Over the last few weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how blogs work from an SEO perspective and one of the core things I’ve been experimenting with recently is length. Specifically looking at blog word count.
There’s quite a lot of information out there about how long a blog should be and it’s something I’ve been experimenting with recently.
If you speak to an SEO consultant, or a blogger or a content marketer you’re probably going to get a different answer depending on how they focus their marketing activities. As we are SEO copywriting focused, I’ve previously been of the mindset that as well as a piece of content is roughly 1,000 words, has the keywords in the page title and H tags and that it links back to the services page the content is related to, that’s probably enough. However lately I’m beginning to think that’s not enough by a long shot!
In content creation, we often talk about long-form and short form. Traditionally short form was a blog post of around 700 words, whereas long-form was blogging posts of around 1000 words. The terminology long-form and short form in reference to blogs entered the SEO lexicon around about five years ago and I remember the guys at Moz banging on about it.
Should you choose long-form or short form blogging strategy?
OK, so this is something you really need to think about. But it shouldn’t just be an either or. There is a lot to think about when coming up with your SEO oriented content marketing strategies. Blogging is going to be a central part of that for most people because this is the type of content they can easily generate. So you need to think about how you can make sure your strategy is at least better than many of your competitors.
In this blog post, I’m going to look at work count. Look at what people are saying on the internet. I’m going to share some of my experiences of writing both long-form and short form blogs. And hopefully, by the end of it you’ll have some indication of whether you should choose a long-form or short form blogging strategy or whether you should have a combination of both strategies.
Before we start delving into the arena of blog copy word count there is one thing I should say: QUALITY TOPS QUANTITY.
Is word count one of Google’s ranking factors?
No word count isn’t one of their traditional ranking factors. I can’t find any reference to Word Count in Google’s webmaster guides. That’s not to say it doesn’t factor in a bit – but personally, I can’t see it. If it was a major factor, all we would have to do is write blogs that are several thousands of words long each and that would be enough. Clearly smart people than myself would have caught onto that sooner and done something about it.
But I think that your blog’s word count will be a factor in circumstances where the quality of the content you’re producing is high. This might seem like a contradiction at first but bear with me.
Anyone can bash out 5,000 or 10,000 words of drivel. But if the content isn’t of high enough quality and if it doesn’t add something, it still won’t rank. You’re still going to end up with the same sum gain as you did when you wrote those 700 or 1000 word blog articles.
Does word count matter when writing a blog?
I’m more certain than ever that word count is very important when writing blog content. But it’s not word quantity for the sake of word quantity. A 700-word blog post can still outrank a poor quality 3000-word blog post. But it has to be fantastically high quality.
I’m proud to say I’m capable of writing in any industry you can imagine. I can go out and research the type of content that’s being created in that industry. I can find the best creators and then I can turn that into content that fits Moz’s 10x better content strategy. That is – find content that’s good and then make it the best in the market. By consistently doing this you’ll start to find you can outrank your competition. One of the outcomes of this is you often find that whilst you don’t have to write 10x as much content, you certainly have to create more.
But let’s try to put a bit of science in the realm of content creation. This isn’t about creating 7,000-word blogs or 10,000-word blog in every niche. My theory is to look at what’s there already, look at how long the best quality content is in an industry then determine to make content that’s a bit longer and is better quality. That way I’m covering all bases!
Longform content for social shares
When thinking about what the best quality content is, you’re going to have to use tools that help you find the content and then that help you explore their rankings, their social shares and the Click Throughs they are getting. So you’re going to get a different picture for each industry. If I work in creating content and I don’t feel it’s having an impact from an SEO perspective, this is the first place I look to.
Longform content for link acquisition
In 2012 Moz conducted a survey demonstrating a direct correlation between the content length and the number of backlinks pointing to it. I’ve seen content rank straight away when it’s long-form – so this is just an added benefit. It’s interesting that whilst researching this piece many of the articles that are still ranking well in the index are years old. And most of them are thousands upon thousands of words long!
Longform content for better conversion rates
One of the best-known case studies also demonstrates that longer form content can have benefits from a conversion rate perspective. When Highrise Marketing wanted to generate more signups they got some pros in to do some split testing. From this they found that the homepage with long form content had an increase in conversions of over 37%.
Crazy Egg also did some research that suggested conversion rate can increase by over 30% when using long-form content. They also created this awesome guide for using long-form content to improve conversion rate.
