“How many words do I need to write?”
It’s a question I often hear when talking to clients about needing copy to enhance their pages.
The purpose of the copy, the detail it needs to contain and the audience it is speaking to are often secondary considerations.
For some reason, whenever an SEO mentions copy the follow-up discussion centers around word count.
Longer content ranks better, right? Isn’t that what you are often told?
The more words on a page, the more “authoritative” the search engines will consider your work to be, and the higher you’ll rank.
This is a notion that is often bandied about on Twitter or in forums but without any factual basis to it.
So why the general consensus that longer copy makes for more rank-worthy pages?
There are many studies that are often quoted in association with word count.
One study from Backlinko, published in April 2020 cited the “average Google first page result contains 1,447 words.”
It would be quite easy for someone to take this information in isolation and assume it means that pages need approximately 1,500 words to rank on page one.
That isn’t what the study is saying however.
This is correlation, not causation. More about that later.
There are many factors that should go into determining how long a page’s content should be and they can’t all be about ranking the page.
It is important to remember that copy on a page should be there to aid the human visitor, not a search bot.
The length of the copy on that page should be as much as is needed to aid the user in completing their goals on the page – whether that is quickly identifying the answer to a question, providing an in-depth explanation of a subject, or simply conveying the specs of a product.
User need should be first and foremost.
I get it, you want to know how many words to write to be in with the best chance of getting a first-page ranking.
The problem is, there is no set number of words.
The search engines will rank pages higher that best meet a searcher’s query.
Rarely is “volume of words” something that will be the deciding factor for users.
The quality of the copy and how well it answers their query will be of more importance.
The volume of text on a page is the wrong way to measure the quality of its content.
John Mueller of Google even reiterated this on Twitter.
There is also the common idea that you just need to have as many words on your page as the top-ranking competitor.
The issue that trips a lot of people up when looking at word count is confusing correlation and causation.
If you look at the top 5 ranking pages for your chosen search term and see that they all have approximately 2,000 words it is understandable that you would think that is what is required to rank well for that term.
Word count alone is not the deciding factor.
However, longer pages might be ranking well indirectly due to their length.
Longer pages might be more shareable and “link-worthy” as suggested by HubSpot’s study conducted in 2015.
In turn, it could be the link profile of the page that is causing it to rank well.
It could also be that longer pages simply allow for the more thorough answers required to rank well for some queries.
What is important to note is, correlation does not equal causation.
Longer content ranking better than shorter content does not mean longer content is the cause of a page ranking well.
Although longer content might perform better than shorter content in some instances, do not fall into the trap of assuming longer content is best.
Google’s own SEO starter guide states, “Content should be factually accurate, clearly written, and comprehensive.”
Comprehensive is not a synonym for long.
Comprehensive means “complete and including everything that is necessary.”
That would suggest that copy needs to be extensive enough to cover everything a user might want to know in response to their query.
For some queries such as “the history of the English monarchy” that could be a substantial amount of text.
For others, such as “gas prices near me” it can be significantly less.
Yes. Content can be too long.
One issue with writing copy to a particular word count is the piece can become diluted.
In a bid to reach an arbitrary volume of words the writer might simply start padding or repeating concepts.
It also can affect how well the copy will rank for the keywords you are targeting.
Diluting the message of the content can also result in the keyword theming of the page being knocked off course.
Instead of writing a succinct page about your core keyword topic you are forced to introduce other concepts to pad the content.
This can negatively affect a page’s ability to rank for your target keywords.
The key to understanding how much content is needed for a page is to stop looking at it as a target to hit.
There is no ideal word count for SEO.
Instead, we need to look at the purpose of the page.
What the page has been created to do is of high importance when considering its ability to rank well in the organic search results.
Is it an informational page?
Was it designed to sign-post visitors to other pages on the site?
The purpose of the page will influence how much copy needs to be on it.
The most important aspect when deciding on how long content should be is user intent.
What would a user want when landing on the page.
If you understand what a user needs from your page it helps to make sure it is comprehensive enough to meet those needs.
Making a page long for the sake of it does not help the user.
This in turn does not help you. Even if your page does rank well, rankings should not be the end goal of any SEO work. Converting traffic is more important.
If a user lands on your page to find an answer to a question but cannot see the wood for the trees then you have not met their need.
Another key consideration is how copy length affects conversion.
Some pages simply do not require great reams of copy in order to help the visitor complete an action.
Too much text might be off-putting for a product category page for instance.
So what is the best word count for SEO?
Copy length should never be dictated by a word count.
It should be as long as it is needed to help convey the message of the page and allow users to complete their desired actions on that page.
Longer copy might have an advantage in some SERPs but it is not the length of copy alone that is the deciding factor on rank.
At the end of the day copy on a page shouldn’t just be about ranking anyway. It should meet the needs of the user and encourage conversion.
There is no ideal word count for that.
All screenshots taken by author, May 2020