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Post Content Length
Post content length is frequently asked about by those learning SEO. There is an assumption that there must be an optimal number of words for any page to get the best SEO results. Years ago people used to talk about keyword density (and how getting it right used to work) – now the focus is quality content. But, how long is a good article?
Although Matt Cutts said that guest blogging is dead – in January, 2014, he announced on his Twitter page: “Stick A Fork In It, Guest Blogging Is Done” – guest blogging is still a good way to help improve your SEO. However, many people who accept guest blogs set quite specific word counts for their post content length, usually between 500 and 800 words.
The general thought is that anything less than 500 words will be considered too thin (see Panda penalties and thin content) and anything over 800 words would be too wordy and bore the readers. However, a recent article by John Lincoln on Search Engine Land suggests that longer content may actually be the bread and butter of SEO in 2015. Let’s take a look at his argument.
Why is Longer Good?
The length of an article is possibly one of the most important factors to determine how well it ranks. However, it is certainly not just a case of stopping after X00 words – if you were looking for an exact figure, you may be disappointed!
Longer content has several advantages over short articles. If your main web pages are well over 800 words, they will by their nature contain a greater variety of words that Google can use to determine what the page is about. Longer content will also increase the likelihood of attracting long tail searches, which is when a person types a long key phrase search into Google to find more specific information.
People often talk about optimising for long tail searches, but this really is not how it works – most long tail searches are unique, so you cannot optimise in the traditional way. But, more words on a page will increase the variety of search terms that your page can provide an answer for.
How long is long-form? Lincoln suggests that an article must be over 1,200 words to be considered long-form content, although he generally sets a goal of 2,000 words per article, with some reaching 7,000 words.
Be An Expert
Long-form content can help to establish your business as an expert. Longer, more detailed articles that are full of carefully checked and referenced facts can become important resources online and attract more attention, and this can mean more links and shares.
Why Are Short Articles So Popular?
Short articles are popular for several reasons. First, in the past all you needed to do to rank well was create some short, keyword rich articles. Pages with 300-400 words worked great and with a good title and headers, an article would rank quickly for its main keywords.
Second, it was also thought that most people did not want to read long articles, and since the growth of mobile browsing, this assumption has carried on. However, it appears that this was a false assumption.
The SEO Factor
Three years ago a study by Capsicum Mediaworks found that the average length of the best ranked web pages was over 2,000 words. SerpIQ looked at 20,000 keyword searches, and their results showed that all the first page results had, on average, more than 2000 words.
There is a general trend in which the more words a page has, the higher it ranks. The only noticeable exception to this rule is that pages ranking in second position tend to have more words than in first place.
The average post content length of a first place article was just over 2450 words, and articles at the bottom of page one were, on average, around 2050 words.
How to Make Long Articles Work
Writing a long article is not difficult, but writing a good long article can be very tricky indeed! To produce good long-form content you need to plan your articles.
Structure is vital and articles should follow standard accepted rules, with an introduction, central argument and conclusion.
The Five W’s
We can learn much from journalistic writing. Good journalists follow the rule of the five Ws, which are: Who, What, Where, When and Why?
A good news report must explain who was involved, what happened, where it happened, when it happened and why it is newsworthy.
Another key rule of journalism is to provide the most important information in the opening paragraph. It is tempting to hold back some important facts as bait to encourage people to keep reading to learn more, but in reality, people are far more likely to read on if they are told all the facts from the outset.
Make it clear what the article is about in the first paragraph so that the reader can make an informed decision on whether or not to invest their time into reading the content.
SEO copywriting is becoming more aligned with journalistic copywriting – this is probably an indication that Google’s goal of showing quality information in search is being achieved.
Break Up Content
Breaking up content is important too. Many people insist that all web pages are broken up into sections with headers – even when an article is only 500 words. It is often not necessary to do this.
However, for much longer pieces, breaking an article into sections does help people to skim down to find parts that interest them, but it won’t encourage them to read the whole article.
One fact that is often forgotten is that headers are not the only way to break up content. Inserting an image, video, embedded Tweet or even a call to action can all break the text a little to make it easier to read.
However, for those who are fully engaged in the content, even headers can be a distraction and change the pace of the article.
Not Just Long-form Content
Of course, it is not just long-form content that helps. Google says that there are over 200 ranking factors, so adding words alone will not help you rank.
But, good quality content that provides an in-depth analysis, interesting facts, or is just more interesting to the reader, will leave a longer lasting impression, and this may result in more social media sharing and even the much-welcomed natural links from other bloggers and web content writers.
Is There A Worst Post Content Length?
This is possibly the most interesting conclusion – articles that are between 500 and 800 words are the worse post content length. If you want to rank well, either write short pieces or very long pieces – avoid the middle ground.
The amusing thing is, a vast majority of SEO articles are within this range. Maybe this is why Google does not rank them so well – Google knows that SEOs like producing articles of between 500 and 600 words, so is naturally more suspicious of this content!
This article is now just over 1,100 words. It took a little more than an hour to write; if I spent a little longer still I might just hit the sweet spot. However, one final rule – never add words just for the sake of adding them. You must know when to stop.
About the Author
Danny Hall is a co-director for the well-established digital marketing agency, FSE Online. Danny believes that when it comes to SEO, quality content is king!
- License: Image author owned