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SEO | Apr 19
Mara Calvello on January 11, 2021 • 15 minute read
There are certain topics that people are known to debate, day in and day out.
While years ago we used to debate whether or not the earth was flat, now we debate topics a little more down to earth, no pun intended.
For instance, a question commonly debated is whether or not word count affects SEO (Search Engine Optimization). If it does, how much it affects how our content ranks? Is it better to put emphasis on being concise and getting right to the point, or should your SEO strategy focus on hitting a certain word count, first?
To answer this question, we asked numerous experts within the SEO and content marketing fields to share what they have seen and what works for their content. Let’s dive in.
Itching to know something specific regarding word count and SEO? Jump ahead to:
There are many contributing factors that attribute to how your content may rank within the search engine results. Whether it be keywords, images, alt text, and more, a lot goes into an SEO strategy.
Where does word count fit into the plan? Many experts say that the type of content you’re creating should directly correlate with your word count.
Ken Fortney from Grin states, “It depends on what the content is about. Standard blogs have a word count goal of 2,000 words. Landing pages range from 300-600 words.”
Similarly, Karina Bulate from Live Buz Media shares, “Word count is derived from the goal of the content. If the goal is to create content (blogs) that will be shared on social, a shorter word count is assigned. Usually around 300-600 words.
If the goal for the blog to be a search traffic driver and pillar for other blog posts, we assign a higher word count. Usually around +2,000 words. Ultimately the answer to the main question – is one longer post better than many short ones – is that it really depends on what the purpose of the content is.”
Agreeing with the strategy of different word count for different content is Second Eclipse’s Jon Robinson, who shares, “We start with a baseline of either 1,000, 2,000, or 4,000 words. 1,000 words for a blog or standard page, 2,000 words for an in-depth page, and 4,000 words for a detailed guide.
We then give the writer freedom to deviate +/- 20% based on the subject matter. If the writer suggested more or less words based on the topic, we’ll review and determine if the page should be split into two pages or if the word count should be increased (or decreased).
Andrew Siskind at Salted Stone agrees, sharing, “It’s not really about long or short – it’s about matching the length of the post to the topic and the audience.
For example, if you’re creating a blog post that defines a single key term, it’s probably fine to keep it short and sweet – no one wants to wade through 2,000 words to find the three sentence answer to ‘What Does XX Mean?’
Likewise, a 200-word blog post titled ‘The Complete Marketer’s Guide to XY’ is unlikely to be very satisfying. What matters is the quality of the content – is it useful, well-written, and thoughtful? That’s what leaves a reader happy, creates an impression, and drives socialization of content.”
Tommy Landry, from Return on Now, adds “For SEO-focused content, our approach differs depending on what type of content we’re composing. For Evergreen content like services pages and similar, we simply place a minimum of 500-800 words as a bottom limit. Of course, that must also be well broken up and structured with subheads, bullet points, images, etc.
For blog posts, we actually take a more aggressive approach. As found in several studies, blog content of 1,500-2,000 words ranks the best, so we start at a minimum of 1,000 words.”
For instance, Chelsea Baldwin of Business Bitch states, “We make sure we fully & completely answer the question at hand, that’s naturally embedded in the long-term keywords. For example, “copywriting for artists” gets thorough tips for artists, as well as examples. This doesn’t usually amount to 1,500 or more worlds, but usually around 500 to 700, which is plenty for Google.
We then write the content first, and then go back and make sure the keywords are integrated into important parts: like the title, subheadings, image alt-text, etc.”
Stephen Gagnon at Code Web shares, “We search for the top pages ranking for our target keywords on Google and add the first 10 results to a spreadsheet. We analyze word counts, comments, social shares, and backlinks. Our team then decides on the best target length based on our content objective.”
Then there are those who say, hard and fast, that no, word count doesn’t affect SEO.
Janis Thies of SEOlutions states, “The truth is, that there is no ideal word count, even if some SEO gurus like to preach to the heavens that content should be between 2,000 and 2,500 words long. Ideal length assumptions are pretty much redundant, as every search query requires an individual approach. Some search queries require ‘straight-up’ facts, embedded into short posts. While other search queries demand long-form and in-depth content.”
Additionally, Casey Crane from The SSL Store states, “We don’t have a hard-and-fast rule about word count when publishing and optimizing content on our blog. Sure, we want to make sure that every article meets a certain minimum word count, but there isn’t an exact word count that we’re looking for. This isn’t like print media where we have to meet an exact number of inches.
