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June 2, 2016 (Updated: February 28, 2020)
Much more than a number, word count can largely determine the success of your online content. If you’ve never given much thought to the word count of your blog posts, articles, or other digital marketing assets, now is the time to start. Learn how content length affects everything from search engine optimization (SEO) to audience actions, plus find out what you can do to make the most of your word count.
Image via Flickr by Steve A Johnson
As a content marketer, SEO should always be top of mind. After all, you want to make sure that your target audience can find the valuable articles and other assets that you post online.
If you’ve been tempted to produce a larger number of short pieces of content to improve your SEO ranking, think again. An analysis of Google’s search rankings indicates that the search engine shows a marked preference for long-form content.
In 2014, the highest-ranking content averaged slightly more than 900 words. A year later, the top content had higher word counts, averaging between 1,140 and 1,285 words. If the trend continues, Google will continue to favor even longer pieces of content in 2016.
As Jayson DeMers explains in Forbes magazine, Google’s preferences aren’t only for an arbitrary number of words. Instead, the search engine giant purposely highlights longer content that covers topics in a more comprehensive way. You can take advantage of this distinction by taking the time to write longer pieces that offer more value instead of brief posts that only begin to introduce a complex topic.
With digital marketing, SEO is important, but SEO isn’t everything. The following metrics also depend on word count to determine success:
Regardless of the content you publish online, chances are you’ll want to make that content shareable. After all, content that warrants sharing gets more views, generates more leads, and grows your audience.
Several digital marketers have found that content with more than 1,500 words typically prompts more social media shares. This finding can probably be attributed to the fact that longer content tends to offer more developed viewpoints that encourage engagement.
Since longer content often addresses more data and has more to contribute to a larger conversation, this content tends to offer readers and experts alike more points of reference. In other words, the longer the content, the more comprehensive it tends to be, and the higher number of link-backs that content will receive from authorities.
In addition to driving more traffic, link-backs can also help with SEO.
Most digital marketers ultimately want to drive conversions. While longer content gives you more space and extra opportunities to sell a product or service, writing more doesn’t always pay off. In many cases, shorter copy is more effective at generating conversions. Try testing various versions of your content to decide which length creates the most conversions for you.
Even though long-form content is more shareable and typically ranks higher doesn’t mean shorter content doesn’t have value. In fact, content in the 500-word range can easily do better than a 1,200-word piece. Also, remember that longer pieces of content, such as articles that double the highest-ranking word count, aren’t guaranteed to do well.
When you’re determining the right length for your content, digital marketers typically caution against forcing a predetermined word count.
No matter what you might think about ideal length, you shouldn’t turn a 150-word description into a 500-word blog post by adding fluff or stuffing the piece with keywords. Instead, keep your content length as natural as possible. Always try to focus on offering content with substance instead of composing strings of empty words.
While you should keep the length natural, remember that content that is too short can also hurt you. A 150-word description often works well to introduce an infographic, but this description length doesn’t usually suffice for a blog post.
In search rankings, Google punishes what’s known as thin content, or overly short posts. Articles under 200 or 300 words are less likely to appear in search results, and thin content can even compromise your site’s overall SEO.
Short and long content has positives and negatives. Fortunately, you can optimize content of any length as long as you follow a few general guidelines:
Including relevant keywords in your online content continues to be important for SEO. Keyword stuffing, the practice of overusing keywords in a single piece of content, won’t do you any favors with Google, though.
In short content, find ways to include the most important keywords naturally. In long content, take advantage of the extra space to include more long-tail keywords and relevant terms to boost SEO.
Short content is great for getting to the point and making calls to action clear. Long-form content can also drive conversions, but it may need more finessing first. Be sure that any longer copy is easy to scan and actively engages the reader before jumping to a call to action.
Studies have shown that 1,600 words is an ideal length for a blog post. At this rate, readers can be engaged for an average of seven minutes. Since the ideal time span for your website might vary, do some analysis to understand how much time readers spend on your articles and what the ideal length is for your audience.
Taking a closer look at your content length and performance can also show how well your internal link structure works and the rate at which you retain readers. Together, these metrics can help your content drive more conversions.
While word count impacts content efficacy and conversion rate, not every piece of writing demands the same length. Know what works for your audience and your goals to help you understand how to make your word count work for you.
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