The best word count for SEO… doesn’t exist!
Here's why you should forget about word count when producing SEO content and what on-page SEO elements to focus on instead.
One of the most common newbie questions about SEO content has to do with word count.
“What’s the best word count for SEO?”
Fair question. Search engines care about a whole host of factors when determining which content to rank. Why wouldn’t word count be one of them?
As such, content creators worry about the length of their content. “Is 1,000 words enough to rank?” they wonder. “Should I always shoot for the same amount of words in every piece?”
But, the thing is…
Word count is not a ranking factor.
It doesn’t matter how many words your content piece has. Google said so.
Why is this the case? And what matters more than word count? Let’s talk about it.
Why the best word count for SEO doesn’t exist
There is no “one size fits all” in terms of word count that will automatically make your pages more likely to rank.
That also means longer isn’t always better.
It’s just not that simple.
For example, let’s say you create a blog post targeted to a keyword… but it’s not ranking.
Would lengthening that page with more relevant content help nudge it up toward the top positions on Google?
No, because adding more words doesn’t necessarily make it better. Adding more words just makes it longer.
Length ≠ quality.
So, what would make your blog better besides a bigger word count?
- Ensuring the content targets the user intent of the keyword. What type of information is the searcher looking for when they type the keyword in the search bar? Provide it.
- Ensuring the content is high-quality. It is well-written? Helpful? Original? Valuable? Does it educate, inform, or entertain?
- Ensuring the content is readable. Is it formatted well? Is it scannable? Are descriptive headings included that organize the content into sections?
- Ensuring the content is thorough. Is your content missing key pieces of information, or does it provide the right amount that will satisfy a searcher?
All of these factors matter more than word count.
And, if you edit your content in light of these factors, you may notice your content getting longer. But that’s just a byproduct of producing useful content for a particular search query.
The number of words doesn’t matter. What does matter is the relevancy of those words to the searcher’s needs.
Sometimes you need more words to be relevant.
Sometimes you need fewer words.
That’s why there’s no perfect word count for SEO.
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How to determine the best word count for a blog or article
Now that we’ve established that the best word count for SEO doesn’t exist, we can move on to determining the right word count on a case-by-case basis.
Each content piece you produce for SEO will have different needs depending on the topic you’re writing about.
Figuring out a general word count to shoot for each time will help you produce content that’s satisfying and covers all the important points.
Here are a few strategies for determining the word count for each blog you create:
1. Look at the competition
First, look at what’s already ranking in Google for your keyword (your top competitors) and study the length and word count of these articles.
The logic goes, since the search engine is ranking these content pieces highly, that means they’re hitting its criteria. Their amount of depth and usefulness makes sense for the search intent.
That also means their general word counts are a good benchmark for what your word count should be.
But don’t just look at the word count. Look at other things like:
- The number of major sections (H2s) in each blog and what they cover.
- How deeply each facet of the topic is explained.
- What parts are left out or skimmed over.
All of these things will inform the length of your content piece. Remember, you’re not just trying to match the top results but create something better.
2. Study the search intent of the topic/keyword
Along with checking out the competition, you should also study the search intent of your keyword: find out what searchers want to know or discover when they type that keyword into a search engine.
What are they looking for, and how much information will they need to be satisfied?
To do this, study the results themselves. Google’s first page will give you tons of hints about what searchers need and want from a specific keyword search.
For example, for a keyword like “how far away is the moon”, the first page shows you a featured snippet with the exact answer. You have to scroll halfway down the page before you even see a regular result.
And, if you click the featured snippet result, you’ll discover the content is only 156 words long.
Searchers aren’t looking to read an entire article when they search this term. They just want a simple answer (informational intent). The SERP (search engine results page) reflects that.
3. Plumb your expert knowledge of the topic
Sometimes Google doesn’t know everything.
Let’s say you’re the expert on the topic/keyword you’re researching. You see gaping holes in the knowledge presented in the top content (stuff searchers will need/want to know). That’s your cue to fill those holes with your article.
This is an instance where your word count will deviate from what’s already out there, especially if a lot of crucial information is missing from the top of Google on the topic.
