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How much does post length really count in SEO?

Posted by John Stevens on 7 Sep, 2016
View comments SEO
Is there an ideal post length? We tackle this topic in-depth to give you a better idea of how your blog post length affects your SEO performance.

If you’ve been blogging long enough, then you’ve probably noticed that longer posts perform better in search engines—both on your blog and on competitors' blogs.

This trend raises several questions. Does post length really matter? If so, what’s the ideal post length?

Does post length really count in SEO?

Let’s cut to the chase. Google has specifically stated that it doesn’t use post length as a ranking factor in its algorithms. Back in 2012, Google representative John Mueller stated in a help forum that word count itself doesn’t matter.

“Rest assured,” Mueller said, “Googlebot doesn't just count words on a page or in an article, even short articles can be very useful and compelling to users.”

He points out that Google crawls and indexes tweets, which are a mere 140 characters, so there’s not a minimum content length to what they’ll consider for their rankings.

“That said,” Mueller continues, “if you have users who love your site and engage with it regularly, allowing them to share comments on your articles is also a great way to bring additional information onto the page. Sometimes a short article can trigger a longer discussion—and sometimes users are looking for discussions like that in search.”

Mueller concludes by recommending that instead of focusing on word count, the focus should be on writing unique, high-quality content. However, just because word count itself is not a direct ranking factor, it does not mean it doesn’t matter or affect your SEO in some way.

What does the research say?

Though Google doesn’t rank blog posts based on word count, the research suggests that word count plays a role. Let’s look at a couple of examples of research done on the subject.

When researching which blog posts performed best on their site, Medium found that people spend the most time on blog posts that take seven minutes to read, with these posts also getting the most visitors on average. A seven-minute reading time translates to about 1,600 words. Medium suggests this trend could be because longer posts are of higher quality. Those that become increasingly longer to read, however, perhaps experience fewer visitors because they appeal to more of a niche audience.

Another study by SerpIQ looked at the average content length for each position on the page. They found that the average first position used just over 2450 words on the page, which included sidebar text. The second position had slightly more words than the first, but average word count declined the further down the content sat on the results page. SerpIQ concluded that it’s best to aim your content at 1,500 words or higher.

The American Marketing Association backs up this idea by saying that posts between 1,200 and 1,500 words tend to perform better on search engines.

In another case study, marketing professional Neil Patel looked at which blog posts on his site performed the best on social media. Although share count isn’t a ranking factor, it does point to which blog posts are of higher quality. If readers love your content, chances are search engines will, too. When Patel looked at his content, he found that posts longer than 1,500 words received 68 percent more tweets and 22 percent more Facebook likes than those under 1,500 words.

Word count and social media shares are very similar when it comes to SEO. Neither are direct ranking factors in Google’s algorithm, but they each correlate with higher search engine rankings. That said, correlation does not equal causation. It is not necessarily about the number of words on the page or the number of social shares you have; it’s more about the other factors that play a role in the bigger picture.

How does post length impact SEO?

So if Google doesn’t count words in an article and use that as a ranking factor, why does the research suggest that longer articles will rank higher?

It’s because of other factors associated with longer articles. Longer articles tend to contain more valuable information, making them more useful to the reader. And what does Google want to rank highest on the page? User-friendly, popular content. It’s not about the word count; it’s about what you’re using that word count to say. Consider how these other factors bridge the connection between longer content and higher search engine rankings.

More words mean more keywords

Theoretically, longer blog posts give search engines more of a chance to get an idea of what the blog post is about. There are more relevant keywords on the page, which means there are more indicators of what topics the page should rank for. Plus, longer posts typically mean more subheadings. Since your subheads help create a hierarchy in your content, the keywords in your subheads can hold more weight than keywords in your body content. With more subheads, there are more heavy-weighted keywords for search engines to crawl.

This doesn’t mean that longer posts provide more opportunities to keyword stuff. Most of your keywords will come naturally as you write for your audience. Remember: Google doesn’t deliver exact-match keywords; they deliver results that are similar to a person’s search query, and longer content allows you to use a greater variety of similar keywords.

Longer posts tend to offer more value

In general, you’ll spend more time writing and researching longer posts than you will for shorter posts. In turn, you’ll end up producing higher quality content that both your readers and search engines love. With more research, you’ll typically have more outgoing links as well, which will help search engines get a better feel for your content’s topic and quality.

More value means more backlinks

One of the most important things to remember with SEO is that writing for your audience first is going to help you rank better on search engines. One factor at play is backlinks. If your audience loves your content, they’re going to link back to it. The more people love and link back to your blog post, the better it will perform in search engine rankings.

The reason longer posts tend to get more backlinks is because readers typically find them more useful. Search engines will take notice of this and realize that your content is of high quality and that readers want to see results like yours in their searches.

This concept is evidenced by Moz’s research. They found that “posts with 1,800 or more words have a much higher average of linking domains.” They concluded that posts between 1,800 and 3,000 words attract 15 times more in linking domains than posts with fewer than 600 words.

Considering that links are among the top three ranking factors—according to Search Engine Journal—it’s important to understand this connection. Backlinks are one of the most important ranking signals, so making sure your content is useful to readers who want to link back to it is essential to your SEO strategy. Typically, longer content accomplishes this and earns more backlinks to help boost search engine rankings.

More value means more comments

In general, the more valuable your content is to readers, the more people will comment on your blog posts. That means even more content on the page for search engines to index. As Neil Patel points out, the more comments you have on your page, the more long-tail keywords you’ll rank for, leading to better search engine rankings and more traffic.

How long should your blog posts be?

Unfortunately, this question is virtually impossible to answer. Simply put, there is no magic number. Instead, you should focus on offering high-quality content to your readers. That said, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to deliver as much value in 500 words as you can with 1,500 words. Likewise, a blog post at 4,000 words may seem overwhelming and cause readers to turn away from the content.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that it all depends on the topic you’re writing about; an inspirational post may be more effective if it’s shorter whereas an educational post won’t teach much if it’s on the shorter end. You’re not writing to hit a word count; you’re writing to benefit your audience, so don’t force it. Write what you need to say and nothing more, nothing less.

Although there is no “magic number,” a good rule of thumb is to write posts with about 1,500 words. Aiming for this word count will allow you to flesh out a topic and deliver value without leaving your readers feeling overwhelmed.

With these concepts in mind, you can move forward with your content strategy with a better idea of how to handle your content length and how it will impact your search engine rankings. Remember: It’s not about the word count; it’s about what you’re saying.

How will you use the concepts presented here to benefit your blog and search engine optimization strategy in the future? Let us know in the comments or share your thoughts on social media.

 

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