We have plenty of proof that Google loves long-form content. When content creators get it right, it can significantly influence both engagement and SEO. It’s also much more appropriate when addressing in-depth, complicated topics, and surprisingly, one of the fastest-growing forms of media consumption on mobile devices.
But content creators don’t always get long-form content right. Instead of writing inspiring, interesting content that leaves the reader motivated to keep reading right until the end, they fall into the trap that more words automatically means better content. The goal becomes the word count, rather than engaging the reader, and the end result is dry, boring, and drones on for far longer than it should.
Fixing issues with long-form content that fails to engage is surprisingly easy once you understand how (and where) to use it. In this post, I’ll teach you a few fast fixes to help you get your longer content back on track.
Fix Grammar and Flow Errors
Okay, sure – this sounds oversimplified at first, but it’s great advice for every content creator and marketer. Whether you’re writing yourself or hiring someone to write, you should have someone review the content before it’s published. Nothing throws off engagement quite as fast as content with glaring grammatical issues with staccato, stilted text.
Good content should have an almost lyrical feel, with frequent sentence length changes, that makes sense. UMass has a fantastic primer here, if you want to learn more about how to prime your sentence structure for success.
Don’t Write Long-Form Content
Wait…what? Yes, you read that right. Good content does not necessarily equal long-form content, even if Google tells us it usually prefers more words. Your goal is to write for your audience as concisely and simply as you can. SEO comes secondary to this goal.
If you can say it in 200 words, say it 200 words. If it takes 2,000 to make it clear, that’s fine, too. Need to split it up into multiple posts so people don’t get bogged down? Make it into a series of easy-to-digest posts.
Make it More Interactive
Long-form content’s biggest issue is that it can become tedious and boring to read, especially if the content itself just isn’t that inspiring. This is especially obvious in the manufacturing and industrial sectors where content may come down to highly technical, dry topics.
Getting interactive with your readers can help to perk it up. Pose a problem. Explain what you would do. Ask your audience to tell you what they would do. Or, host an AMA on Reddit (or even on your own site). Have your readers ask questions, then respond to them within the same content piece through updates. Make your audience a living part of your content and they’ll respond by getting more involved.
Be More Relatable
If your content is cold, dry, boring, or poorly matched to your audience, they’ll stop paying attention before they ever escape the intro. We see this most often when businesses over-focus on keyword density, chasing topics that appear awesome for SEO, but really don’t meet the needs of the audience at all.
Being more relatable is comprised of two main goals: make your content feel more “human,” and make sure you’re writing what your audience actually wants to read. If you’re only writing for SEO, you’re writing for machines, not people.
Ask the Audience
Stuck for ideas? There’s nothing wrong with polling the audience to see what they want to learn, discover, or know from your content. This is a fantastic time to send out email marketing blasts; include a small poll at the end and ask for their feedback. Use that feedback to come up with new content formats, topics, or subjects that pull more engagement, whether it’s an answer to a burning question or a simple segue.
Optimize LFC For Mobile
Long-form content is long (ha, bet you didn’t see that coming). Unfortunately, its length also makes it more difficult for mobile users to digest. Extensive blocks of text can take up an entire screen, making it challenging to keep focused while pushing your readers to toss down a “tl;dr” and call it a day.
Break your long-form content up using the bite, snack, and meal writing technique, This strategy works because it splits content up into easily digestible portions while also ensuring you address individual consumption preferences.
Here’s the layout:
- Headline: Start with a simple, attention-grabbing headline that directly tells your readers that to expect. This article’s title is a great example: “Quick fixes for long-form content that fails to engage.”
- Summary: Go slightly deeper (but don’t fall in). Write a short summary that explains the gist of your content, what it covers, and what people will learn if they keep reading.
Don’t be afraid to shortlist headers or reveal “secrets” within your summary. The goal isn’t to tempt people to read more; it’s more about meeting busy (or lazy) readers where they are with a rapidly digestible format. Including a hook somewhere near the end inspires readers to continue, rather than making them feel forced.
- Main Content: This is where you get down to business and get really in-depth. Use plenty of whitespace, ensure your flow is logical, and use flawless transitions to encourage people to keep going.
Use plenty of white space, and remember, a paragraph looks much longer on a mobile device than it does on a PC screen. There’s nothing wrong with two to three sentence paragraphs if they make sense in that format.
Chunk Your Content
In 1956, psychologist George A. Miller theorized that the human brain was limited in its ability to process information and commit it to memory. Here’s what he wrote in a paper on the subject:
“The span of absolute judgment and the span of immediate memory impose severe limitations on the amount of information that we are able to receive, process, and remember. By organizing the stimulus input simultaneously into several dimensions and successively into a sequence of chunks, we manage to break (or at least stretch) this informational bottleneck.”
Today, especially in content marketing, we refer to Miller’s strategy as “content chunking.” It is especially critical in mobile long-form content, where text walls equal far too much input at once, preventing people from continuing on.
But how exactly can you “chunk” your content? What’s the secret? Start by utilizing plenty of whitespace. Then:
- Create visual hierarchies
- Use more headers and subheaders
- Use short text lines of approximate 50 to 75 characters
- Include bolding, italics, bullets, and lists to highlight critical terms
- Make use of indented quotes to draw attention to important shares
- Use media (photos, infographics, etc.) to break up long paragraphs or text
When you’re done, your content layout should present highly-visible, easy-to-detect chunks. Ask yourself how fast you could find a specific section or piece of content within a “chunk” when you’re done; chunks improve scannability, so your answer should be “just a few seconds.”