But this is also your opportunity to differentiate. If the topic calls for more comprehensiveness than the SERP shows, don’t hesitate to dive in and give it – even if your blog will be much longer than the average.
Why long-form content tends to rank better than short-form content
We know word count isn’t everything. So why does long-form content (anything over 1,000 words) tend to rank better than short-form content?
- Long-form content tends to be comprehensive vs. thin. Longer content is usually more in-depth than shorter content. It covers more facets of a topic, provides more explanation, and generally delves deeper. Since longer content usually isn’t thin, that means it has a better potential to rank – but only if the keyword calls for long content.
- It naturally includes more keywords and keyword opportunities. More words = more natural keyword placements (especially related terms and synonyms). It’s that simple. Of course, if long content is keyword-stuffed, it’s an exception to ranking well.
- Long-form content is better at proving your expertise and authority. Long-form content gives you more time and space to really prove yourself, so to speak. You have a greater chance of giving a reader the value they seek through your expert knowledge with more paragraphs to do it. Of course, if your long-form content is full of fluff, you’ll do the opposite: You’ll drive readers away.
Better ways to improve your on-page SEO other than word count
Since longer doesn’t always mean better, what other ways to improve your content besides adding a bunch of extra words?
The structure of your page – the headings, sections, and their order/formatting – gives Google important clues about the content and whether it’s relevant to the search query. The structure also helps readers engage with your content and find the information they need.
Ignoring page structure, not adding headings, and not organizing your content will impede readability – and readers and search engines don’t like that.
For that reason, always organize your page into sections with useful, descriptive headings, and format them for readability. A well-structured page with great content has the potential to outrank a poorly-structured page – even if good content is hidden within it.
Even if your content is great, if it’s not relevant to the search query and the intent behind that query, it won’t rank well.
That means you shouldn’t add extra content to an irrelevant page in the hopes that longer content will increase results (it won’t). Instead, figure out how to make that page more relevant to searchers with smart edits.
For example, maybe you included sub-topics in your blog, but you didn’t focus on the right ones (e.g., in a blog about building a dog house, you strayed into discussing all the different types of dog houses out there, when readers just want to know how to build a simple, classic structure).
Or, maybe your blog is generally good when you stick to the topic, but you also inserted long sections about your company’s services that have nothing to do with that topic. In this case, deleting those sales pitches will make your content much better.
One more example: You created a relevant blog, but your headings aren’t descriptive and don’t accurately label each section. Editing your headings would immediately make your blog easier to read and more relevant to both searchers and Google.
This last point ties into the next strategy for improving your content.
Content quality and readability
You can create the longest blog on earth, but if it’s poorly written or unreadable, it won’t matter.
If a blog isn’t ranking, look long and hard at the quality of the piece.
- Is the writing clear and engaging? Is it easy to follow?
- Is the blog organized? Does it follow a logical order?
- Is the content original? Does it present the topic without copying or rehashing what’s already been said?
- Is it created for users? Does it speak to a particular audience? Is it helpful for them?
- Are claims and statistics backed up with credible sources?
- Are links high-quality and relevant to the text?
Next, consider readability. Is your content formatted and organized well so users can easily read it, scan it, or search within it to find a particular piece of information?
(This is tied to page structure, by the way, but it also has to do with the clarity of the writing and the organization of all the ideas and thoughts.)
Last of all, ask yourself and answer honestly: Does the content provide value – does it successfully teach the reader, inform them, or entertain them?
All of these things are more important than word count, and tweaking or improving them will also do more to improve your content’s potential for real results.
Forget about word count for SEO and focus on relevance, quality, and optimization
Getting hung up on word count when you’re creating SEO content is a recipe for failure.
Adding 200 more words won’t help you rank. Neither will adding 500 or 1,000.
It’s not the number of words that matter but the relevancy, quality, and optimization of your content.
So make your content more relevant for the person searching for answers. Make it higher quality so they get more value out of it. Optimize it well so it has the best chance of ranking in search engines.
Do all of that, and your content will be just the right length.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
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