According to the Crazy Egg blog: “The media would have us believe that people no longer have any capacity to concentrate. In reality, you cannot have a page that’s too long — only one that’s too boring. In the case of Crazy Egg’s home page, visitors wanted their many questions answered and that’s what we delivered.”
What’s the history of the word count debate in SEO?
Long before long-form content became an issue online it was an issue elsewhere. Also pointed out in this Search Engine Land article: The SEO And User Science Behind Long-Form Content: David Ogilvy once said: “All my experience says that for a great many products, long copy sells more than short… Advertisements with long copy convey the impression that you have something important to say, whether people read the copy or not.”
Dr. Charles Edwards, former dean of the Graduate School of Retailing at New York University is quoted as saying: “The more facts you tell, the more you sell.”
In order to think about what the word count you should use in your blog to benefit your SEO efforts, it’s first worth thinking about the history of the word count debate.
I started blogging as an SEO tactic in 2007 / 2008. In those days you could think about pretty much any topic and then create some content and I could almost certainly guarantee my SEO copywriting techniques would get that content to rank really well. I had a knack for selecting the right topics, getting all the keyword ducks in a row and getting a blog to rank. It didn’t even need to be that long. Most blogs historically were about 600 – 800 words long. If you’ve ever tried to write a blog you’ll know how super simple blogs of that length are to write. That’s just pure opinion.
And admittedly whilst celebrities can get away with writing a handful of words here and there, if you want your copy to have an impact from a search marketing perspective, you’re probably going to have to work within the general consensus. And over the last 5 to 6 years the general consensus has been all about long-form.
Originally long-form content was perceived to be a bad idea. Historically people felt they should deliver the content as quickly as possible in as few words as possible. Longform is a journalistic term and it’s something that most news and media outlets presumed the internet would kill stone cold dead.
“When readers started moving to the internet, media analysts thought long-form journalism was in trouble. Attention spans were going to shrivel. Readers wanted short, they wanted snappy, they wanted 140 characters and not much more (though a listicle on the side couldn’t hurt). Who would want to scroll through an 8,000-word article on an iPhone screen?” Said Naomi Sharp
However, it’s now well and truly recognised that people do still want to consume contextual long-form content. They are on the bus at rush hour with nothing much to do for 40 minutes. They do sit with their phones at bedtime before they go to sleep and catch up on opinion pieces. I can’t tell you how often I’m watching a film, listening to something on the radio or watching a political piece, where I’m also sat with my phone in my other hand researching the topic or the people involved.
There’s tons of research by people like me to prove that long-form content can be beneficial to your SEO performance But there is also evidence that this is beneficial to social media as well by getting more engagement and shares.
Way back in 2012 serIQ carried out a study which fairly conclusively showed that average content length impacted the ability to rank in the SERPs. They studied the results of 20,000 keywords. Back then, the average length of a piece of content in the top 10 was around 2,000 words. In fact, the difference between position 1 and position 10 was the difference between a piece that was 2,416 words long and one which was 2,032. If you wanted to rank the word count was certainly important. Being important back then it is likely still to be important. Right?
When reviewing social shared we can also see in this Buzzsumo study that longer content gets more shares on social.
So if you want to get more shares on social media you are going to want to be creating content that’s between 3,000 and 10,000/ Let me tell you that I’ve created content at that length and the thing I would say about it is this: If you want to write a piece of content to around 10,000 words long you need to have a well-thought-out plan and a good structure for that content.
So the above reports demonstrate that word count length is important for various different channels. I’d argue that socially you may find if someone has gone to the effort of producing a piece of content that’s that kind of length they are likely to focus on sharing it socially. Pieces of content at that length also often contain input from influencers who will readily share content that’s about them. So that may skew the figures a bit. My gut feeling is 10,000 words is slightly too long. But not by a million miles.
More recent research of the top 10 SERPs seems to suggest that the length of content that’s able to rank at the top spot has dropped slightly. Just bear in mind this was carried four years apart from the report I mentioned above and was carried out by a different company so the methodology could be different. But It’s an interesting find.
In the Backlinki report, they believe that as of September 2016, if you want to get to position one in the SERPs, on average you need to be creating a piece of content that had a word count of around 1890 words.
So it’s clear from looking at the research that’s being carried out above, if you want to use a content marketing approach to your SEO activity, you want to be thinking seriously about word count.
From my own experience, recently I’ve been experimenting word count. I generally create pieces that are around 2,000 words long. Great? Well, that’s certainly what the perceived wisdom would have you do. But my findings are that these days they don’t rank that well. So I’ve been playing with creating blogs between 4,000 and 7,000 words long to see what a difference that makes. Straight away I can see more organic traffic coming through to the blog. But crucially from an SEO perspective, I believe I am getting more organic traffic to my services pages as well.
