A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Long-form Content That Converts

by 5 03/17/2014

Are you worried that you don’t know the point of guides and eBooks?

Trust me, you’re not alone.

There are dozens of articles about how changing the color of a button will lead to higher conversion rates, but what will long-form guides do for you? Why bother?

The best long-form guides allow you to share expertise in a downloadable, digestible way, showing that you’re a resource and authority. Yes, they require a little extra elbow grease, but the rewards are well worth it.

If you don’t believe me, believe Neil Patel. He recently put together a few graphics showing that the bigger the word count, the more inbound links you’ll get:

wordcount

Great news, right!?

I’m over here jumping rope I’m so excited, but if you don’t do long-form content right, your guides won’t result in any clicks, customers, or conversions.

With so much time and effort put into creating this material, you need to execute with perfection. Here’s your step-by-step guide to creating long-form content that converts.

Step 1: Define Your Conversion Goals (What’s Your Point?)

Before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), think about your end game. Do you want to spread the word about your brand, gain more customers, participate in industry conversation, or get more leads?

In order for long-form content to be successful, you have to define who the guide is for and what you want it to do. You also need to figure out a way to measure those goals, whether you’re counting number of leads, newsletter sign-ups, social shares, or website traffic.

Ask yourself:

  • Why am I even writing this?
  • Who is this for?
  • What would I define as a success? How will I measure it?

Step 2: Decide on Gated vs. Non-Gated (To Fence, or Not to Fence?)

Gated Content

Gated content means that users have to fork over some info to you. This is so that you can gain information about them to 1) put them into your sales funnel, 2) understand who it is that is reading your guide, and 3) opt people into your emails.

“A Customer Driven Guide to Creating Content that Converts” by Onboardly is gated content:

onboardly

Pros:

  • You’ll know exactly who is reading your guide, down to their industry and company (or whatever else you specify).
  • You can get prospects in your sales funnel.

Cons:

  • Propensity for fake email addresses and phony companies.
  • Drop off. Fewer people will read because they don’t want to give out their info. This could mean a drop in social shares and a narrower reach.

Un-gated Content

Un-gated means users can click around without giving you any information. “The Ultimate Guide to Dropshipping” by Shopify is un-gated. The user can click around without filling out a form:

dropshipping

While you’ll be better able to spread your content, you won’t have much information on who’s reading it (much harder to turn readers into leads).

I’m a fan of un-gated guides. I believe that if you’re truly interested in building relationships and generating positive buzz (and potentially links), you should do so without a “catch.” However, this depends on your business model. If your sales team depends on leads, gated guides are a great avenue for collection.

Step 3: Pick a Relevant Topic

Before you start writing, you’ll need to pick a topic. Don’t just pick what you want to write about. The topic you choose should correlate with your goals. If you’re trying to attract leads, your content will be different than if you’re trying to retain existing customers.

Here are some things to think about:

  • Keywords: What are people searching for? What are the most popular search terms?
  • Existing analytics: Do you already have content on your website (maybe on your blog) that is performing particularly well? Why not turn that blog post into a full-length guide?
  • Targent audience: If the content doesn’t resonate with prospective and current customers, what’s the point? When I wrote my company’s last guide, I used results from a customer survey we sent out to choose the subject.
  • Competition: What else is out there? Have your competitors already published guides on the same subject? If you’re not sure you can produce a better one, consider choosing a different topic.

Step 4: Get Writing (or Get Someone Else to Do it!)

And now the hard part (or the easy part for writers like me!)—get writing! You can either write the guide yourself or hire a freelancer to take on the content. Remember, good writing is what will differentiate your long-form content from everyone else’s, so quality is a top priority! (That could mean paying for the best possible work).

If you’re going to hire a freelancer, provide them with a clear outline, complete with examples of content that you like. I’ve gotten the best results when I’ve given freelancers an extremely detailed outline with each chapter already laid out.

