11 Questions To Ask Before Adding Long-Form Content To Your WordPress Site

Adding long-form content to your WordPress website is not as simple as you may think.

As well as the considerations about how you actually configure WordPress for long-form and how you create and design long-form content, there’s the key consideration of what benefits long-form will bring to your site.

If you are thinking about adding long-form to your content mix, here’s 11 questions you need to ask yourself.

Screenshot of the NYT's Snowfall, The Global Mail's Crowded Desert and PitchFork's Daft Punk feature
Long-form content is high impact, high engagement and high cost

What Is Long-form Content?

Before we get to the 11 Questions we need to actually define what long-form content is: is it just a very long post or is there more to it than that? Obviously, the length of the post is an important factor but long-form content does seem to encompass more than just length.

The commonly cited examples such as the seminal Snow Fall from the New York Times, the features on PitchFork and The Global Mail, even this example from the Australian public broadcaster, the ABC, have all opted for higher production values delivered in a look and feel that is quite separate to the primary site.

Beyond that, the purpose generally appears to be different also. Reader comments are rarely catered for, suggesting that this is very much a one-way medium. It may also be, perhaps, that given the time and resources involved in creating the highly produced long form content that there is less of a desire to “risk” its quality by allowing discussion.

Above all, these sites take the approach of clearly differentiating their long form content. It’s a clear cue to their readers that this content is different; that it requires significant more time and perhaps even emotional investment; that this content is special.

When Long Isn’t Long-Form

Based on this criteria, Kevin Muldoon’s recent post, The Complete Guide To Creating A WordPress Multisite Installation, is not long-form content.

It has exactly the same look and feel as other blog posts and so there’s no indication of the sheer breadth of the post other than the size of the scrollbar. The title does say ‘Complete Guide’ but far too many posts make the same promise and fail to deliver.

And if you want to print out the article then you’ll be disappointed that the print preview keeps the right sidebar, especially when it’s empty for most of the post’s 52 print pages.

Arguably, Kevin’s post could have had even greater impact if it had been delivered as a discrete piece of long form content, with consideration made for the print format, whether to allow comments and the provision of alternative formats.

Even those sites that do publish longer posts still find a need for creating separate specific long form content with higher quality production.

The now defunct The Global Mail’s normal posts were of above average length (7 printed pages) but they also produced a series of long form special features, interestingly identified as ‘multimedia stories’, complete with parallax effects, video and audio.

Screenshot of the title page of Snow Fall
Snow Fall, from the New York Times, is the seminal long-form content example

Plenty To Think About With Long-form Content

As the demise of The Global Mail shows, online content is a tough business, and long-form is tougher still. There are many things to consider before you set off down that path.

1. How Is Long Form Going To Benefit Your Site?

Before you even think about how you are going to implement long form content in your WordPress site, you need to think about if you should.

What benefits would long form bring to your site? Are you already compromising with epic posts like Kevin Muldoon’s? Is there a gap in the market your content is targeting?

Clearly long form content requires a much greater investment and therefore you’ve got to be fairly confident that there’s going to be a return on that investment.

2. Is Your Audience Ready For Long Form Content?

It’s highly unlikely that there’s going to be an explicit and easily identifiable demand for long form content, however you can mine your current analytics to see just how big a leap in engagement is required.

Analysing current time on site data and looking at the types of articles that are performing well for that metric will help you gauge your audience’s readiness for long form.

It’s also essential to break this up across the various platforms to check if there are any significant differences. Long form, closer as it is to traditional magazine and newspaper publishing, does seem to work best on tablets, so you’d certainly want to have a healthy percentage of visits taking palce on these devices.

3. Are You Committed?

Even if you believe your audience is ready for long form content, are you ready to produce it?

Long form is far more intensive to publish: it’s length makes it more difficult to edit; there’s a corresponding increase in the number of images; generally encompasses multimedia in the form of audio and video; and can be more technical, often making use of parallax techniques.

This will dramatically increase the time taken to produce the content with the obvious knock-on effect on publishing frequency.

Can you commit to producing long form content on a semi-regular basis both financially and time-wise?

4. DIY Or Do You Need A Content Producer?

Most long form content has very high production values and this is setting the readers’ expectations at a high level.

The level is not beyond the average small WordPress publisher but even with tools such as the Aesop Story Engine, it’s still a time-consuming business.

