Content marketing, as a concept, is deceptively simple. Produce written, visual, or otherwise engaging material that informs or entertains an audience, and you’ll get more traffic, more visibility, and more respect for your brand. Unfortunately, the word “content” doesn’t begin to describe the hundreds of different forms, functions, and possibilities that can appeal to your readers.
Even without getting into alternative mediums like video or images, there are two stark kingdoms of content available: short-form and long-form. Short-form content contains fewer than 1,000 words and is usually meant as a digestible overview of a given topic, or a specific report on a niche topic. Long-form content is more than 1,000 words, and is typically more than 2,000 words. It serves as a much more detailed, exploratory, and comprehensive piece.
One form of content is not inherently better than the other. According to a recent report by Moz and BuzzSumo, links and shares generated by short-form content are in total greater, but individual pieces of long-form content generate far more shares than any individual piece of short-form content. Put simply, long-form content is more powerful if you put the necessary time and effort into it, but it’s harder to produce, so you won’t be able to produce it as frequently. Whether you publish your long-form content onsite or offer it via downloadable link externally, the benefits are nearly the same.
With that in mind, you need to make sure every piece of long-form content you produce offers unparalleled quality. If done correctly, you can attract hundreds, if not thousands of new visitors to your site—and the piece itself will remain in your archives indefinitely for more people to review and earn more trust in your brand.
There are three types of long-form content I like to use, and each one has its own unique advantages:
Case studies are typically examinations of specific instances where your company was able to help a client (or did something innovative for itself). Case studies are usually used and flaunted by B2B companies, but there’s nothing to stop a B2C company from using one to demonstrate the effectiveness of a product on a large scale.
There’s no “proper” way to format a case study, but most brands choose to start out with a description of the problem, or of the situation before the brand became involved. Think of this as the “before” section. Then, they delve into the specific mechanics they used to address the situation, including the strategies and tools they leveraged—the “during” section. Finally, they close with metrics and an evaluation of where the client was by the end of the process—the “after” section.
There are three things that make case studies powerful. First, the power of storytelling; humans are naturally drawn to stories, and connect with them easier than blunt information. Tell a good story for your case study and you’ll instantly win over an audience. Second, measurable metrics; if you’re able to objectively quantify the work and benefits you’ve produced, people will trust you more. Finally, third-party validation; get a testimonial, or at least a quote from your client to show how trustworthy you are.
Whitepapers are similar in length to case studies, ranging from 1,500 to 5,000 words in most cases, but their intention is different. Rather than trying to make a pitch for a business or tell a story, whitepapers are informational. What that information is and how you present it is entirely up to you (and what fits with your brand identity).
For example, you might choose to publish some of the original research you conducted on the current state of the market, breaking down your survey responses in both visual and written format. You might choose to make it more of a how-to document, detailing the finer points of accomplishing a certain task, strategy, or approach related to your industry.
No matter what you choose to publish in whitepaper format, your goals here are specificity and clarity. You have plenty of length to work with, so include as many details as possible, and use whatever means you can to make sure your points are well understood (visual elements are nice here).
eBooks are a bit longer than whitepapers or case studies, though there’s no formal minimum length requirement. To be called an eBook, I recommend you have several chapters’ worth of information, or at least 10,000 words. eBooks are unique because they can be about pretty much anything—you can turn them into longer-form whitepapers, with each chapter serving as a mini-whitepaper on its own. You can use them as a personal platform to discuss your opinions and ideas in your area of expertise. You can even use them to detail your brand’s strategies as both an informative push and a soft pitch for more business.
Usefulness and originality are the keys to success for eBooks. You’ll have to be informative, entertaining, or some blend of the two to capture an audience, and you’ll have to choose a topic that hasn’t already been done to death. It’s not easy—there are a lot of eBooks out there already, but if you can find an untapped niche, you’ll win a large, warm audience.
There’s no rule that says you have to use all three of these forms for your content marketing strategy, or even a rule that you have to include long-form content at all. However, these forms collectively serve as an ideal complement to a consistent short-form content production schedule, offering shorter bursts of higher impact and the opportunity to truly show off what you’re capable of. Integrate these forms wisely, and don’t skimp on the time or effort you put into them.
Want more information on content marketing? Head over to our comprehensive guide on content marketing here: The All-in-One Guide to Planning and Launching a Content Marketing Strategy.