I do a lot of work with content here at Click Rain, and one thing you’ll never hear me say is, “That landing page needs to be a lot longer—try adding another 5,000 words. Seriously, I want to be able to measure this page in feet, if not yards.”
That’s because lengthy “longform” content just doesn’t have a place on the modern website. Best practices (correctly) urge web copywriters to keep content short, sweet, concise, and readable. Less is more. Take a page out of Hemingway’s book (ha!). Etc.
Bottom line: No one wants to read 500 words when they can read 50, especially when it comes to your sales pitch. Just look at the evolution of advertisements:
Or read through this New York Times interview of a sampling of high school seniors:
Or talk to any marketing professional, who will tell you: “Long pages don’t sell.”
Heck, any internet troll will stamp a “tl;dr” in the comments section of any post or article daring to soar above 300 words—short for “too long; didn’t read”.
I became extremely interested the topic of longform content for two reasons. First, I am a huge fan of longform at its longform-iest: I devour novels like the Sarlacc devours bad guys. And I love insanely in-depth articles about random topics because... I don’t know. I enjoy learning. Or perhaps I am insane. (Either way, major love.)
And, on October 10, 2012, Tumblr, that renowned .gif carnival home to over 76 million image-heavy snark-and-angst blogs, began a search for freelance writers who could produce New Yorker-style longform content:
In Tumblr Executive Editor Jessica Bennett’s very own words:
“We look for quality storytelling—the kind of stuff you might find at a national mag (and indeed, our work has been syndicated on WNYC, New York Magazine, The Awl, and elsewhere), but with a new media twist. We’re interested in long form narratives, smart think pieces…”
OK. I thought we were lazy. I thought we were the Twitter Generation, the navel-gazing texters who abbreviate three-letter words such as “you” and “and”. I thought blogging had been replaced by social media. I thought—to echo the lament of so many English teachers—that “writing is dead”.
Because it is, in a way. Just not in the way we might think.
Guys, this pudding is full of proof!
Let’s take a look at the use of longform content in four case studies.
1. BuzzFeed’s own longform success. This is what got BuzzFeed interested in a whole new form of clickbait:
2. Amazon.com’s Kindle landing page. I think it’s probably fair to say that you’ve heard of the Amazon Kindle. And I think it’s fair to say that its landing page gets a fair amount of traffic. Oh, and this (highly successful) landing page just happens to be 19 feet long:
4. SEOmoz’s landing page. Conversion Rate Experts tried a similar experiment with web analytics darling SEOmoz, creating a landing page that was six times longer than the original—and saw a 170% increase in sales:
Contrary to common web-sense, these four text-heavy samples seem to show that longform content can be just as relevant and effective as the short, concise content of Best Practice fame.
It goes without saying that an extra-long landing page does not automatically guarantee conversions. As the fine folks at Conversion Rate Experts point out:
Longform content isn’t dead, or even dying. If the above case studies haven’t convinced you, just look at the popularity of the Harry Potter series (especially among the younger generation), which consists of seven door-stopping volumes for a total of 1,084,170 words.
In fact, AdWeek’s Emma Bazilian has said that “we’ve found ourselves in a golden age of longform journalism,” noting that:
- People are sharing more and more things socially, especially “highbrow” items that reflect “well” on them, such as longform New Yorker articles;
- Tablets, smartphones, and other techie gadgets now let you save online content for offline reading;
- Longform content simply has a longer shelf life.
Paraphrased from AdWeek.
“We've definitely seen an upswing in longer-form ads," said Matt Miller, president and CEO, AICP. "While advertisers are looking for efficiencies in short-format/multiple platforms, they are also looking for new ways to engage consumers. ... One way to do that is through short films and fun pieces that create awareness of the brand, and reward consumers.”
So what makes for a good longform landing page?
- Well-written, high-quality content
- Good formatting, including professionally taken photographs; interesting, informative graphics; short segments of text, broken up into easily digestible chunks; bullet points; and natural, scroll-friendly flow
- Calls to action reinforced throughout
- The right audience
You can see all of these principles at work on the Crazy Egg landing page.
Finally: If you’re interested in trying out longform content on your own website, I cannot stress enough the importance of extensive A/B testing. Test different page lengths to determine what is best for your audience, and what in turn will bring you the most conversions.
Just don’t dismiss longform content out-of-hand.
Note: I originally addressed this topic at the Sioux Falls Content Strategy Meetup on October 17, 2012. Thanks to Corey Vilhauer for organizing this event and to Blend for hosting it, and of course to everyone kind enough to attend.