Even if I’m writing the guide myself, it’s helpful to create an extensive outline before I get started. I usually define how many chapters there will be, along with what will be in them.

This is the sort of email I might send to a freelancer when I’m spec’ing out a project:

Dear Philemon,

I’ve got a great new project for you. I’m wondering if you have the time to write a complete guide on how to integrate customer service into your business practices. I’ve attached the subjects of each chapter to guide you along. Here are some additional notes:

  • Each chapter needs to be structured and formatted in a way that is easily readable. We need distinct headers throughout, much like in a blog post.  Feel free to bold certain words, use italics, bullets, etc.
  • Make sure to talk about HOW. For example, small business owners would LOVE to integrate software solutions, but they don’t have any idea HOW to get that done. If I’m a small business owner, I’d ask “Where should I look? Who do I contact? How do I get this done? What are some websites that would help? What apps can I download?”
  • Feature prominent people in the industry and please get some quotes. Real company examples are great, too.
  • Don’t use first person. This will be coming from Grasshopper.com, not the blog.
  • Here is an example of a recent guide to help you with our voice and style: Business Equity for Entrepreneurs: A How-to Guide
  • We can pay you x per chapter. Due date is 3/17/14.

If you think you can take on this project, let me know ASAP. Feel free to get in touch with questions.

Best,

Emma

If you’ve worked extensively with a freelancer before, you might be able to give them a topic and have them run with it. If you’re not a writer or editor, you may leave more of the work to the freelancer than I do.

Step 5: Figure Out Design (Make Conversion Easy)

After you’ve written the guide (or as you write it) you’ll need to consider how to make your design conversion-friendly.

That means thinking about the locations of buttons, sign-up forms, and social sharing buttons.

Things to consider:

  • Newsletter sign-up buttons: Make it easy for people to get more of your content.
  • Easily able to navigate existing content on your site: Make it easy for people to read something else if your guide isn’t quite right for them.
  • What will the reader do when they’re done?  Make the ‘next step’ (whether it be signing up for a newsletter, reading another piece of content, or sharing the piece on social) obvious and easy.
  • Placement of social sharing buttons: Make it super easy to share the content on every page.

Step 6: Get All Hands on Deck for Promotion

Your content is nothing if no one reads it, so make sure you get your social media and PR teams on deck.

Social media and email marketing

Each time you release a guide, plan a corresponding social media strategy. Decide how many times you’ll share your long-form content in each network. Try different copy as well as different times of day.

If you have the budget, consider a sponsored Facebook or sponsored Tweet campaign. Integrate your guide into an email marketing campaign so that your guide goes out to existing customers and subscribers.

Contests and Giveaways

Consider holding a contest or giveaway in conjunction with the release. If people are on your social media pages or website buzzing, they’re bound to catch a glimpse of the guide while they’re around. Make sure all contests and giveaways are relevant and connected.

Connect with influencers and do some outreach

If you feature influencers and companies within your guide, be sure to reach out to them and let them know. Depending on your relationship, you can ask them to share it or simply ask them to read it.

I’ve had success when I’ve thanked an influencer for their expertise and provided a link—they’ve shared the content without me having to ask.

Plan, Write, Share, and CONVERT

Now that you’ve read all the steps to creating long-form content, it’s time to get started. Think about what your goals are, who your audience is, and how you’ll measure your results.

Remember, it’s not over after promotion! You’ll have to wait a while (maybe a month or so) to see the true effects of your guide.

Good luck. Let me know how it goes.

Check out other Crazy Egg articles by Emma Siemasko.

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About 

Emma Siemasko is a freelancer writer and content marketing specialist at Grasshopper, the entrepreneur’s phone system. Emma recently completed JUMP: The Ultimate Guide to Starting and Growing a Business to help startup founders and employees get companies off the ground.

5 COMMENTS

Rui

Good info, thanks for this. I think re gated vs non gated, if you can “sell” the content, it can still work very well, especially with PPC. Obviously not going to work as well with SEO though

March 21, 2014 Reply


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