How to create effective long-form content

Your marketing toolkit should include whitepapers, eBooks, and digital manuals. Learn how to turn these important bits of information into leads, sales, and overall success for your company.

It should come as no surprise that copywriters enjoy writing. A skilled copywriter, on the other hand, will keep their literary ambitions in check and provide you only the words that matter.

Sometimes that entails coming up with a catchy six-word title. It’s around 280 characters of Twitter genius at times. But every now and then, the correct quantity of words is… a lot.

So, how many are there? Today, we’re primarily concerned in long-form material. Things like:

  • eBook
  • whitepapers
  • pages of landing
  • blogs with more than 1750 words 

If you’re considering penning something of that scope and your millennial knee-jerk says, “Nobody’s going to read all of that,” reconsider. People will read it, they will love it (as will Google), and it will become a valuable component of your marketing mix if you follow a few simple steps.

We’ll go over the following topics:

  1. Clearly defining your goals
  2. Long-form copywriting 
  3. Creating more effective title 
  4. Adding the last touches

What’s your objective?

Something written for the sake of writing isn’t going to help you much. Both you and your audience should benefit from the experience, and that aim should be incorporated into your plan from the start.

This objective could take a variety of forms:

Creating a source

Perhaps you work in cutting-edge technology, pushing science to new heights. Perhaps you’ve discovered a niche issue that no one has yet really investigated.

Producing a well-researched, authoritative post in each of these instances produces a great resource that others may utilise to profit from your expertise. Whitepapers really shine in this situation.

This establishes you as a trustworthy authoritative figure. I frequently turn to studies from firms like McKinsey & Company, which consistently publish excellent papers that make my job as a researcher much easier.

You, too, may harvest the same amount of goodwill, and if the finished product is functional enough, it will serve as an investment that pays off for years to come. That is something that only a few tweets can claim.

Generating leads

Following the GDPR, lead generation must significantly improve. People have realised that their data has real value, and if you want it, you’ll have to pay a fair price for it.

Offering an eBook with insider information for your audience seems like a good deal to me. If you’re in B2B, you might want to choose a topic that’s related to your core competency but doesn’t require you to give away your own trade secrets.

This, combined with comprehensive data collection, gives your audience a reason to explore your brand’s universe. However, the value you provide does not have to end once you have their data; in fact, it is preferable that it does not.

The Royal Society of Chemistry keeps its large membership up to date and engaged with a regular series of whitepapers, ensuring that they don’t abandon their subscription once they’ve received their free content.

With such a vast scientific field to cover, they go all out to make sure that everyone who is even tangentially related to their space is catered to. We know because some of those lovely whitepapers were written and designed by us. Just a thought.

Cutting through the noise

New ideas iterate so quickly that keeping up can be difficult unless you keep your finger on the pulse all the time, which not everyone has. Certain issues generate a lot of discussion; blockchain, virtual reality, and data ethics were all hot topics in 2018.

Yes, there are benefits to standing out and participating in the conversation, but the one who laughs last laughs loudest. Producing a comprehensive post that summarises the dialogue thus far at a critical juncture allows you to cut through the noise and give an authoritative viewpoint.

Of course, you’ll want to check in on this on a regular basis to make sure your position is still valid. JLL does this by commissioning us to publish their Hotel Investment Outlook reports each year, updating and modifying their observations for a billion-dollar market.

This allows them to keep moving and make informed forecasts without having to adjust their stance in response to the wind. Time spent in January on a single large report saves time spent flip-flopping throughout the year.

How to craft long-form

Your piece could be attempting to accomplish more than one of the aforementioned goals, or all three, or something entirely new. What matters is that you decide on a goal ahead of time and create an experience to achieve it.

Make no mistake: a good piece of long-form requires an experience; you’re asking someone to devote significant time to digesting what you’ve created. Even if it contains all of the necessary information, statistics, and informed opinions to be considered an academic masterpiece, you won’t achieve your goals if the reader doesn’t find it enjoyable.

