Writing is hard enough when you have to write 500 word blog posts.
Now imagine writing in-depth articles and guides that stretch to 5,000+ words on a consistent basis.
Such “skyscraper content” is awfully hard to create, but when done right, it can dominate the SERPs and attract hundreds, even thousands of links.
How do you go about creating such content?
In this post, I’m going to show you how to find the right keywords for such big content, how to outline your content, and how to hire writers.
The Value of “Big” Content
First, let’s answer a simple question: why big content?
1. Longer content ranks better
Longer content will get you better rankings in the SERPs. This has been proven by multiple studies over several years.
For instance, a serpIQ study from 2012 found that the top results in SERPs were dominated by longer content (>2,000 words).
A more recent study from Backlinko found similar results: longer content outranked shorter pieces in the SERPs:
Another study by HubSpot found that longer content gets more links.
You can see this yourself. For nearly any competitive keyword, you’ll find that the top result is almost always a lengthy article.
John is right to say that many studies have shown long content performs better in search. We also tend to publish 3,000+ word posts here on Ahrefs, as we find that’s what is (generally) required to cover a technical topic in-depth.
However, when we recently analysed rankings across 2 million keywords, we found that the median content length for pages ranking at position 1 was actually under 800 words:
Although as you can see, there is a clear correlation with SERP position and content length.
Our advice: don’t shoot for a particular word count – just make sure you cover a topic in full. Whether that takes 500 words or 10,000, the key is that you are creating the best resource available for your target keyword.
Read on for some excellent advice from John on how to do just that.
2. Longer content gets more shares
Unsurprisingly, longer content also gets more shares. According to data gathered by BuzzSumo, the longer the content, the higher the chance of it getting 100+ shares.
3. Longer content is topically relevant
As far as ranking factors go, we already know the important ones – content quality, backlinks, on-page engagement, etc.
There is, however, one more ranking factor that Google seems to place more and more importance on: topic relevancy.
Post Hummingbird, Google has started understanding whether a query is a topic or a question.
For example, a query like “Barack Obama age” is a question and doesn’t really demand a lengthy result.
Hence, for such queries, Google shows the answer directly:
A query like “dog training tips”, on the other hand, demands a longer answer and is considered a “topic”.
According to data gathered by MarketMuse, in-depth content is considered more “topically relevant” and thus, ranks higher for topic keywords.
The first result is an in-depth, topically relevant 10,000+ word guide. The second is a much shorter article of under 2,500 words.
Comparing these two domains on Ahrefs, we see that despite having a lower DR and fewer backlinks, Nick’s page outranks KISSMetrics because of the strength of its content.
You’ll find that this pattern holds true across keywords and industries. Longer, topically relevant content regularly outranks shorter content for multiple keywords.
4. Longer content is easier to convert
This is something marketers don’t talk about, but from experience, I’ve found that longer content is much easier to convert than shorter content.
(“Conversion” here means capturing leads)
There is a simple reason for this: some of the best converting lead magnet-types – content upgrades – only work with longer content.
Bryan Harris, for example, offers readers everything from checklists to video walkthroughs with his posts.
These act as “content upgrades” to his already in-depth posts.
He also regularly gets conversion rates of 20% or higher.
Similarly, Brian Dean of Backlinko offers readers downloadable PDFs of each post.
This is a content upgrade that can only work with longer posts. You can’t reasonably offer readers a content upgrade with a 500 word post – there just isn’t enough ‘meat’ on the post to do that.
The takeaway: “Big” content works, plain and simple.
How to Create Big Content
You’re now convinced that your site needs bigger, better content. The problem now is writing this content.
Even if you’re an experienced writer, creating such big content can be extremely challenging. The amount of effort and research required to create an in-depth article can put off all but the most determined of marketers (which is also the reason why such content is so effective).
There is, however, a way to create such content even if you’re not a writer.
I’ll show you how below.
Step #1: Select the best keywords to target
Big content means big investment, both in terms of time and money. You want to target keywords where this investment will actually have a positive ROI in terms of traffic or leads.
For this reason, targeting long-tail keywords isn’t necessarily a good idea (too little search volume). Instead, focus on mid-tail or even broad keywords instead.
Ideally, you want to target keywords with a nice balance between competitiveness, traffic and commercial intent.
There are 3 things you should look at here:
1. Search volume
Search volume is important for the simple fact that it will affect the number of actual customers you get.
You can use the AdWords Keyword Planner to get search volume, but I find that it’s not always accurate. A much better solution is to use the Ahrefs keyword explorer.
For example, this is what Ahrefs shows me when I search for “building backlinks”:
Checking the same keywords in the AdWords planner shows me a different search volume:
I find that the data from Ahrefs is faster and more accurate.
