Long form blogging is in…
by Janice Nigro
My New Year’s resolution backfired this year. It was one of those that turned out to be the exact opposite of someone else’s New Year’s resolution. Yeah, I am talking about the kind where someone decides to become devoted to someone or something only to discover that the someone or something wants to become undevoted to them in the new year.
First off, I am not big on making New Year’s what feels more like ultimatums-I fail miserably on the first day (no chance of adhering to those diet plans during a weekend of parties). I don’t do well with them because I think everything you work on is a dynamic process. Meaning I am constantly under reassessment. If I only did it once a year, I would be completely hopeless.
But this year, I did have a project that I left specifically until after New Year’s. I have been dying to interview people for some of my blog posts. But the format that I tend to use, the longer format, clashed with certain trends/ideas this year. Like is it even effective as a marketing tool?
A failed New Year’s resolution in less than a week. Was it? While I did lose a blogging gig because of it, I discovered that long form content is an asset to any business plan. Of course, if it’s done right.
Short or long content? The literature I found on the topic is all over the map. Some bloggers are extremely effective with short posts (way < 600 words; 10 Steps to Becoming a Better Writer ). While others swear by longer posts (Writing One Post for a Whole Week: are long articles the best?; 5 Reasons Why Long Content and Blog Posts Are Once Again the Future of Content Marketing).
There are some easy arguments against longer posts. The main one (anecdotal of course) being that our attention spans are severely limited while on the Internet. I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, skimming through posts has everything to do with what kind of information I am looking for. Or if I am looking for information at all!
Short posts work for me if I am just on the Internet for entertainment. Or distraction (which is often why I am on the Internet)…But if I want real information, I probably don’t mind reading longer posts. I might want to read longer posts. It’s the only way an idea can be more thoroughly presented. The latest science discovery probably can’t be covered in just 600 words effectively, but neither can how to light macro subjects underwater.
But let’s face it, some writers/bloggers are simply brilliant at unique short snappy commentary that everyone seems to enjoy, i.e. like/share. Such authors also might already have created a following somehow so that no matter what they say, their posts get passed on and traffic builds exponentially. Bam, they sell their blog for millions of dollars.
We can be fooled a bit by the numbers, in that their traffic is due to the general appeal of their business/idea to many (as in most) people. Just about everyone might want tips on food or how to save money, but not as many are looking for a scientific publications consultant (ho hum). Or they just have a compelling story (Les crevettes sont cuites). Your expectations for what a blog will do in terms of numbers of clicks/likes have to be vastly different. For both, it should at least help your business; but in another, blogging might be the business!
New metrics favor long content. But there is more to it than just clicks/views. The latest trend in analyzing the value of a blog I discovered is based on reader engagement (Seth goes short. Buffer goes long. Here’s what you should do with your content.). Longer posts apparently fare better in this metric. Such posts are apparently shared and commented on to a far greater extent than shorter posts (Content, Shares, and Links: Insights from Analyzing 1 Million Articles).
People also spend more time reading longer posts which translates into more time per visit at your site. The length of time spent on your site/posts is now considered to be another important parameter in ranking your site (real people not just bots). Which is what we are all trying to do-move up to the first page on search engines such as Google.
I never thought about any of this when I started to blog. I just started to write about experiences I have had, especially while traveling and diving. Long form just fell out. When I started to write for someone else, though, I wrote posts based either on many years in a career or information that I had spent significant time researching. Long form fit there too.
I am sure there are good and bad aspects to my stories/pieces (like maybe they are too long!). I don’t have a strong following after all, but it’s consistent. I tend to think I have a special kind of reader. It all began as a sort of personal journal to myself. Along the way, I discovered that I had some interesting stories to tell both from my travels and from my career. Storytelling is effective in getting a point across, whether it is a dive experience or an experiment. I may not be great at storytelling, but after a couple of years as a writer and an editor, I know I should strive to do it.
Emotional writing works. I have to admit that I was surprised to find that anyone else ever read my personal stories. I was moved to write my first post as a thank you to the crew on a liveaboard after a spectacular dive trip. Although I can debate my writing skills, people told me that they could really feel my passion for diving in that piece. That I wrote poetically about the sport. I had more stories that had to come out so I continued to write them. Although pictures probably help tremendously…
Who is your audience? I believe though that people are smarter than a lot of the content on the Internet. Up until now, maybe it hasn’t mattered so much what we write, just that we write something so that search engines will find us. But as we use the Internet more and more as our primary source of information, maybe we need to pay more attention to the quality of our writing and the facts we present. Show some respect to readers/customers. Make a connection. Invest ourselves.
If we don’t write in depth content (whether long or short), then of course people can never read it. You know, like people would probably eat more salad if they didn’t have to make it…
High quality content costs money. I suspect one of the reasons there is a controversy at all is that long content takes more time and potentially more skill to write. I might argue that high quality short form content takes even more skill though. I know, as writing an abstract is the most difficult section to get right in scientific papers. Someone also has to come up with relevant topics, and for all of this, whether short or long form, it costs more. The problem is more then about cheap content which is widely available. That is a consequence of globalization-that there is always someone out there who will do the same job for less. And the fact that less expensive content might actually do the job just as well (or perhaps better…).
We all have different strategies. To sell anything you need some kind of traffic. The more you are seen, the more potential customers you might get. However, although longer content might bring fewer people to your site, it might also engage the type of people who are willing to pay a lot more for your service or buy your more expensive products.
Broader spectrum audience. I also like the idea of broadly appealing posts-to more than just your target market. People who might not use your service or product directly, but know people who would. Some issues I write about in editing affect all scientists in some way, even though only a small portion might need my services.
Blogging is a tremendous tool to use to help search engines find you, but as new algorithms are developed to analyze metrics, they won’t be fooled forever. I love that one liveaboard I go on allows their customers to contribute their own posts and images. It’s writing from the heart, raw as it may be (and instant testimonials). And that works for that business. Perhaps a customer who is willing to pay more is looking for something more personal in your website. Material that reflects who you are, what you might believe in, how you treat your employees. Evidence of real life…
Whether the content is long or short, customers/clients are probably looking for something that is at least different.
It’s a caveat though-depending so much on technology to drive our businesses. As consumers, we are inundated with choices online. In order to stand out you might have to try something old fashioned-like having a physical presence somewhere and word of mouth…These strategies probably never fail…
©Janice Marie Nigro http://www.janikiInk.com