Lean on your designer

The human mind is prone to making snap decisions. Nobody will give your whitepaper a chance if it is dull and monotonous. People might get as far as reading the material if it’s visually appealing and well-designed, complete with carefully picked images.

This entails investing a few pounds in finding the proper designer. Someone who is used to web design or infographics may not have the necessary skills to make a report stand out visually. It’s a superb art that’s well worth your money.

Use the research, don’t be consumed by it

Something of this length needs to be trustworthy. Pure opinion could bring you to a 500-word blog piece, but sooner or later you need the cold, hard facts. But the thing about cold, hard facts is that they’re kinda… cold and hard.

Unless you’re generating something totally academic, there’s room for personality, and I’d argue that even pure academia could stand to loosen up a bit. With something like a report or eBook, it’s your responsibility to interpret the facts and inform readers how to feel about them. Feelings sell, then facts come along to rationalise a decision that’s already been taken.

Get your dates straight

Rather than merely talking about “storytelling” (yawn), here’s a method of telling a storey that actually works. If you’re working with a lot of data from different studies and research, try to display it in a chronological order if at all possible.

These experiments were not conducted in a vacuum; they were influenced by the scientific setting in which they were conducted. You clearly don’t have the time, room, or motivation to dissect everything that happened to get to the one tiny statistic you’re using. However, by discussing the invention of the wheel before discussing the development of the Reliant Robin, you make it easier for the layperson to understand.

Rock the research-to-writing ratio

Long-form writing isn’t about putting a lot of words on the page; it’s about putting a lot of worth on the page. The dangers of simply striking keys without planning your points increase as the piece progresses.

To be honest, don’t be too concerned if you spend three times as much time researching as you do writing. Especially if your work is subject to multiple layers of evaluation, it’s really beneficial to prepare everything out in bullet points beforehand, replete with references.

Pierce the paywall

This one is a little sassy. You’ll occasionally come across a piece of study that is simply too good not to use in your own work… However, it is behind a paywall, and there is no money set aside for journal subscriptions.

Do not be discouraged! When academic publications are downloaded and used, they rarely perceive a financial benefit; instead, they are more concerned with getting their expertise out there. Send them a quick (nice, courteous) email expressing your interest in citing them, and they’ll almost certainly send you a copy of the relevant research.

This is significantly more prevalent than you might think, and it provides you with a source that your competitors may not have.

Writing titles: The only guide you need to read

Do you think your written article could need some help? Most of the time, the answer is right at the top of the page. Let’s speak about titles and six simple techniques to entice visitors into your universe.

When confronted with any piece of text, 80 percent of people only read the headline. So, logically, you should invest 80p of every pound you spend on marketing on creating a great title, as well as 80 percent of the time you spend writing.

Is that the case with what you’ve written so far?

I didn’t think so.

In the vast majority of circumstances, this is just not possible. But Uncle Og’s oft-quoted statistic underscores how important it is to nail a headline that entices the reader to read the rest of what you’ve written.

All we have is good old-fashioned copywriting know-how, which we’re pleased to share with you until they come up with an algorithm that allows AI to create our headlines for us.

Get to the point

You enjoy what you do and are enthusiastic about the issue you’re discussing. But first, you’ll need to find someone to read it to you. Most casual readers will skim through dozens of useful articles like yours before coming across something that piques their interest.

That fancy-trickler should be your title.

What do you want a reader to take away from your piece? Don’t hide your selling message behind flowery wording; put it right up front, before any fluffy subtitles.

When it comes to shoehorning puns, tabloids have a poor image, but take a look at this example from the Daily Mirror. To capture as much of that sniffly November traffic as possible, there’s no bullshit, simply a straightforward description of what the piece is about.

Length matters

What is the ideal length for a title? Some people utter ten words, while others say eight, and still others say twelve. Others choose to count characters rather than words. In actuality, titles should be just lengthy enough to accomplish the task at hand, not one full stop longer.