Looking up search volume also helps you establish a baseline traffic volume that will yield a positive ROI within a specific timeframe.
Here’s a simple formula for doing this:
Search Volume * CTR * Conversion Rate * Customer Lifetime Value (LTV)
According to AdvancedWebRanking.com, the CTRs for first page rankings are as follows:
This means that if you rank #1 for a keyword, you’ll get around 30% of all the search volume.
For example, if my target keyword gets 1,000 searches every month and I rank as #1 for it, I can safely assume that I’ll get at least 300 visitors each month.
If my conversion rate for turning visitors into customers is 3% and each customer is worth $100, I can expect to make nearly $1,000 from this keyword each month.
This means I can safely spend $1000+ on content and still get a positive ROI.
Of course, in the real world, you might not rank #1, nor will your conversion rates be the same. You might also get a lot more traffic from other keywords, so use these figures only as a very rough estimate.
Based on this, select a few keywords, then gauge the quality of the competition to pare the list further down.
2. Competition strength
The success of your big content depends greatly on the quality of your competition. You’ll find that it is easier to rank for some keywords than others simply because the competition’s content isn’t deep enough or the domain strong enough.
Start by objectively analyzing the first 10 results for your target keywords. The fastest way to do this is to use an SEO toolbar such as this one by Ahrefs to get key stats about the result right as you’re browsing.
For example, using the Ahrefs toolbar for a keyword like “building backlinks” shows me this:
The first three results are all very strong domains with high URL ratings (UR) and tons of backlinks. In fact, the first two results are from the same domain, which likely means that ranking within the top 3 is going to be super hard for this keyword.
But objective analysis can only go so far. You still need to understand whether your competitors can be beaten in content quality and depth.
Ask these questions of your competition’s content:
- Does the content have enough depth?
- Is the content well-formatted?
- Does it have plenty of images?
- Is the content shareable (strong headline + good use of sharing buttons and prompts)?
- Is the content SEO-optimized (good use of tags and keywords)?
- Does the content come across as something created by an expert?
- Does the content link out to sources?
- Is the site design trustworthy?
You’ll often find that you can beat stronger domains in the SERPs simply by creating in-depth, well-formatted content.
Find out how to fill gaps in existing content for a quick traffic boost in this case study.
3. Commercial intent
Ranking for a keyword with zero commercial intent is no fun. You might get people visiting your site, but not a whole lot of them will convert.
Figuring out your buyer’s journey will make it much easier to find commercial keywords. Follow this guide from HubSpot to figure out how to do this.
Once you have a buyer’s journey, you can start understanding the commercial intent of your target keywords.
Decision stage keywords
If conversion is your aim, try targeting “buy now” keywords. These are usually keyword phrases with the following words in them:
- Discount/coupon code
People searching for such keywords are deep into the Decision stage of the buyer’s journey and just want some discounts before buying.
Some other Decision stage keywords you can target have these words in them:
These people know about most of the solutions and want affirmation of their choices. Converting them will be easy if you can persuade them to buy through your copy.
The problem with such Decision stage keywords is that they always have very low volume. It’s also harder to create big content for such keywords.
Consideration stage keywords
Consideration stage keywords are great targets for big content since they have the right balance between search volume and commercial intent.
Try finding keywords with words like:
These convert very well, especially when associated with a specific product category (such as “best web hosting service”).
Awareness stage keywords
Awareness stage keywords usually have the highest search volume but the lowest commercial intent.
Usually, these will be question keywords with words like “how”, “what” or “why” in them, such as “how to register a domain” or “why do I need web hosting?”.
These are great targets for big content if you have a strong sales funnel already in place.
I suggest targeting such keywords if you aim to capture leads and nurture them over time. Or if you’re selling a high ticket item. They have lower competition which makes ranking for them easier and the question-focused nature of the keywords makes content creation faster.
With all this data, you can zero-in on a handful of keywords that will be appropriate for big content.
The next step is to pick the right format to make creating your content easier.
See our ‘SEO Secrets‘ post for more on integrating ‘buyer’s journey’ into your SEO process.
Step #2: Select the best content
Once you have a keyword, you have to select the right format for it.
For example, a keyword like “building backlinks” can be turned into several different formats:
- Listicle: “7 Proven Methods to Build Backlinks”
- Infographic: “The Visual Guide to Building Backlinks”
- Thought piece: “Why You Need to Stop Building Backlinks (and What to do Instead)“
- Conventional article: “How to Build Backlinks Easily”
All of these could even have the same content, but the way you’d write and format them would be different.
