Colorful Alarm Clock - long-form content

Long-form content is officially a blog staple. Ten years ago, the standard length of a keyword-optimized blog post topped out at about 600 words. That’s about when I got my start writing search-optimized web content. Today, SEMRush reports the average length of a typical blog post is 1142 words (Source). Folks, long-form content is the new black.

There is a direct correlation between the word count of a website’s typical blog post and the amount of organic traffic the site gets…

HubSpot chart - Word count vs organic traffic
Source: HubSpot

…. as well as the quality and type of feedback from readers a blog receives.

Writing long-form content - Graph - Results and Post Length of Typical Article
Source: SEMRush

Pinterest pin of a clock - How to Write Long-form ContentAs the Head of Content Marketing for The Shelf, I spend A LOT of my time dreaming up, creating, and refining content. At any given time, we have between three and six freelance writers creating content for The Shelf blog, in addition to our illustrator. Part of my job is to make sure every post that goes live on our blog is a high-quality post packed with useful, valuable content. 

Love my job.

Between penning dozens of ebooks and overseeing the production of something like a quarter -million words in long-form content on The Shelf blog alone every year, I feel pretty confident when I say I know what should go in a long-form post to minimize fluff and make the post most impactful. 

So, if you struggle to get past that 500-word mark, I’ve got you covered in this post. I’m going to tell you exactly how we build epic, long-form posts for The Shelf blog. 

The Anatomy of a Long-Form Article (My 9-Point Plan)

Most of the posts we publish on The Shelf Blog range between 1500 and 3500 words. Each piece of long-form content – books included) consists of 9 key (pretty much non-negotiable) elements:

#1 Intro (100 -200 words)

Our intros have evolved over the years. So, if you check out the blog, you’ll notice that older posts are more conversational in the beginning, and may not even include our keyword. These days, the first few sentences of our blog posts are snippet-ready, keyword-optimized sentences that introduce the topic and provide readers a compelling reason to keep reading.  

#2 Overview (500 – 1000 words)

One of my all-time favorite sections is the industry overview section. This is the numbers section. It’s usually between 300 and 700 words long and includes an overview of the industry/vertical being covered. or strategy being covered. This is where you talk about the value and importance of an industry, including the size of the industry and key stats about it.

Honestly, this section right here can help you add an amazing amount of value for your readers and all it requires is for you to share the data you find in your research with your readers. Win-win. Not including data in a long-form content is a good way for your content to be seen as a super-long op-ed piece, and not authoritative or educational content.

#3 An Interesting Angle (300 – 500 words)

I also like to include weird or interesting angles that either identify emerging trends or introduce new ways of thinking about the topic. The last thing we want to do is regurgitate the exact same info every other marketer’s puttin out. It’s okay to cover the same topic… as long as you add a new twist to it. 

#4 Social Proof (400 – 600 words)

Social proof is one of the most persuasive tools any writer or marketer has in her arsenal. It’s why you don’t buy from merchants with 1.5 stars (out of 5 stars). It’s why you pause to read (or re-read) social media posts that have tons of engagement.

For The Shelf, we demonstrate social proof for the ideas we put forth by including examples from marketing campaigns or sponsored content that we find on social media. Relevant campaigns examples (with screenshots directly from social media, YouTube, TikTok, or another content sharing platform) that aren’t just a lazy copy/paste from someone else’s article, campaign examples, and analyses.

#5 Strategy (500 – 800 words)

A good way to support social proof is by explaning the strategies behind your social proof examples. This is where you demonstrate your expertise and understanding of a topic.

For every campaign example we provide on The Shelf Blog, we also identify the strategy being used and WHY the brand or influencer used that particular strategy. This helps our readers connect the dots that certain types of content can help them accomplish specific business goals. Social media marketing isn’t a one-and-done, one size fits all strategy.

# 6 Conclusion (150 Words)

Most of the time, I use the last paragraph or two of a post to recap things. Other times (like in this post), the final paragaph (or couple of paragraphs) are more like Final Words, where we add a few closing thoughts to tidy-up a long-form post.

Either way, I’ve discovered that conclusions are super-important, because there are those who will only read your headline, intro paragraph, and the conclusion – skipping the post altogether. So, think of the beginning and the end of your post as Cliff’s Notes for your reader… especially if you don’t spring for the too-long-didn’t-read infographics. 