Do you have the time and the skills to produce the content, to add parallax effects, create video and audio, layout the content or does that process need to be handled by someone else?

The credits at the bottom of the The Global Mail example extends to 7 distinct roles.

Screenshot of the title page of Crowded Desert
Crowded Desert by The Global Mail is an amazing piece created by a team of 7!

5. Do You Need A Separate Long Form Workflow?

Arguably, long form needs its own workflow, especially if a content producer is involved.

In fact, the workflow is almost a two phase process:

  • Phase 1 – create the content, using a workflow very similar to the default WordPress content, an author and editor work together to complete the copy.
  • Phase 2 – produce the long form article, the content is then taken by the content producer and “laid out” along with all the image and multimedia assets.

It is feasible that Phase 1 could take place outside of WordPress using a service such as Draft which is designed specifically for online collaboration of content before being fed into your WordPress site for the production phase.

6. Does Your Long Form Content Need Its Own Template?

The answer to this question is almost certainly yes, especially if you have an existing site.

All the examples have used a separate template for the long-form content, most likely, I suspect, because they have been produced in isolation outside of the primary content management system and delivered as standalone solutions.

But regardless there are similarities across all the implementations:

  • No sidebars and headers and footers are minimal.
  • Minimal if any site navigation with the content being treated as almost standalone (indeed the content is often opened in its own window).
  • Whilst some long-from carries a small amount of unobtrusive advertizing most is free of any promotional material

For smaller publishers, it is clearly not an option to produce bespoke content each time so you will need to create a template that delivers the long-form “look and feel” in an effective compromise between flexibility and ease-of-use.

7. Are The Writing / Technical / Design Skills Available?

Given the requirements listed so far, do you have the technical and design skills available to make long-form content work effectively for you?

That’s without even considering the different writing skillset required to go from a blogger to a long-form content author.

8. Should You Make Your Content Available In Alternative Formats (PDF, epub, mobi)

Alternative formats don’t seem to be a consideration of long-form publishers no matter what their size, which strikes me as a little odd.

Perhaps it’s because the multimedia will be obviously be lost but it providing content in formats such as PDF, epub and mobi, especially for tablet and mobile visitors seems like an obvious way to enable readers to “park” an article for later reading.

Many plugins exist that enable WordPress content to be downloaded in a variety of formats.

9. Is Your Print CSS Up To Scratch?

As I mentioned when talking about Kevin Muldoon’s multisite epic, the print view of a post is extremely important.

Make sure that your print CSS is up to scratch and that the print output is coherent, video and audio is hidden or replaced with suitable alternatives and parallax effects are removed.

10. Which Platform Are You Going To Optimize For?

Notwithstanding question 9, work out which platform you are going to optimize for: desktop, tablet or mobile.

Your analytics will give you the answer but you will need to review those stats on a regular basis to ensure that you are still targeting correctly.

11. How Are You Going To Facilitate Discussion?

The approach to comments is far from consistent amongst long-form publishers. Some don’t facilitate comments at all, others use social media channels and some, such as the NYT, place comments on a separate page.

There may be many reasons for this including:

  • If the content is static HTML then it may not be technically feasible
  • Long-form may generate proportionally more comments and so moderation might be overly burdensome
  • Comments may have a detrimental impact on the content
  • The breadth of the content may cause many simultaneous conversations to take place, again impacting on quality and moderation overheads

Not allowing discussion though seems like a missed opportunity and short-changing of readers who may have invested both time and emotion in your content.

If you want to provide onsite commenting, then either Medium-style annotations or the NYT’s approach of providing a separate comments page potentially facilitates unobtrusive discussion.

Otherwise, it has to be a social media channel such as Facebook or Twitter. Again, it’s a management overhead but there’s obviously considerable benefit in having plenty of activity on these channels.

Screenshot of the title page of Pitchfork's feature on Daft Punk
More long-form innovation particularly video, from Pitchfork

Long-form Content Is A Thing Of Beauty

Long-form content is not for the feint-hearted. It is far more difficult that creating a long post and a far riskier proposition, especially when it comes to return on investment.

But the hurdles in its creation are not insurmountable and many of the examples mentioned prove that long-form can be a thing of beauty, of deep engagement and greater emotional impact than a traditional post.

Are you publishing long-form content or are you thinking about it? What are your hurdles?