How Does Content Length Impact Your Onpage SEO?

Oh, content management strategy. You tricky minx.

It seems that no one can quite make up their minds about what works in terms of content. SEO keyword saturation…can you go over 3%? What about frequency? Should you blog more? Less? Should you pivot to video?

Maybe, unclear, and no are the answers there, but the fact remains that a solid content strategy can feel out of reach for many companies. Even if you can afford to keep a content strategist on staff, content and the way consumers approach it is evolving all the time. Keeping up can seem like an insurmountable task.

But let’s break it down a bit and look at one aspect that has continuously conflicting answers: Content length.

How long should your posts be? Is long-form better, or is short-form still king in SEO? The answer may surprise you. Let’s take a look.

The Mysterious Algorithm

Google is notoriously tight-lipped about exactly how their ranking algorithm works. This leaves content experts reverse-engineering explanations, looking at what ranks high, and what high-ranking pages have in common.

This can help, but it doesn’t always paint a clear picture.

For instance, a few years ago, shorter pieces, under 500 words or so, almost always outranked their long-form peers. But no, longer content is making its way to the top of the pile.

What happened?

The best content experts can tell, it’s simple tech advancement. Google is twenty years old, but as recently as five years ago, it was a mere shadow of its current self. And ten years ago? Just a short decade? Forget about it.

The complexity of Google’s search algorithm is constantly being updated and improved to make sure your search results are relevant and useful. When it was first developed, it was revolutionary, but in the same way fire was revolutionary 1.5 million years ago.

In its infancy, the crawlers Google used were really only good at picking out keywords, leading to a rise in black hat SEO and keyword stuffing. Your content didn’t have to have anything to do with what was being searched as long as you had the right keywords. It was a frustrating time, and while the system had a lot of potential, it fell short a lot of the time.

Now, though, crawler bots are infinitely more sophisticated and are much better at determining if a piece of content is relevant and useful.

Don’t Sell Short

Five years ago, the common advice was not to go above about 500 words. Which, if you have ever written content, can feel crazy. 500 words aren’t enough to say much of anything, much less to write something actually useful.

But, to best abide by Google’s still relatively new algorithm, you had to do it.

Also, for a long time, it was assumed that Millenials, that generation Boomers and X-ers love to hate, simply didn’t have the attention span for anything longer than flash fiction.

This was the culprit behind the now infamous “pivot-to-video” strategy rolled out by Facebook in 2016. Facebook used a faulty set of metrics to determine that many internet users simply weren’t responding to written media.

So the advice became to either not write anything at all, or, if you had to, keep it short so you could hold their interest.

It turns out, all of this is false.

Millennial attention spans aren’t shorter than previous generations, and short-form content by its nature adds almost nothing of value for the consumer. So stop writing it!

And maybe that isn’t fair. Short-form content has its place on occasion. But to really boost rankings and audience retention, you need longer form content.

High Word Count, High-Value

So what constitutes a long-form piece? And really, is there added value?

Let’s look at that first question.

A long-form piece technically could start at 1000 words, but really, you don’t get into the meat of a topic until about 2000 words in. 2000 word pages allow the reader to really dive in. And, if you have a halfway decent content writer, 2000 words allowed for an in-depth, high-value look at whatever topic you’re covering.

But…

You have to balance this with value.

Do you remember being in high school and having to write a five-page paper? Eventually, you’ll start repeating yourself or playing with the margins just to make sure you got to that minimum requirement.

Content should never, ever be treated this way.

You have to trust your audience to be able to stick around for a high word count, high-value blog. However, if you are writing just to get to that 2000 word minimum, you’ll have something that is high word count, but that no one will read because it isn’t high value.

Now That You’re Confused About Content Length…

So now that I’ve told that word count both is and is not important, what do you do? Just give up and go home?

Obviously not.

Word count does matter. Longer posts do tend to rank higher, and most audiences can handle the long-form posts.

However.

Content is, was, and always will be king.

If your content isn’t good, if it isn’t engaging, if it isn’t informative and useful, it doesn’t matter how long it is or how good your keyword usage is, because no one will stick around long enough to read it.

Producing quality content and using your words well and wisely, is far more important than arbitrary word counts.

What Does It All Mean?

When it comes to content length, you don’t have to be afraid to boost it up to 2000 words. Your audience can handle it.

But you don’t have to force it either. Don’t chase that word count so desperately that quality suffers. Worry about quality first, word count second.

Look into how keywords in your specific niche perform and emulate that. As in every industry, give your clients what they need, which is quality, informative content, rather than what the metrics say works.

Need help developing a solid content marketing strategy? Get in touch!

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