In terms of ease of creation, listicles are the easiest to create. The list format means each list item works as an independent “sub-article”. This way, you can focus on one list item at a time without worrying about the flow and structure of the rest of the article.
Thought pieces and content that answers “why” questions, on the other hand, can be difficult to write since they require in-depth knowledge of the subject. You’ll need to make strong arguments and back them with data if you want a thought piece to be taken seriously.
It’s the same with conventional articles (such as “How to Build Backlinks Easily”). If you want your content to be liked and linked to, you’ll have to create essay-like articles with strong structure and flow.
For this reason, I recommend framing your keyword in the form of a listicle. Not only is the list format more shareable, it is also easier to write. Whether you are outsourcing or writing yourself, you’ll find that structuring your content as a list will make creating it much, much easier.
You can practically turn any keyword into a listicle. For example, take a look at how I’ve framed these keywords in the form of lists:
|Content marketing||“10 Content Marketing Mistakes You’re Probably Making (and How to Undo Them)”|
|Wooden furniture||“9 Stunning Examples of Wooden Furniture”|
|Travel Australia||“5 Reasons You Need to Travel to Travel to Australia”|
|Learn electronic music||“13 of the Best Resources to Learn Electronic Music”|
|Compare smartphones||“5 Things You Should Look for When Comparing Smartphones”|
Step #3: Create an outline
Once you’ve decided on a format, it’s time to create an outline.
Two reasons why you should do this:
- Ensures quality. The freelance writers you hire may or may not share the same ideas as you about creating content. By giving them a detailed outline, you ensure that the content will have your desired level of depth and research.
- Can reduce cost. Without a detailed outline, you’ll have to hire niche experts to write your content if you want any sort of depth. Obviously, niche experts are more expensive than your standard writer.
The best way to create an outline is to go about it incrementally.
To show you how, I’ll walk you through a sample outline for this very post.
(If you’re curious, I’m using LittleOutliner to do this – a fantastic free tool for creating outlines)
1. Start by defining the broad sections of your content, like this:
2. Next, divide each section into sub-sections
3. Expand each sub-section further
4. Add details of examples, research or data that you want to include
This is a particularly important step. Examples and data elevate your content beyond the ordinary. Adding instructions to include them will ensure that your writers find the right sources.
This should take you under an hour to create but it will greatly improve the quality of the finished product.
Step #4: Hire writers
Hiring writers is often the biggest hurdle to creating big content. Because writing is such an accessible skill – everyone can write, after all (not that everyone should)– most freelance sites are flooded with talent, and not all of it is good.
A few rule of thumbs you should follow when hiring writers:
- Be prepared to pay for quality talent. Expect a rate of at least $5-10/100 words if you want any semblance of quality.
- Writers who are experts in a niche – say, marketing or SEO – will charge more. In exchange, you’ll get something that is more in-depth and can be readily published without much editing.
- Look for writers who’ve previously created content in your niche. For proven quality, try to hire writers who’ve published content on leading sites in your industry. Any experienced writer should have a decent portfolio of published work.
- Don’t expect to work on short deadlines. Most freelance writers who are worth hiring keep pretty full calendars. Depending on the writers and the depth of the content, you might have to wait 1-4 weeks for turnaround.
- Pay a flat rate per article instead of a word count based rate. The latter often ends with writers padding word count.
- Ask about any additional charges upfront. For instance, some writers will charge extra for faster turnaround.
- Ensure that you have complete rights to the created work.
- Lastly, make sure that you check for plagiarism (use Copyscape). This shouldn’t be a problem if you are hiring experienced writers with established reputations, but if you go for a newbie, plagiarism can be a real issue.
Where to find writers
The obvious place to find writers would be Upwork or Freelancer, but I’ve had very mixed results on these sites. For one, the massive amount of talent on these platforms means that you’ll often get hundreds of responses for any posting.
Instead, try these platforms:
1. Writer-specific job boards
These are job boards specifically for bloggers and writers. Some of them are free, some will charge for each job posting.
- On paid job boards, the quality of job postings is higher. This, in turn, attracts more serious writers.
- Since these job boards cater exclusively to writers, they tend to have better talent onboard.
- You’ll get a lot of responses, so be prepared to have a good screening process.
- While the quality is better than UpWork or Freelancer, you’ll have to still screen heavily.
A few popular job boards are:
- ProBlogger jobs
- BloggingPro jobs
- Freelance Writers Den
- Freelance Writing Gigs
- Freelance Writing Jobs
2. Niche-specific websites/forums
These are websites and forums specific to your niche. While they might not have a lot of full-time writers, they are great for finding experts who want to make some extra cash writing on the side.
