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The Effect of Word Count on Rankings in SEO

Lets consider the effect of word count on search rankings.

Edited: 2015-04-15 12:50

By. BlueBoden

Google home page displayed on Windows Phone Lumia 625

Many things about SEO is obvious, and one of these things is word count – or perhaps better described as the content length of your pages. The content length dose not in itself contribute significantly to how a page is ranking, but it can still make some difference.

If you are writing about something within a very competitive topic, you would generally need to put more of an effort and investment into your articles.

The picture is very different if you are providing unique content, something that’s never been written about before, or something that doesn’t have any competition online. Such content will quickly make it to the first page of the SERPs – perhaps even make it into the top 10.

Word count and content length, in depth and effective SEO

If we take out and moment and consider the potential ways that content length can impact search results and rankings, then there are two ways to reach a useful conclusion. It will not give us a complete answer, as in a precise method that is just guaranteed to work for everyone, but it will help us develop an idea of how content length can effect search rankings.

The first way, by which we can move closer a conclusion, is by listening to what the experts have to say. This is relevant now, but might not be relevant tomorrow. And then there’s always the chance that they simply got the math wrong. The second way, is to use common sense, let our intuition and instinct lead the way.

Most of us care about what happens when we write about competitive topics, or when we release other types of content where we have strong competitors, such as video or items in an internet shop.

Many of you experienced website owners, bloggers, and whatever, will likely already have developed a good idea about what works and what doesn’t work. You have seen short content rank well, and then you have also seen the odd 1.000 word article, that just receives tremendous amounts of traffic – without being able to exactly explain why it happens. The good news is that it doesn’t matter. What matters is the general idea you likely got from observing the different successes and failures.

Word count itself means little in terms of SEO, but it’s a rough way to measure the length of an article. It doesn’t take into account other types of content in the article, such as images or video – which I’m personally not too experienced with – and it’s also not a guaranteed method to make content rank. Exactly why it’s not guaranteed is something I will attempt to discuss in the following sections.

Expect your content to rank well

I do not always research the competition before writing a new article. If I got a good idea for a new article, and feel that it would be useful to share it, I often just go and write it, without having an idea about whether it will be successful or not.

However, researching the competition for a particular keyphrase can be very useful, as it will typically give you a good picture of how well you can expect your content to perform. If there’s a lot of good answers to a search query already, then your contributions will likely not be as successful.

I generally expect my content to catch up in the results, and if I decide that a given keyphrase have too much competition, then I likely won’t release the article, because it won’t be worth the effort, or I won’t be able to provide anything new to the topic. Its however not as simple as that. You might have this one page title, and you try to optimize your article as much around that main title as possible – but the majority of the traffic that a given page receives, could easily come from other keyphrases that you didn’t expect. These are typically referred to as long tail keywords.

I think the main reason for this, is due to competition for a given search query. Typically I choose a page title that I find to be naturally relevant to a single search query, if not an exact match, and sometimes other pages will still outrank me for the keyphrase I am targeting. This is where word count comes in.

As I mentioned earlier, the word count is really just a rough estimate, to get a picture of how long your content is. Getting a feel of your contents length can also help you deal with your competition. Often, your competition are really junk pages, with 100-400 words, naturally such pages will be easy to outrank, when you provide more value to the topic (the keyphrase you are targeting). This is however not always the case, as there are also a third and fourth factor playing with the rankings. I will not cover those factors in detail here, since it’s mostly relevant for people who practice linkbuilding – something I personally try to avoid.

To find or get the word count of your articles, you could simply write them in word, which shows the word count at the bottom. I write many of my own articles in word, and then I later release them on my websites. This also allows me to spend more time on each article, sculpting the composition to my liking.

Conclusion

I can clearly “feel” that the length of content must have a significant effect, under certain circumstances. But under different circumstances, other ranking factors seem to prevent the content length alone from having a significant effect.

Many search queries will show “low-quality” pages of 100-400 words, these pages will often be very easy to beat, simply by writing a longer article. Longer articles typically have more information, and there’s also a greater chance, that you will hit some long tail keywords, and therefor attract more organic traffic than you otherwise would. It can be difficult to know and predict which of such keywords will be used, but putting some thought into how you write your article, can certainly be useful too.

I think the lesson we can learn, is that using common sense, is often more valuable than engaging in doubtful SEO practices such as linkbuilding.

Sometimes your competition will just be junk, and still outrank your pages, and I couldn’t really care much about it. It must be up to Google to rank their pages adequately. Trying to manipulate the results seems like a tedious task, and I think you will gain more by just focusing on maintaining and improving your site, than you will obsessing about search results.