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How important is word count for search engine rankings?

Posted on 12th June, 2020 by Greg Doyle

Copywriting

One of the most common questions that we come across in SEO is how many words do you need to rank in first place? Other popular questions include: How many words do I need to write? And, what is the optimum word count for SEO rankings? In this article we’ll aim to answer these questions and more and give you better understanding of how content influences rankings.

Longer content always ranks better

This is one of the most commonly banded expressions around writing content for SEO purposes. The longer the content the more authoritative your pages will be. There are many reasons why this is still a popular belief but one of the primary reasons is to do with misunderstanding studies. For example, in a study from Backlinko published in April 2020 the study cited that the “average Google first page result contains 1477 words”.

This would seem to corroborate the belief that longer content ranks better but the problem with doing this is that it isn’t using the whole picture. The study shows a correlation between high ranking pages instead of causation.

Correlation vs Causation

Perhaps the biggest misconception people have around word count is to do with correlation. So, say you look at the top 10 pages that are ranking for keywords that you are interested in ranking well for. You may notice that they have a word count of 1800 words on average so think that must mean that a word count of 1800 words or longer is needed to rank on page 1.

However, word count on its own is not a ranking factor. Longer content which covers a topic in-depth might have more links which could be the reason that these pages are ranking so highly. Simply put, just because there is a correlation between the pages on the first page having longer content, doesn’t mean that the longer content is the cause of them ranking on the first page.

What’s the perfect SEO word count?

As you may have noticed by now, word count is not a silver bullet that automatically leads to top rankings. Search engines rank pages higher that best meet the intent based on the searcher’s query and any preceding search queries. The quality of the content and how well it answers a user’s query will be a better indicator of how likely the page is to rank.

Longer, well-written content that answers searcher’s queries and covers a topic in-depth is likely to rank well but this doesn’t mean that you always need to write longer content. Shorter content that fully answers a searcher’s query can rank well extremely well – volume of text is not the right way to measure quality.

Google’s Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst had this to say on word count:
“Word count is not indicative of quality. Some pages have a lot of words that say nothing. Some pages have very few words that are very important & relevant to queries. You know your content best (hopefully) and can decide whether it needs the details.”

How long should content be?

In some cases, longer content will perform better than shorter content but don’t fall into the trap of always assuming that this is the case. According to Google’s own SEO guidelines they have this to say about content “Content should be factually accurate, clearly written, and comprehensive.” It’s all about making the content relevant to the search and comprehensive is all based on the type of query.

Can you make content too long?

In a nutshell, yes. Focusing too much on reaching a particular word count is an easy way to do this and create content that is diluted, repetitive and adds little value. Instead of thinking of hitting an arbitrary word count, instead focus on the needs of the users and the purpose of your page. There is no ideal word count when it comes to SEO so stop putting all your effort into creating content that is a certain length and instead ask yourself what the goal of your content is.

Choosing the right amount of content

How much is the right amount? Your content length should not be directed by word count. Look at the purpose of your page – this should guide your content creation. Informational pages will generally be longer than transactional pages as an example. Longer content might have an advantage for some search queries, primarily if these are more informational queries that need a longer and more comprehensive answer.

Content is also about more than just getting your pages to rank. Remember that it needs to meet the needs of the user and help to move them along the customer journey on your website. To do this stop focusing on word count and instead focus on how to serve the needs of your users.

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