What does Google say about long-form blog content?
Whilst I can’t find anything in the Google Webmaster Guidelines about word count, there does seem to be hints out thereby well-known Googlers. In his Google Webmaster Central Blog Pandu Nayak (yep that’s the creator of Google Panda Update) said the following:
“Users often turn to Google to answer a quick question, but research suggests that up to 10% of users’ daily information needs involve learning about a broad topic. That’s why today we’re introducing new search results to help users find in-depth articles.”
It’s got to make sense when you think about it. Length in some capacity in a piece of content is probably an indicator of quality. And although I don’t believe you’re going to see any change in the importance of long-form content anytime soon, after all, people will likely be consuming media in the same ways as they do today for some time to come.
If you’re thinking about it from a ranking perspective, the one thing to remember is the more content you include on a page, the more chance you have for ranking for the keywords within that content.
Something else that occurred to me recently is a few years ago there was a trend for one-page parallax websites. A lot of them still exist today. They weren’t brilliant for SEO because they were essentially one-page websites. But the one thing they did well was put a lot of related content on one page. If we’re trying to make our content 10x better than what’s out there, long- form is a way of outperforming that kind of site too.
Why would people want to read long-form content?
As a marketer, I take a lot of influence from Neil Patel. He’s my professional hero. Neil not only creates the kind of content I would love to create. He has an amazing sales orientated copywriting style. Sometimes it’s a little bit Americanised for my British mindset, and I’m sure it could be offputting to some business owners and marketers in the UK, but overall it’s such a fantastic resource. And one which I admit to using whilst creating this content.
Check out Patel’s blog entitled Why 3000+ Word Blog Posts Get More Traffic (A Data Driven Answer). In this blog, he shares his thoughts on why long form content is so successful.
In this piece, Patel argues that long-form content creates a perception of high quality than short posts can do, and argues that long-form content can cover a much greater breadth of the topic than could ever be covered in a shorter post. From an SEO perspective, I believe this passes relevance through to the pages you link through to on your site (as long as they are topically relevant too of course!).
Sumo did some fantastic content marketing / SEO orientated research earlier this year. They stated what most of us digital marketers have known for years, a secret we probably don’t want to even admit to ourselves. Most people won’t finish reading your blog articles – or even your services or product pages.
According to their analysis, only 20% of readers finished reading articles and the average visitor would only read 25% of an article.
I love this graphic from Sumo which I think nicely illustrates the point. If only 20% of readers are getting to the bottom of your blog post how are you making sure they understand what you want them to?
Jacob Nielsen said: “We’ve known since our first studies of how users read on the Web that they typically don’t read very much.Scanning text is an extremely common behaviour for higher-literacy users; our recent eyetracking studies further validate this finding.”
Nielsen created a handy mathematical model which has some really interesting results about word count and the psychology of reading on-screen.This chart demonstrates the top word count visitors could consume when visiting pages with differing word counts.
Bear in mind this study was done way back in 2008 when technology wasn’t as advanced as it is today, but the results do suggest that most people won’t read a whole post in its entirety. So you’re going to need to create signposts within the content to help them out. Things like header tags, strong tags, bullet point, maybe the odd underline here and there. The great news for an SEO copywriter is that all these elements are going to give Google clues about the importance and relevant parts of your content. Brilliant.
How do you write long-form content for SEO?
First things first. I’ve got to put my good SEO hat on here. Write content for people and not for SEO. The SEO benefits should be your secondary consideration. Now I’ve got that caveat out there, of course when you’re writing long-form content you carrying out an SEO copywriting exercise – so do it well!
Having a reason to create long-form content
All content should have a reason. There should be a goal that you’re working towards when creating content. You need to know what you want the user to do with the information you are giving them. Are they going to contact you? Are they going to fill in an enquiry form? Is it for brand awareness? Is it purely for links? Is it to pass relevance to other pieces of content around your website. What are the reasons your long-form content is going to be written into life?
Making long-form content unique
As with anything that you write for your blog – whether you are creating it solely for the SEO benefits or because you want to really give something to your audience – make sure you create content that has your own unique insights.
I keep telling people that they’ve got to understand that their experiences and those of their team’s experiences need to be woven into the text they create and publish. Providing this kind of everyday comment and insight is something your audience can relate to, demonstrates that you’re really thinking about the content you’re creating and make it harder for others to copy.