Every niche will have its own such sites. In the marketing niche, for example, two such sites are:
Both these sites, especially Inbound.org, have a lot of writers onboard. If you want content on marketing topics, I suggest giving it a shot.
This thread is a good place to find some quality candidates.
- Frequented by niche experts, which means you’ll generally get more in-depth content.
- Since these are generally not frequented by writers, you won’t be flooded with responses.
- You won’t find a lot of full-time writers on such platforms.
- Expert writers tend to be more expensive.
3. Content marketplaces
These are two-sided marketplaces that match writers with clients.
- Easy to find decent to good writers since the marketplace does the screening.
- Self-serve model makes it easy to post jobs.
- Most quality marketplaces tend to be expensive since the marketplace operators take a big cut.
- Can’t develop long-term relationships with writers.
- Can’t work with one writer alone. This can impact the consistency of your content tone and style across blog posts.
A few popular marketplaces for premier content are:
If you’re looking for something cheaper, try these:
4. Content creation companies
These are agencies that specialize in creating content. In terms of quality and cost, they range from 500-person businesses catering to Fortune 500 companies to 1-5 person shops working with small startups.
- The agency will have multiple writers and editors to handle large workloads.
- Faster turnaround time for the same reason as above – lots of manpower.
- Most established agencies have proven processes in place to ensure content quality.
- Agencies tend to be substantially expensive, especially compared to hiring writers individually.
- As a small business with limited content needs, you might not get enough attention within the agency
Here are two resources to help you find a content marketing/creation agency:
If you’d rather work with individuals, Copyblogger’s certified content marketers index is a great place to start.
Besides the above, there are a few other platforms you can try posting your job on.
LinkedIn is a great place to find freelance writers. A quick search for “freelance writer” alone shows me 240,123 results.
The good part about using LinkedIn is that you’ll get a quick overview of the writer’s education and work history.
The bad part is that writers on LinkedIn will generally be expensive. Some will also be unreliable since they do freelance writing on the side.
Craigslist is one of the most popular places to find writers despite the uneven quality of applicants.
Searching for “writing” in New York, for example, shows over 100 gigs.
Just add a post to your local area and you’ll get tons of responses.
The problem with Craigslist is that it won’t have a lot of serious freelancers or niche experts. You’ll have to have a strong screening process to ensure quality.
Few people use Reddit for hiring, but it can yield unexpectedly good results. Besides the freelancer specific job boards (see below), you can also find niche experts by hiring from subreddits related to your niche.
Take a look at this job posting for interns on the /r/digital_marketing subreddit
Use Reddit search to find subreddits related to your niche. Then add a text post with your requirements.
Alternatively, try adding your job post to hiring focused subreddits such as:
Screening and hiring candidates
You’ll most likely have to post on multiple platforms if you want to find quality talent. If I was starting out afresh, I’d hit each of the above platforms and see the kind of response I get.
The next step is to write a job post that actually gets responses and set up a screening process.
There is no one-size-fits-all rule for this. Every platform will have its own conventions. What might work on Problogger’s job board won’t fly in a Reddit post.
The best way to go about this is to see what others are doing and follow suit.
There are a few things you should keep in mind when writing your job post:
- Include specific instructions (such as mentioning a specific word or phrase in the application) to screen out mass spammers.
- If you use Gmail, add platform-specific aliases to make applicant screening easier. This way, you’d have emails like [youremail]+[platform]@gmail.com (such as “email@example.com”) for each platform. This makes filtering out emails from each platform easier. Follow this guide to figure out how to do this.
- If you expect a lot of volume, it can be useful to setup a Google Forms to capture responses.
- It’s a good idea to give an idea of the kind of quality you’re looking for by sharing some examples in the job description.
If you go through this process, you shouldn’t have any problems finding quality content creators. It’s also a good idea to hire multiple writers initially so you have people you can turn to in case your main writer backs out of a gig.
You might also want to use the same process to hire editors and proofreaders.
Over to You
Big content can deliver tons of value, but creating it can be a massive challenge.
However, if you follow the four step process outlined above, you’ll find that you can easily create lots of big content at scale without significant investment. When combined with strong marketing, especially in terms of outreach, this will help you rank quickly for very competitive terms.
Here’s what you should take away from this post:
- Big content ranks better, gets more shares and gets you more conversions.
- Big content works best when it targets keywords with a good balance between traffic, commercial intent and competitiveness.
- Choosing the right format will save you and your writers tons of time and effort.
- Creating a detailed outline will ensure quality and help reduce costs.
- To hire better writers, avoid conventional freelance sites and opt for job boards, forums and content marketplaces instead.
If you have any questions or comments, then please leave them below!
Further content of this article contributed by Toronto SEO Company