We’ve published a variety of comprehensive technical articles that have a wide range of word counts. Some of the longer pieces range from 5,000 to 12,000 words while other ‘shorter’ articles range from 1,000 to 1,500 words (yes, ‘short’ is a relative term when you’re breaking down complex topics).
Some articles that have fallen within the higher word count range have historically done very well while others have not. But lately, we’ve been focusing on publishing a series of medium-length articles (2,000-3,000 words each) that, together, form topic clusters — and those have also been performing very well, too.”
When discussing implementing a word count limit within your SEO strategy, there are two ways to go about it:
Below are cases for both strategies.
Numerous experts who reached out were on Team Quality.
Starting things off is Katrina Dalao of Referral Rock. Dalao shares, “We actually don’t prioritize word count. We’re more focused on covering the given topic thoroughly and answering any questions readers likely have. That said, when we meet our marks, our articles are usually quite long, at 2,000 words and above.”
Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media Studios has a similar viewpoint, stating, “I never count words until I’m done. And I’m not done until I’ve given my best effort at making the BEST page on the internet for the topic.
Sure, once I’m finished, I might go back and check the word count if I’m curious. Usually, I don’t. It distracts me from the point, which is quality, depth, detail and an exhaustive, better-than-anyone-expected article on whatever topic (and keyword) I’m taking on.”
Adding onto this point is The Audit Lab’s Megan Boyle. “We never try to aim for a specific word count, although as a general rule of thumb we try to make sure all blog posts we produce are a minimum of 500 words long. This is to avoid posts being seen as ‘thin content’ by Google. However, it is important to have a varied content portfolio of varying lengths as if there’s one thing that Google doesn’t like, it’s patterns!” shares Boyle.
Editor’s note: Keep track of the pages with the most clicks, as well as which receive the most impressions and drive the most traffic to your site with the Google Search Console dashboard template.
We had numerous experts share that adding fluff, or extra words for the sake of word count, is only going to hurt your SEO strategy in the long run.
First up is Ben McLaughlan at Easy Mode Media. McLaughlan states, “It’s a common tactic of content creators to target a specific word count to increase time on page and improve search rankings. Adding more words to fill out content that doesn’t provide value to the reader, often called ‘fluff’, is always a bad idea. The content should be engaging and really draw a reader in, because if they leave, those extra words are useless.”
Nik Sharma of Sharma Brands adds, “Length of content is not as important and the quality and relevancy of content so we stick to keeping the right content whatever length it needs to be to keep fluff out of the mix.”
Simple Machines Marketing’s Charlie Nadler agrees, sharing “We use a general rule that blog posts on the Simple Machines blog should be at least 1,000 words. While there are some topics that don’t warrant that length and come in under 1,000 words, the types of topics we typically write about tend to benefit from examples, instructions and additional resources. As we review the blog drafts internally, if the word count is under 1,000 and it could be more useful with more content, we’ll aim to hit that mark with the revisions. That said, we don’t add word count for the sake of word count.”
Adding to this point is Anthony Gaenzle, at Anthony Gaenzle Marketing, stating, “I subscribe to the thinking that you need to focus on the quality of the content and the user experience on your site rather than simply looking at things like word count.
While one long-form piece of content is great for driving search results and for use in efforts like link building, short-form pieces can be highly useful as well. I suggest a solid mix of both on your site. As long as the posts offer value and they answer pertinent questions, the length doesn’t necessarily matter. Focus on quality, dig into what resonates with your audience by analyzing the content they love the most and the content they seem to ignore.”
Sharing their point against fluffy content is Carlos Castro at Wolfate, who says, “A minimum length of 600 words is established, but there’s no ideal or optimal length when creating content. Instead, relevance and intent are prioritized. It’s important to create useful and relevant content, which sometimes means high word count content, but not always.”
Finally, making the case against fluffy content is Nikola Roza at SEO for the Poor and Determined. Roza shares, “When writing articles, I never try to hit some imaginary ‘best’ word count for the topic I’m covering. Instead, I aim for complete content thoroughness.
I know that writing to fill in the blanks with words and fluff is a fool’s errand; while writing to be as thorough and helpful as possible is the optimal strategy that gets rewarded by both users and Google. That’s why the most important step to writing a blog post comes before writing a single word, and that is creating an outline.
In other words thorough, comprehensive content = ideal word count without even trying to hit it.”
