulting your readers' intelligence or devolving into blatant salesiness.
What's on tap for your content marketing strategy in 2014? Let us know how you plan to stand out from the crowd.