Understand how your personas interact with content
If you know your personas, then you’ll know if long-form content is right for them. I love reading and I have lots of opportunities at various points of the day to read copy. Very rarely, except when I’m trying to learn something on the piano, do I watch a video about something. Some of your audience is never going to engage with written content. If a persona that doesn’t engage with written content is your primary audience – even though there are huge SEO benefits – don’t bother! Do something else.
What can you write your long-form content about?
It’s a bit of a big question, and I’d suggest if you’re scratching your head you are probably writing a long-form content piece for the wrong reason already. However, you can find content ideas through:
- Keyword research
- Your existing analytics
- Your competitors’ websites
Create an outline plan for your long-form content
I can create content at a rate of knots. I can knock out several thousand words. For most businesses, I don’t need to create a plan to create a few thousand word blog post. However even I start to struggle when I get to 3,000 words. In order to overcome this, I write a brief outline plan of what I’m going to do. Often if I’m looking at what other people have written I can create a plan from that and then apply the 10x content principle to make it better.
Use images in your long-form content
You’re also going to want to look and think about the pictures you put in your blog posts. I must confess to being a bit of a Luddite when it comes to the inclusion of media other than text. I like to write things down and think about them but when it comes to adding photos and images I’m not as great.
The last few blogs I’ve written I’ve made an extra special effort to add images. Because I recognise that most people can’t stand huge block of content but images will break it up and they might just read that bit further.
In addition to their benefits from a readership psychology perspective, they also show Google that you’ve got a good mix of media in your content and they give your content a chance to rank in Google’s other search platforms. I get a surprising number of visits from Google image search for example.
Although they don’t add to the word count of your content, they certainly make your readers feel like they’ve read more content. Sometimes a bit of kidology is all you need.
Apparently, the average long-form piece of content contains 9 images. Can you include 10? Or more?
I’ve spoken to loads of people that swear long-form content is the answer to their digital marketing problems. And I can definitely say that I’ve seen a lot of successes start to come through when I created long-form content.
Recently the experiments I’ve conducted seem to suggest that if you want your services/product pages to rank, you’re going to have to create long-form blog content in order to get some traction in Google for the blog and therefore pass some relevance back to the product or services page. I know not everyone creates tons of chunky pieces of content, but I’m a firm believer that this is a scalable sustainable solution.
What word count should your long-form blogs be for SEO?
People have been referring to long-form for ages but there’s not really any clear consensus about what exactly long-form content is – just how long should this long stuff be?
As I’ve indicated above I would argue that each different industry, sector, vertical and niche should be considered differently when you’re thinking about what your articles word count should be.
You should also continually remember that it’s not about quantity but about the quality of the content you create. It’s that more quantity of quality content will trump less quantity of quality content most days of the week.
Commenting on the apparent trend towards length of content rather than really engaging content, Rand Fishkin said: “rather than applying a tactic like long-form content universally or setting length as the bar (or even a metric) for greatness, we instead match our content to our audience’s needs and our business/personal goals. 700 more words will not help you reach your goals anymore than 7 more words. Create content that helps people. Do it efficiently. Never write an ultimate guide where a single image could more powerfully convey the same value. Trust me; your audience and your bottom line will thank you.”
You’ve got to give your audience the content they need and content they will want to read. In the course of researching this content, I’ve read a lot of pieces of content that suggest it doesn’t’ matter if people don’t get to the end of your content. From a relevance perspective, this is partially true. If people don’t get to the end it doesn’t matter because Google will. However, eventually, those negative user signals are going to kills you post’s ability to rank. If that happens the relevance and potency it passes through its links is also going to go south as well.
Also, if you’re thinking about carrying this out as an SEO copywriting exercise, consider getting an SEO involved. I know I would say that, but make sure you’ve got someone who can actually string a sentence together, make it flow and make the reader want to lap it up. There’s a lot of drivel out there. Some of it I’m probably a bit guilty of creating myself!
It’s all about quality and then quantity, guys.
What word count would help SEO in your industry?
Before we look at what people say you should do in your industry, it’s also worth taking note of what Ramsay of BlogTyrant says:
“If you’ve tried long-form articles on your blog or guest posting spots but haven’t got the reception that you’d hoped it might be worth asking a few questions like:
- What does your audience respond to?
Some people just don’t consume long-form content. They might be too used to BuzzFeed-type articles that are broken up into tiny animated clips or sentence-long sound bites that make them blow air out of their nose quickly and then move on. There’s nothing wrong with BuzzFeed, by the way. They know their market perfectly.