#7 Call-to-Action

I’m going to be honest: the creative writer in me doesn’t always remember the CTA, or even see a need for one. In case you’re sales-disabled like me (haha), the call-to-action is the thing you ask your reader to do. Like… 

Click the button below to download the book

Don’t forget to schedule your 15-minute demo by clicking below

To enter the contest, just follow @mommyisworking on Instagram. 

That sorta thing. 

For a long-form post, the chances are pretty good you’re writing it for a brand… and the marketing person over there is gonna want to include a CTA in that post because content is supposed to drive an action, whether that’s to join an email list, schedule a demo, schedule a call, buy something… you get the idea.

#8 Links 

Okay. This is another one that I’ve consistently done for clients, but didn’t really do for this blog until recently. Interlink your blog posts – especially when it’s long-form content – and include outbound links.

Let’s start with outbound links. You want to include outbound links in your articles that link out to credible sources and the reason is creating that linking to an authoritative source is one powerful signal that the content you’ve created provides readers with value.

One thing about links that I just picked up from the geniuses over at Income School: Don’t do the blind links. By that, I mean let people know what they’re linking out to INSTEAD of hyperlinking stats and facts. What I’ve started to do is at the end of a stat, I will add (Source) after the stat and hyperlink that. That way, people know they’re going to click a link that takes them to my source for the info. 

Flipside, interlinking between similar blog posts on your site is a great way to help search engines figure out what a post is about, and also works to help people navigate to similar posts on your blog without having to actually use your navigation menu.

If you’re blogging on a platform like WordPress, when you add a link highlight a post to add a link, you can search by topic in the link box. For example, if I wanted to find a blog post on my site on the topic of copyright (which I’ve written on a couple of times, namely in my posts on work-for-hire agreements and why moms should own intellectual property), here’s what it would look like:

Wordpress topic search / link function

Do that, and you basically have a list of posts that include Copyright as part of the title or in the body of the post.

Another thing I keep is a list of Topic Clusters, which I learned using HubSpot (LOVE HubSpot). Topic Clusters are just that – writing topics based on keywords, keyword phrases, and search intent. We use these little babies to build out content ideas.

I keep a running list of Topic Clusters on Google Sheets (screenshot below). The first column is a list of keywords, which we chose based on the HubSpot traffic numbers listed in the second column.

The third column includes any secondary keywords that immediately come to mind (important when you’re updating pillar posts that already exist on your site and you want to optimize them for another keyword).

The fourth column is for notes. I used that column to document what type of content is already showing up for certain search terms. This is important because sometimes I don’t immediately know what search intent is for a topic.

For example, most of the content showing up on the front page of Google for the search term “Instagram Stories” is how-to articles and instructional guides. This is good info to know about a search term because it means that Google has figured out that when people search for info on Instagram Stories, they are typically trying to find out how to do it right.

The fifth column is the title of any posts we’ve already written for that keyword.

Screenshot of my Topic Clusters on Google Sheets - how to write a long-form article

Using Topic Clusters like these help your SEO game, for sure. Topic Clusters also help you figure out what topics you’ve covered and which you haven’t – also super helpful.

#9 Graphics and Infographics

For The Shelf Blog, we typically convert key sections or stats into infographics for the TLDR (too long; didn’t read) crowd. I don’t do that on this blog – yet. What I can do for free-ish is to use Pexels and Unsplash to find cool stock photos to set the tone for my blog. I also use Canva to create Pinterest Pins for my posts.

Wanna Know the Key to a High-Impact Post? Overdeliver

Final words… As a writer and an expert, it is your job to have a wealth of knowledge in your chosen field or on a specific topic. But you’re competing with writers from all over the world, so you need to have something that sets you apart. Overdelivering is my jam.

If the contract says write a minimum of 700 words, I’m delivering 1200. If I agree to make a single social media graphic, I’ll probably deliver three. ESPECIALLY when it comes to written content, there are three things that, if you do them right, will help you build your client roster:

  1. Know what you’re going to talk about. I do this by coming up with a list of questions and answers that need to be addressed in the post (I usually do this in the shower, when my mind is clear).
  2. Stay on topic. Once you know what you’re going to talk about, create an outline.
  3. Do plenty of research. I always have more research than I can use in a well-structured post. If you have plenty of stats, facts, and social proof, you don’t need filler content.

Now, go out there and write some butt-kicking posts. Whew!!!