Making the Cut: How to Trim Long-Form Content

Everywhere you look there’s yet another SEO guide telling you that long-form content is king. It feels a little contradictory in the age of skim-reading, and yet, it’s backed up by science:

  • The average content length of the first 10 SERPs is more than 2,000 words
  • Longer articles can increase conversions by up to 37 per cent
  • Ten per cent of search queries are for a “broad topic”
  • Long-form content attracts more backlinks.

There’s also the user perspective. If said user is indeed searching for a “broad topic”, he or she may only want to read one section. However, longer content gives you more opportunity to add related search terms into the mix.

So the question is…

Why would you want to trim content?

Sometimes, less is more. Your hands may be tied for any number of reasons, such as:

Word or character limits

Perhaps you’re writing a social media post or are bound by advertising rules.

Editorial submission guides

Guest posts often come with guidelines, with word limits taking precedence.

Lack of media

Bullet points or images can break up text, but if you’ve no pictures or rich media, you may need to chop.

lings cars

Image source: Ling’s Cars

Budgetary constraints

Paying by the word? Time to get clever.

Getting to the point

Writing a transactional page? Managers might ask you to cut the waffle.

Finding the balance with long-form content

Whether you’re writing an ad or a sprawling long-form guide, there’s always flexibility with trimming. Remember:

It’s about quality, not quantity.

By all means, write long content, but make sure there’s no filler. We’re still bound by Google’s EAT guidelines (rightly so), so there’s no point adding extra fluff to gain brownie points. Google’s smarter than that.

Remember, you can still refine your message and hit that long-form target. (Anything from as few as 700 words to as many as 4,000 is considered long-form, so make your own judgement.) So, how do we cut back those weeds?

From shorthand to Stephen King

Take a look at this image.

teeline shorthandHieroglyphics? Gibberish? This is actually Teeline shorthand for “we should be able to”. When you spend six months giving yourself carpal tunnel trying to master this wizardry, you become pretty fond of trimming words.

Use the 10 per cent rule

Another neat trick I’ve learned from the mighty Stephen King is to go back and chop 10 per cent of my copy at the end of writing. It’s brutal, but you soon pick up a few habits.

Kill the clumsy phrasing

“I wanted to pick your brain with regard to the smoking paper bag you left on my doorstep this morning, good sir.”

This isn’t Downton Abbey. With regard to becomes about.

Pick your brain (a phrase freelancers hate because it translates as “nick some free advice”) becomes chat.

Boom. We’ve already cut four words. Now extrapolate.

Use strong verbs

Here comes that dude with the blood-stained telekinetic lass again. I have a love-hate relationship with adverbs, but sometimes, you need to use a stronger verb. Why run quickly when you could sprint? Why shout loudly when you could bellow?

The same goes for tautology. Is loudly not implied when we’re shouting?

Look for repeated ideas

You could argue that run quickly and shout loudly are repeating the same idea. But in the second point, we’re looking at tautology – a phrase or expression in which the same thing is said twice with different words.

I could not believe he left a smoking bag on my doorstep. I was absolutely incredulous that he’d played that prank. I would get my revenge.

Look at sentence two. Sure, it’s dramatic, but is it really adding any value to your content?

Cut the redundant themes

When it comes to public speaking, you need to remember three things. I remember when I gave my first poem recital in my year five assembly. Know your audience, know your material, and know your passion.

That middle sentence does little more than give you warm and fuzzy nostalgia. Get to the point first, and only then, if there’s a moral to your story, should you add those anecdotes.

Wave goodbye to needless expressions

Had I not been fired, I’d never have had the guts to start my own business. Every cloud has a silver lining.

We know it does, and you’ve implied this by starting your own business. Bravo.

Remember that cutting can still be long-form!

Don’t panic that you’ll upset the SEO gods if you go from 1,500 words to 1,350 words. Chances are, you’re cutting the waffle and ticking those quality boxes instead.

And finally…don’t be afraid to break the rules

You might feel that this brutal machete to your copy is ridding it of all its spark and personality. So please, do everything in context.

If you are writing a hilarious blog post that needs a few sassy clap backs, roll with it. Let’s not be afraid to be ourselves in our copy. Done right, we can tell our stories and give our users value.

But if you are limited by character counts, budgets or anything else, you can always trim. Just make sure it’s the burnt bits of the crust – not the gooey centre.

*Smugly points out that this post is 892 words long and scored a FOUR on the Hemingway App.

trim content
Katie Lingo
by Katie Lingo
18th September 2020