Growing, Growing, Gone: The Rise of Long Form Content and Long Tail Keywords
Robert Gibb, September 24, 2013
Gone like a home run – not into the abyss.
Recently, I came across two great articles by Neil Patel, co-founder of KISSmetrics, and Brian Gardner, founder of Studiopress. They both had one word in common – LONG. They also confirmed what I already believed to be true: 1) long form content dominates search rankings and 2) long tail keywords promote higher quality traffic.
Long Form Content: Brilliant When Necessary
When Neil Patel says long form content converts more than short form content, he's talking about high quality web content. He's talking about a page that powerfully expounds on one specific point – not a page that's unfocused and comes across muddled. Remember, even though Google is a machine, it's a damn smart one.
More Quality Content = More Social Signals = Higher Rankings
Google is smarter than ever because it now reads social signals. That means the more tweets, likes, +1s and other social shares that your page has, the more authority it receives in search engine rankings.
And guess what receives the most social shares? Long form content.
In Patel's article about content length, he uses one of his own famous blogs, Quick Sprout, to test word count's effect on social metrics. To do this, he took the 327 blogs he's written for the site and separated them into two categories: 1) blog posts under 1500 words and 2) blog posts over 1500 words. He then took the average number of tweets and Facebook likes received in each category and made a handy graph.
After crunching the numbers, Patel concluded that his posts over 1500 words received 68.1% more tweets and 22.6% more Facebook likes than his posts under 1500 words. This is just one small example, but it's consistent with others I've come across during my time as a content writer at WebiMax.
Think about this: Google gives high quality long form content an advantage over high quality short form content published on the same day (assuming that each hosting website has similar authority). Because long form content ranks higher, more people are bound to look at it -- and because the quality of the content is high, more people are likely to share it. This means higher rankings.
Recent evidence that the use of long form is growing: Google's recent launch of in-depth articles.
Long Tail Keywords: It's as Simple as Adding "What Is"
If you use any keyword tool, you'll see that shorter terms have more competition and longer terms have less. Because the tools show that WAY more users are searching for the shorter terms, people are often tempted to try to rank for these.
Unless your website has superior domain power, however, it could take years – even decades – to rank on page 1 for a short, specific term.
You read it right – decades.
For this reason, SEO companies and web whizzes like Brian Gardner are targeting long tail keywords – keywords three words or longer. In Gardner's article about long tail keywords, he confirms something that I discovered during my time working for a local BMW performance shop in Manayunk, Philadelphia: adding something as simple as "what is" to a popular term can have amazing results.
My own experience: As a marketing assistant at the performance shop, I developed the company's content marketing strategy by using old school SEO tactics. I would write articles and post them on every article directory I came across: Ezine, Sooper Articles, Article Snatch, and others (recognition of my SEO ignorance at the time).
One day, I wrote a post on walnut shell blasting – a practice used for cleaning the intake valves of vehicles. Before writing it, I looked for a keyword using Google's old Adword Keyword Tool. "Walnut Shell Blasting" had high competition, while "What is Walnut Shell Blasting" had very low competition.
Long story short, I added the "what is." Now you can find my Ezine article about walnut shell blasting at #1 on Bing. I imagine if I posted the piece on the company's blog instead of on multiple article directories, it would have been close to #1 on Google, too. However, as you probably know, Google has very strict duplicate content rules.
Gardner's experience: A while back, Gardner wrote a post on email marketing – its definition, how people use it, etc. Like me, before writing it, he did some research and found that he had a better chance ranking if he added "what is" before "email marketing." As he expected, Google rewarded him with highly targeted traffic.
When Gardner wrote his article on long tail keywords, he noted that "what is email marketing" ranked #14 on his keyword referrals list for Google Search. Pretty impressive.
According to Gardner, "the majority of searches performed are of the long tail search variety. Rather than typing in a generic word or two and sifting through pages of results to find what they're looking for, searchers are much more likely to type in longer phrases to immediately find the specific information they need."
Evidence that the use of long tail keywords is growing: SEO companies like WebiMax are focusing on long tail keywords' enormous potential for highly targeted traffic to increase rankings for new and existing clients.
Imagine the online recognition that could be achieved by combining long form content with long tail keywords.
Vast like the abyss. Awesome like a home run.