It’s impossible to execute an effective search engine optimization (SEO) strategy without the help of content. Onsite content helps you improve the value of your site and optimize for specific keywords, while offsite content helps you build links and generate visibility. Either way, the quality of your content matters, with “better” content doing a better job of improving your domain authority—and ultimately helping you rank higher.
But the question of what makes content “better” in the first place is often debated. Most people, for example, believe that longer content is better for SEO—not only does it provide you with an opportunity to include more content and more keywords, it also allows you to cover a topic in greater detail.
But is long content always better for SEO?
The Evidence for Long Content
Back in 2015, Moz and BuzzSumo teamed up for a massive study of more than 1 million articles to see which types of content were best for SEO. They found that 85 percent of content was less than 1,000 words long—yet the 15 percent of content that is 1,000 words or longer consistently receives more shares and links. In other words, long-form content is better for generating shares, links, and authority for your website.
Similarly, the average content length of the top 10 results for a given keyword query hovers between 2,000 and 2,450 words.
There are several potential reasons for this:
- Long content is explicitly favored by search engines. We don’t know this for sure, since Google has never come out and said that it looks for a specific word count when evaluating the authority of a page or calculating SERPs. However, there are some clues that Google and other search engines disproportionately favor “long” content over “short” content.
- Long content has a longer dwell time. We do know that dwell time—in other words, the length of time a user stays on a page—can have an impact on search rankings. Users who stay on a page longer can influence that page to rank higher in searches. Long content, of course, takes longer to read, and therefore influences a longer dwell time.
- Long content has more to cite. Longer content tends to have more facts, more statistics, and longer, more detailed arguments—all of which lend themselves to earning more links. If an external source reads your content and finds many things worth citing, they’re going to be much more likely to link to you.
- Long content is distinguished. If 85 percent of online content is less than 1,000 words, writing a long-form post instantly puts you in the minority. Longer posts are harder to find, and are therefore distinguished from posts from other brands. Writing long-form posts can be a great way to improve your brand reputation and stand out from the crowd.
- Long content covers more detail. Longer posts tend to be more comprehensive, covering topics in greater overall depth. This leads to covering a wider range of potential search phrases, and ultimately a greater chance of being considered a truly “definitive” guide on the subject.
However, it’s worth noting that if you take a look at an average search engine results page (SERP), you’ll see entries for articles with a wide range of different word counts. Some will be just a few hundred words long, while others will be several thousand.
Of course, nothing in the SEO world is this straightforward. It can’t be the case that longer posts are always better for increasing your search engine rankings.
There are several caveats we need to keep in mind:
- Length doesn’t always imply depth (or quality). First, understand that length doesn’t necessarily imply depth. In other words, you could write an 800-word article that’s very concise and packed with meaningful data, then write a 2,000-word article that’s mostly fluff; in this case, the shorter article will be higher-quality. You shouldn’t be striving to hit a word count if you don’t have the substantive information to make all those words valuable.
- Your industry matters. It’s also worth considering the fact that different industries can benefit from different content lengths. If you’re reporting on tech news, you might benefit from short, to-the-point articles that merely cover current events. But if you’re analyzing new medical techniques or if you’re reporting on the science of sleep, you’ll need to explain these complex topics in much more detail.
- Your audience matters. Think about your audience as well. Is your target demographic the type to sit down and read a 5,000-word mini-eBook? Or would they rather be able to digest a full article in the span of 5 minutes or less? Which type of article would they be more willing to share with their friends and family members?
- The format matters. Most of the time, when we talk about content length, we’re referring to written articles published on a blog—but we also need to consider other formats. For example, what if you’re publishing a 10-minute video? Or what if you’re posting a new infographic? Do you really need to write 1,000 words of content to make this piece of content “better” for SEO? The short answer is no; different formats lend themselves to different word counts and structures.
- Short content can succeed, too. While long content definitely has many advantages, we can’t ignore the fact that short content can be successful, too. Short posts are highly effective at relaying information in a short, concise manner, and are explicitly preferred by some audiences. They also take far less time and effort to generate, meaning they have a chance of producing a higher return on investment (ROI).
The bottom line here is that in most contexts and situations, longer content is a superior choice for SEO; it’s capable of getting more shares and links and is much more likely to be high-quality than a comparatively short post. However, you shouldn’t assume that a long post is automatically a “good” post, or write off the potential benefits of short posts.