We all remember that story:
“Short-form content rules,” they said. “People don’t read long texts online,” they said.
While others write, publish, and promote standard content for search engines, content marketing gurus benefit from the situation and achieve commercial goals with the help of long reads.
I can’t bring myself to call long reads anything but 2,000+ word texts. For me, it’s a work of art combining data journalism, storytelling, passion to writing, and design.
It’s like rock’n’roll: daring, inspiring, and promising.
And like rock’n’roll, it doesn’t fit everyone.
“The change, it had to come. We knew it all along…” ~ The Who
Commercial long reads are not ads, landings, or marketing texts. They serve to provide regular and new clients with the information about your company, brand, product, the process of its creation, or the latest trends in your field.
In 2012, when The New York Times presented their Snow Fall to the world, the new era of marketing started signaling the death of mediocre content, average blog posts, pallid statistics, and boring data submission.
All marketers stuffed their faces into it, understanding it was the change that had to come and take content creation to the next level.
Why they bothered?
This magic word determines the role of long reads for content marketers’ plans and strategies.
With a short lifespan of social media posts, news spreading so fast on the Web that publications had no time to benefit it, and info glut being so huge that it was next to impossible to hook a reader, digital marketing seemed nothing but upcoming apocalypse for those in journalism, copywriting, and content creation.
Meanwhile, SEO specialists (a small side note: incompetent ones) snickered at content marketing, predicting its soon death.
But it was not to be:
New content forms appear to help SEOs and marketers benefit online, and long reads became one of them.
“Hey, mamma, look at me: I’m on the way to the promised land.” ~ AC/DC
Long reads are all about audience engagement. They increase reach, give an opportunity to explore your brand, and convert.
Any more reasons to give them a chance?
They give more room to tell about the subject, allowing you to cover the topic to maximum, making it more useful and, therefore, likable and shareable. In the long view, it will appear high in the SERPs.
They give space for keywords and backlinks.
They double or even triple the average time a user spends on your site. Despite its length, long-form content is exciting to read if presented absorbingly.
They generate leads. In so doing, Curata analyzed their blog to see that long-form posts brought 7x more leads than short-form content, including slides and infographics.
They serve well as guest posts because blog hosts will more likely publish original and well-performed, not plagiarized or paraphrased writings.
NB! Far from every story needs to become a long read. Before you start writing, think twice if it’s relevant and pay-your-way.
“Please, let’s forget the past, the future looks bright ahead.” ~ Elvis Presley
Step 1. For creating a long read, forget everything you knew about content. It’s not a 10, 000-word text but story. Do you have anything to tell your audience?
- Do you have a story?
- A something-went-wrong story?
- One of four plots by Jorge Luis Borges?
- A case study?
- Interviews with experts?
They all can be your long read’s basement. But don’t forget about the structure, too:
Step 2. You are a content marketer. Yes, chances are you’ll create a long read alone but bigger chances are you’ll need a team to help you here. Do you have a team?
- Writers and editors to help with a text?
- Illustrators and designers to help with visual elements?
- Webpage designers?
- Video operators?
When planning to create a high-quality product, make sure you have a team of professionals by your side.
Step 3. Research. As far as a long read is a story, you need data, statistics, interesting facts, and little-known elements to write it. This step is most time-consuming and cost-intensive.
Step 4. Planning. It’s a moment when you create the outline of your story, deciding how and where to use all researched elements. It’s a moment when you (or your writer) create an outline and first draft of the story to get an idea of what your future long read will look.
Step 5. Creation. You have three options:
Publish a long read as if it’s another blog post, using standard style and design of your website. It will look like a well-written text with bright visual elements. Simple as that.
Publish a long read as an independent page at your subdomain. Nothing will distract readers from the story, and the loading speed will be higher. Make sure it looks nice on all browsers and devices and check if it’s comfortable for users to read.
Use services for long reads creation. Some difficulties may appear with analytics settings, but these tools are time-saving and easy-to-use for non-experts in coding and design. Medium, Atavist, ReadyMag, or Stampsy can help.
Once a long read is live, you know what to do: promote, promote, promote.
And now, for the most interesting part: how to analyze your long read’s efficiency?
“It’s gotta be rock’n’roll music, if you want to dance with me…” ~ Chuck Berry
Here we need to analyze a separate page, and Google Analytics provide a few metrics to do that: sessions, new sessions, bounce rate, goal conversion rate, and goal value.
They won’t tell much about users interest toward a page, but we are where we are. With long reads popularity on the rage, it would be great to have additional metrics for analyzing this content type.
Scroll Depth: it lets you measure how far users are scrolling. If to the end of the screen, chances are they read your text. Also, here it would be wise to take into consideration other metrics, such as average session duration.
Social signals such likes, shares, and comments. People will hardly respond to the content they don’t consider interesting and useful. You can check these metrics in Google Analytics, too.
Link clicks: as a rule, long reads contain links to external resources, and if users click on them — it may be a sign they read the text itself. You can adjust this feature via GTM, using one tag from GA, aka Universal Analytics.
Conversion rate: if your long read is commercial, you can analyze its efficiency by how many leads it generates.
Media views: long reads contain media content such as videos or pictures preview, so the fact users click and watch them signals about their engagement. Use GA tags such as autoEvent or JQuery to check that.
“Shyboy, shyboy, give it one more time boy” ~ David Lee Roth
To try or not to try, that is the question.
The reasons to try long reads are sufficient: they give you something to promote, more visibility online, more material to build trust and engagement, and more proof of your brand authority. So if you haven’t yet decided on extra techniques to challenge your competitors, this option might be of your choice. What do you think?
Oh, you’ve worked with long reads already? Don’t hesitate to share your experience below.
“But content marketing isn’t rock’n’roll, Lesley,” you might say.
And I say, “Why not, after all?”
About the author: Lesley Vos is a content evangelist and contributor to publications on digital marketing and writing. Feel free to follow her on @LesleyVos to ask questions or see more works of hers.