When it comes to shortening your titles, be brutal. If you think something is exceptionally insightful or humorous, but it isn’t generating traffic, you should either remove it or shift it to the body text.

Read your title aloud, preferably to a coworker. It will sound cumbersome in someone’s thoughts if it sounds cumbersome on the tongue.

Also keep in mind that different social media networks place varying emphasis on different durations. According to Hubspot, Twitter wants 8-12 words, whereas Facebook prefers a more discursive 12-14. If you rely on a single platform for traffic, adapt your titles to please the all-powerful algorithm.

Vice excels at short, snappy titles that capture the vibe of a piece without giving too much away about the game. This particular example is a thrilling self-contained storey that finishes on a cliffhanger. What is a happiness museum, exactly? What was the source of the author’s sadness? You’re gorgeously lured in, and it’s all done in the span of ten words.

Sod SEO… sort of

Okay, we’re all adults now. We can all admit that those years of bending our material to fit the latest SEO rumour resulted in strange, inhuman-sounding prose. Cheeky attempts to manipulate the system will never be a substitute for understanding your audience and creating material that is useful, educational, or entertaining to them.

User behaviour is critical to the health of your website, and it will only grow more so as Google’s scary trek towards AI Overlord status reaches its dystopian finale.

You should include a keyword in your title not to tick a box with the Big G, but because it will attract your viewers. On the other hand, you should avoid putting keywords into your title because it’s lousy writing, not because you’re afraid of being penalised.

Whatever you think of Buzzfeed, they get it right when it comes to connecting with their audience. This title isn’t optimised for organic search in any way, yet it speaks the audience’s language and suggests a relatable, enjoyable coffee break read.

Concoct your own formula

A lot of writers-about-writing are willing to supply you with a list of templates to utilise while developing titles. Off the top of my head, these seem to include:

  • Using numbers. ‘# methods to earn more sales’.
  • Starting with a question. ‘Need to earn more sales? We show you how’.
  • Showing authority. ‘Scientists have found the trick to making sales’.
  • Superlatives. ‘Amazing, great techniques for enhancing sales’.
  • Good old dirty FOMO. ‘You can’t afford to overlook these sales tips’.

There are hundreds of these, in all sorts of combinations. You can’t use them all, nor should you attempt. However, you can cut it down to maybe 10-12 that are appropriate for the demographic you’re attempting to attract.

Are you trying to reach out to a group of academics? Numbers and statistics will appeal to them. Is it possible to write for the artsy-fartsy crowd? Emotional, effective words will pique their interest. You can develop a go-to list of templates that have been proven to increase traffic over time.

Don’t be scared to put things to the test. Try one format and see how many clicks it gets, then change the title and re-share a few months later with a different format. The process of testing, editing, and improving your titles should be continual.

Write it well!

Despite the fact that this should be self-evident, we find ourselves in this situation. You can meet all of the above criteria and still come up with a boring title that makes no one want to read your blog. When producing boring B2B material, it can be difficult to truly speak to someone’s spirit, but there is a solution. I’ll keep my word.

Consider what purpose your blog serves before you sit down to write it. You’ll want to do one of four things to your audience, loosely:

  • Motivate them.
  • They must be educated.
  • Have fun with them.
  • Persuade them.

Rather than attempting to be all things to all people, focus your article, and hence your title, on one of the four objectives. This will help you concentrate on creating a message that not just encourages, but demands, clicks!

This title from SFGate could be my favourite of the year. It’s as if a Michael Bay blockbuster was reduced to 11 words. Is Elon Musk trying to pass himself off as Satoshi Nakamoto? He claims that he isn’t, yet he would say that. What’s this about a robot apocalypse, anyway? Stunning scenes.

Do the title last

If you take nothing else away from this blog, if you just skim through it all and come to a halt here: After you’ve finished writing the work, come up with a title.

There are numerous explanations for this. One is that developing a title takes time, and it might be discouraging to feel like you’re tripping at the first hurdle. It’s best to get directly to work on the meat and potatoes.