- Are your writing skills up to the task?
This is a really harsh point to bring up but some bloggers just don’t seem to have the writing skills (yet!) to write 5,000 words and make it interesting. I’m constantly surprised that people read my writing and I’ve been at it for a few years now.
- Are you picking topics that warrant massive detail?
Not all topics need that much detail. Some of the popular “news” that we see now (think celebrities and sport) barely require a photo and a bit of gossip to get people onto the page then clicking onto the next thing. There’s just no time or space for a long analysis.
If you get one or more of these elements wrong then there is a good chance that your hours and hours and hours of research, writing and editing may be all wasted.”
Neil Patel has done some incredible research into the length of content you should consider writing in different sectors. I’ve compiled his results below – but be sure to check out his thoughts around each sector:
- Gadgets – 300 – 500 words
- Fashion – 800 – 950 words
- Tech – 800 – 1,000 words
- Recruiting – 900 – 1,000 words
- Home and garden – 1,100 – 1,200 words
- Food – 1,400 – 1,900 words
- Retail – 1,500 – 1,700 words
- Film – 1,500 – 1,700 words
- Manufacturing – 1,700 – 1,900 words
- Real estate – 1,800 – 1,900 words
- FinTech: 2,000 – 2,150
- Healthcare – 2,000 – 2,150 words
- Finance – 2,100 – 2,500 words
- Sales – 2,500 – 2,700 words
- Marketing/advertising – 2,500 – 3,000 words
I know a lot about creating content for marketing related topics and I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the length of content you had to produce to rank well and generate traffic is definitely getting exponentially longer. I’d go further than this to say don’t bother if you don’t write under 4,000 words at the moment. It’s just that competitive.
Bear in mind that Neil pulled this list together on the 3rd June 2017 and he’s collated this from across the internet. As the old adage goes as soon as data is published it’s already out of date.
You should also remember that more and more businesses are starting to use content marketing as a primary part of their SEO copywriting strategy and Google is constantly tweaking and redeveloping its algorithm. And the way we consume media is changing all the time as well. In all likelihood, content is going to need to get longer. But there is also a chance that Google might see that people are creating long-form content and start looking for short pieces that have more concise and well-written content.
Either way, when writing copy for SEO you need to make sure you’ve factored in a word count policy. You don’t have to be religious in order to ensure your SEO benefits and I don’t believe every piece has to be so long, but for the most part work within the confines of your industry and do it better. 10x content is generally longer content. Often it’s what I refer to as ‘super long-form content.’
Should long-form content be gated content?
And just to throw a spanner in the works, you should be asking yourself if your content should be given away or gated. And this really depends on where the audience is in the buying cycle and what you want to achieve out of the content. Also, if you’ve created the kind of report that is super valuable and can’t be found anywhere else, maybe you should protect that IP and collect some email addresses before everyone starts talking about it.
Content Marketing Institute’s Joe Pullizi followed up with some math on this:
“Let’s say you received 1,000 leads via your white paper download. From David’s numbers, let’s even take a more conservative 10x more downloads if we remove the gate. This would give us 10,000 downloads with no lead data. Of all those people, let’s say that 1% would share this/blog this with their audiences (with a VERY conservative audience of 100 people, although most blogs get much more).
“With those numbers, the total possible content reach for gated content would be 2,000 people. Non-gated content would be 20,000 people.”
There again, I’ve always believed in giving content away in SEO in order to get something back in return.
Promoting long-form content to benefit SEO
We’ve already seen that long-form content generally generates more backlinks than shorter content, but you can’t just create content and then set it live and expect it to rank. You’ve got to let Google know it’s there, to begin with. That means making sure you’ve got a good XML sitemap in place. That means submitting your blog posts to Google.
I also get every piece of content out through social media. I recommend adding every post to Google Plus (although I don’t think this has the same impact it once did). And I ask people to promote the content for me. These generate the kind of signals Google is going to be looking for to make sure it’s credible and worthwhile content to rank.
So should you start writing long-form content for your SEO campaign?
If you’re still not convinced that high word count pieces are that important for your SEO strategy, just have a look through Google and see what the top results are looking like. I bet you’ll see many high word count blog pieces sitting there ranking. All of them providing quality well thought through, structured and written pieces that really add something to the topic they’re about.
Just think to yourself: when you create copy for SEO, what is the rough word count you are trying to create and why are you trying to create content with that specific word count? Is it something you read about years ago? Is it just a gut feeling? Do you have evidence?