Is Long Form Content The New Form Content?

One of the main rules of blogging has always been to write for the web. This meant that bloggers should write concise articles, preferably with bullet points and numbered lists, split in short paragraphs, with several subheadings splitting the paragraphs and a lot of white space. The perfect length of a post was meant to be some 300-500 words. This was because in general people are not interested in reading longer articles on the web. All the research, including eye tracking studies from Jacob Nielsen, pointed in the direction that if you want your content consumed and not lose readers you better follow these web writing rules.

The revival of long form writing online

The last few months has seen this trend change and have seen the revival of long form writing online. Long form content journalism and in-depth storytelling online are making a comeback. While most articles are still short and quick to read, more and more sites are publishing long-form features of 2,000+ words, which include photos and videos and need a lot of time invested from the reader to go through it.

There seems to be a growing appetite from the web audience for these kind of features as proved by the popularity and social media spread of these. A recent statistical study on what makes online content go viral has found that long form articles are shared far more often than shorter articles. Word count of a post seems very closely related to the number of shares.

Just look at the success of http://longreads.com/, http://longform.org/, and social media hashtags like #longreads and #longform. Here are some very successful examples of long form articles: Michael Jordan Has Not Left The Building feature on ESPN, beautiful Snow Fall in the New York Times and several profiles on the Forbes including this one of Sean Parker.

One of the reasons for the success of long form articles is that they mostly are timeless pieces. They take a long time to research and write, so they are on topics that are less time sensitive. This makes the life time of an article much longer than your standard news piece  making it particularly valuable in social media where it gets shorts a long time after it is published and also in search results where it continues ranking for a long time.

Could long form content help you stand out?

The revival of long form content doesn’t mean that short form content is dead and you should stop producing it. All this means is that bloggers have the choice to adapt and get more into this long form article trend. Long form articles are more immersive and allow you to cover your topic fully and in more details, while writing for the web style you most often only skim the surface of a topic. So do not be afraid to break one or more of those writing for the web rules from time to time. Going against the grain of online writing could differentiate your content from your competitors, it might give you the unique selling point and attract a following.

Do experiment with writing some more lengthier content, for example a 1,000+ word article if your articles never go over 500 words. Experiment with having several multimedia elements in the same post… give it some time, test and analyse the results, refine your content strategy for future posts and do it all over again. Blogging is all about experimentation. Doing the same stuff as you’ve always done will make you stand still eventually and your site will stop growing, so be open to new ideas and trends and just go for it.