Second, a strong title captures the essence of the entire essay, and how can you know what that essence is unless you write it? Even if you thoroughly prepared before writing, there will always be subtle nuances and callbacks that you may use to improve the title.

Don’t forget these seven copywriting clinchers

Have you completed your content? Are you certain about that? Leonardo Da Vinci possibly remarked, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” It could’ve been Pablo Picasso or Paul Valéry. “The internet makes it easy to jumble up who said what,” stated Plato.

But, even if art is only ever abandoned once, it is never lightly abandoned. Is there anything else you can do to improve your masterpiece before you abandon it?

Over the years, we’ve abandoned bags of art, but never before giving it these vital finishing touches:

Sleep on it

Allow your copy to breathe before uploading it if you’re not on a tight deadline. Give it another look tomorrow morning, and you’ll almost certainly find a few little tweaks you can make.

Your brain reorganises and consolidates learning while you sleep, same to how napping helps you juggle. The process has now been linked to language learning, according to new studies. This technique is extremely beneficial when discussing difficult concepts, which you’ll most likely do in a long-form work.

If you’re up against a tight deadline, maybe some digital marketing tools will help you stay on track?

Read it out loud

The gap between your inner and outside dialogues widens after several draughts and changes. What was once beautiful can be ripped apart and reassembled into a technically correct but grotesque verbal Frankenstein.

Standing up, taking a deep breath, and reading aloud what you’ve written You’ll sound like a wally, but you’ll also notice things that could cause the reader to lose track of the storey. It was well worth it.

Take your favourite bit out

Is there a part of your writing that you’re really proud of? Isn’t that a juicy statistic? Isn’t this a touching storey? Is this a joke about slapping your thighs?

It must be eliminated.

Remove your favourite element and check if the rest of the piece still holds up on its own. Is each word adding value, or is it all just a means of delivering that one bit?

You can maintain the best bit in good faith if the component still functions. If not, consider reorganising or bolstering weaker areas.

Purge weak words

Certain words serve no use other than to take up space in a sentence without paying their rent. If you’re serious about releasing your work, ensure sure it doesn’t contain any of the following squatters:

  • Simply put (“this is a minor detail”)
  • (I’m not sure why this item is so good.)
  • et cetera (“this list of things is irrelevant”)
  • (“I don’t want to convey how this makes me feel”), zealous
  • Very (“I can’t think of a better superlative for this object because it isn’t ‘very’ anything”)
  • Tremendous (nothing great has ever been just called as such)

Anything apologetic or fuzzy should be removed. Don’t be vague; be specific. Get rid of whatever you’re not convinced about.

People in the field of technology! Take a cue from the comms department. There is always a more appropriate term than leverage. Always, always, always!

Compare it to the brief

Ideas evolve. The beauty of writing long-form copy is the journey it takes you on, but beware of straying too far from the path.

A clear brief should outline the job your writing performs, and who it’s for. Sit with it and the ‘finished’ piece side-by-side; can you demonstrate how every single line of that brief manifests in the work?

Get the audience to read it

This one is for people who have the luxury of time. It’s all well and good for us to sit in our marketing bubbles discussing best practises, but if you’re writing a post for plumbers, find one and have them read it.

Context and experience cannot be replaced by all the study and workshops in the world. Listen to what your audience has to say; if they suggest something that contradicts all of your lofty theories, you may have picked up something useful.

Write it again

Let’s finish on a high note. If you’ve written something and aren’t sure if you could have done better, go ahead and try again. Rewrite the item you just wrote with a different structure, tone, and set of contents after you’ve cleared your mind.

Not only can you chop and tweak the parts of each version that work best, but you’ll also discover how creative you are when all of your ideas are crammed into one piece and you have to start from scratch with the second.

This may seem excessive for a long-form document, such as a whitepaper. But keep in mind that these are flagship pieces of content, and the entire concept is based on a significant time investment with an even greater return. It’s worth doing something twice if it’s worthwhile.

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