There are a lot of opinions online when it comes to content length and SEO. In this video, I debunk some of the “experts” and do my best to set you on the right track when it comes to creating the right content for SEO.
Table of Contents
One of the sayings that we hear all the time in the digital marketing world is content is key. Over the years, we’ve seen a number of people talk about different lengths of content and how certain types of content or longer content tends to rank better in search. Over the last few years, we’ve seen a number of massive changes in search with RankBrain, with Burt being part of the core algorithm. Google is using natural language now to understand context, semantic searches, and full swing with linked open data and the search engines have a much better idea of concepts and context within your content.
Does long-form content work better than short-form content?
Especially when it comes to earning those rich features, which sit at position zero in the search results, this is an important question for content marketers and SEOs to answer. We can’t just read a blog out there and assume that it’s correct. We have to do tests on our own and understand what we see in the search results.
For the next few slides, I’m going to share with you some research I did into 100 different queries that rank for rich features, the length of their content, and some things that we can learn based on this really quick study, which hopefully you could put back to practice to help you deliver better results for your business and your customers.
If you search the internet, you’re going to find a number of experts out there that have different opinions. Some will say 600 to 700 words per page. Some will say 1000 to 2000 words per page. Some will say 2000 words or more because you need to cover everything about the topic. While there is some data that will show that, hey, if you have more words, you can rank more, it’s not necessarily the case.
It All Depends on Intent
Here’s my advice. Don’t listen to any of this crap. This is completely taken out of context. It doesn’t really solve the problem because each piece of content is designed to meet a different type of intent. While 600 to 700 may have worked for one site. There’s no guarantee that if you do 600 to 700 or over 2000 words, that you’re automatically going to rank. Google has reiterated this multiple times saying that word count, and honestly, longer word count, isn’t a guarantee of ranking, and just because somebody is ranking in that position, there are a lot of other factors that are at play for why they might actually have earned that position.
I decided to take a look at 100 different terms and one to look at the featured snippets, specifically terms that had earned a featured snippet. That’s over the first position that call out box we see in search. The reason why is we’re seeing search features really show up a lot more in search today. Typically, the featured snippet is the best performing content or the content that best matches the query of the user. As you can see here from advanced web rankings that when you have that top featured snippet, the CTR of that is 21.32%. That’s huge. That’s massive. It almost doubles that of a first page link without a featured snippet.
This is a very, very powerful spot. Google is looking at finding the best piece of content for intent. And so if volume or length of piece of content matched and was a ranking factor, we would probably see longer-form content ranking in these featured snippet positions because that content has to better match the intent, has to better fully answer a question.
I wanted to use queries that were featured snippets and we looked at 100 different now. By no means is this completely comprehensive, but I did look at a number of queries and really tried to break them down in different volumes as well as different categories.
This is what we saw as far as word count goes. We had one piece here that was super long. It kind of skewed a little bit of the data, was over 14,000 words. But most of the content here, as you can see, more than half of it, about 66% of it almost was under 2000 words, right at 2000 words or less.
A majority of the content you can see is right under here. We had quite a bit of content, almost 25% that was under 1000 words. You also had content on the other end of that. As you can see here, it’s kind of across the board. You have some smaller pages. You have pages with a ton of content ranking in those featured snippets spots.
I also looked at word count in volumes. Maybe the higher volume terms had more word count. Well, that wasn’t necessarily the case either. You have some outliers here where you’ve got a 3000-word count article that’s got a ton of traffic for it. But you’ve also got this 14,000 one that only had a little bit of traffic under 20,000 in the search volume. As you continue that most of the content here, which is under 20K and in volume was really around this 1000 to 2000 mark kind of grouped in here, but there are no real trends. I can’t sit here and say, well, you must do this because it really goes up here. You have content that’s 3000 words, 4000 words, 5000 words, 6000 words. You have a couple of different groups here, but there’s no really true correlation here between the content length and ranking for a high-volume keyword.
I wanted to break it down into category. The first thing we did was average word count by category. Now, some of this can be very skewed as you can tell because we had that 14,000-word article, so using average isn’t always the best case here. But as you can look here, articles in the family section tend to have a little bit of a higher word count, entertainment was about 2000 words, but then you’ve got real estate, finance, sports, education, and food, which really surprised me that the food articles were so low because typically when you go to a recipe blog, they give you all of this information that you usually don’t even care about. You want to know the recipe, but they give you the origin of where the different spices should come from, but whatever. It was really crazy to see that most of the food articles that we looked at were under 800 words.
Questions Open Up Search
Now, if we looked at the media, which is a better idea of really how long the content is because this isn’t going to skew off by those big outliers. You could see that a majority of the content here was actually under 1000, 2000 words. As you can tell, content kind of ranges. It can be over 2000, it could be way under 2000. Food and sports tend to be a little bit lower here. Like I said, this is by no means comprehensive, but what it does show us is something that’s really important. It’s the fact that we need to understand context. There’s a ton of traffic to be gained online. As you can see, almost 25% of all search volume, all traffic that you can gain is outside of the top 100 million keywords. This shows that people are asking very specific questions and they’re looking for very specific answers.
Not many people do one search and then they’re done. They typically do multiple searches. They’re looking for a series of answers around their question to get a better understanding of what they’re even looking for. They might not even know what they’re searching for when they start the search process. But what this shows is that there’s a ton of opportunity for everybody to create very specific content around the user’s needs, that you don’t have to sit and create these super long-form pieces of content all the time that cover everything on the topic because what people need to know is the answer to these short, specific questions. That’s really, I think, what this chart is showing us. You could spend all your time here focusing on the keywords that drive all of the searches, but the reality is there’s so much traffic to be gained even outside of the top 100 million terms.
Content Needs to Answer the Question
What should we do instead of focusing on word count? Because word count is really a bad idea. You should never write for word count. Search engines today have a better understanding of text. Since the release of RankBrain, the search engine can better understand what things actually mean. They understand it from a semantic place, and this is why linked open data is very important. Now with the addition of Bert, they understand context within the sentence and what you’re writing about. Your content needs to match the query, not a content length. It needs to match a user expectation, not a length. The goal is to be human when you’re writing your content. Once you’ve done that, you can go back and start to optimize for search.
John Mueller says, having the same word count as the top-ranking article, isn’t going to make your page rank first. It just doesn’t make sense to think that way. Although we think about these shortcuts, there’s no shortcut to ranking for the terms in the right way. You have to meet the user’s expectations. You have to understand the search intent, and then you need to write as much as you need to write to get that answer across. Maybe that’s 2000 words, maybe that’s 50 words, but the goal is to get the person the best information in the quickest amount of time.
I hope that this was helpful today. I hope this made you think a little bit when you’re writing your content. Don’t get strapped to the length of content, but focus on solving the answer that the user is needing no matter how long or how short that can be. I’ve got one client that has a ton of featured snippets, and most of their articles are anywhere between 50 to 300 words. I’ve got another client, that’s got a number of them and they’ve got a lot of long-form content on their site. It really does span the globe here when we’re talking about the length of content. Throw that idea out the window and spend more time being human and focusing on the intent of your searchers and the expectations they’re trying to get from the content they’re looking for.
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