Now, let’s talk about the flip side to quality — quantity. These experts believe that when it comes to SEO, word count, and getting your content to rank, you should write with a specific amount of words in mind.
Starting the case for quantity off with a bang is Lachlan Perry of SEO Kings. Perry shares, “Word count is something that you keep in mind because it allows you to showcase your expertise on a topic with a longer word count, but the important thing to take into account is that it’s not the most vital metric you should be pushing for when creating and optimizing for great content.
If you’re an expert or authoritative writer on a topic in your field, you should be able to explain what you’re writing about in great length to give your readers an in-depth and comprehensive learning experience.
To summarise, word count is important, but making sure that you get your message across in the right way is the most essential metric – whether that be in 1,500 or 3,000 words.”
Also making the case for long-form content is Jeff Loldny at Loganix, who shares, “Word count is based on the keyword difficulty. More difficult long-tail keywords need a higher word count. I target a starting point of 1,000 words for most of my content. Most of my blog content focuses on a long tail keyword. Because the target keyword should be used once every 300 to 500 words to avoid keyword stuffing, the content needs to be 1,000 plus words if you are going to include the target keyword three or more times.”
When it comes to getting your content to rank, Rishabh Ravindran at Inskade states, “Even though 1,500 words is considered to be an average word count for an article, a long-form article containing more than 4,000 has a higher chance of getting backlinks and social media shares. Moreover, Google now ranks relevant, specific passages as search results, a long-form of content has a higher chance of ranking for several keywords.”
In agreement is Tyler Tafelsky, who shares, “It’s important to acknowledge current trends in how Google is ranking pieces of content. Unlike the SEO days of 10-20 years ago when it was all about creating segmented and specific pieces of content that focus on very granular keywords, today the opposite is true. It’s common to see Google ranking one post across hundreds and even thousands of related keywords. Given these trends, I find creating one long post that covers an entire keyword theme (or cluster of related queries) to outperform many shorter posts for SEO.”
Adding to this point is Andrew Witts at Studio 36 Digital, who states, “Generally speaking, in 2020 and beyond we have found that the longer the article, the better. As a part of our research before writing an article, we have found that higher ranking articles are rarely less than 1,000 words and often 2,000+ words.”
In agreement is Tom Zsomborgi at Kinsta. Zsomborgi shares, “At Kinsta we always go the extra mile. Speaking from experience we know that detailed and long-form content wins over short blog posts. During the years the average length of the top 10 SERP results has increased and ranking for competitive terms is getting harder with 500 or 1,000 word articles. Covering a topic from all angles and creating that ‘ultimate’ guide is the best approach. I’m suggesting 3,000 words or more when it comes to word count.”
Keeping what Google wants in mind is Manick Bhan LinkGraph. Bhan states, “Multiple studies have shown that Google consistently ranks longer content. Google’s algorithms respond to quality signals, and because longer content often means more in-depth research and analysis, Google naturally rewards longer content with better rankings. If you’re a relatively new site with a smaller backlink profile, a really high-quality, in-depth piece of content can get you ranking for keywords with less organic difficulty because of how important high-quality content is to Google.
The strong correlation between length and higher rankings is the primary reason why we assign 2,500 words to our content writers for landing pages and blog posts with more competitive keyword targets. But writing great SEO content is not just about length, It’s about content that is semantically rich.”
Adding to this point is Ekta Swarnkar at Tia Says, stating, “I focus on writing my blog posts to be at least 2,000 words. I have seen that long posts do good because I have observed that when you are writing guideposts you want to make sure to explain everything in detail.
Shorter posts don’t generally explain everything and therefore are not that valuable. While longer posts are descriptive and generally cover everything.”
Rounding out the experts who lean towards long-form content in an SEO strategy is Johnathan Aufray at Growth Hackers Agency. Augray shares, “Go towards long, insightful content. Usually, we try to write long-form blog posts that are at least 1,500 words. However, this is not set in stone. What you want is to add insightful content.
The benefits of having long, interesting content are that visitors will spend more time on your content vs. shorter content. The time spent on your pages is one of the most important factors to rank high on search engines. Why? Because if visitors stay on your content for three minutes vs. 30 seconds, search engines will automatically understand that this content provides more value to readers.”
That is the question. Ultimately, the choice is up to you and the type of content you’re creating. Be sure to discuss it with your team, weigh the pros and cons, and go from there. At the end of the day, be sure not to ignore the target keywords and make sure your content answers the questions your audience is looking for.
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