Word count for SEO Does it matter

by Josh Biggs in Digital Marketing on 19th April 2021

How many words do you need to start ranking for SEO content? It’s a question that many writers wanting to have their content rank higher on Google often wonder. Having a high word count helps Google better understand what your content is about, but the people at Google themselves say that word count isn’t a ranking factor. What gives? 

In this article, we’re taking a clear stance on this: Word count is important to rank in Google Search and long-form content tends to have better chances of ranking in the top spot. But word count isn’t necessarily a ranking factor, per se. Relevance is. And more words with high-quality content helps you rank faster. Read on to find out how.

Why does word count matter for ranking in search?

Word count matters in SEO, primarily because of the amount of valuable information that you can include in the piece of content you want to rank for.

In a nutshell, you can include more valuable information in a 1500-word article than, say, one that only has 150 words in it. 

There’s a caveat: your content needs to be relevant to the keyword topic and the title of your blog post. When people search for a certain keyword, they want to read the most authoritative and comprehensive content on the topic. 

Here’s what Google’s John Mueller says about the topic: 

You will not see changes in your ranking with long articles that are not relevant to what the user is searching for. 

At Embarque, having published hundreds of editorial content and landing pages optimized to rank for search, we’ve found that word count matters when there’s a high competition in terms of content quality. 

For instance, the top-five ranking articles for the keyword “content analytics” have significantly more words than the rest. 

While word count may not necessarily be a ranking factor, in-depth, high-quality, and relevant editorial content will always get more engagement than thin content. As such, you always need to understand what kind of competition that you’re facing in terms of word count as a proxy of content quality. 

Previous research on word counts

These studies support the idea that word count is an indirect ranking factor, and higher word counts correlate with ranking on the first page of Google Search:

SEO word count suggestions in a nutshell

We advocate the following word counts for SEO content.

Blog posts: 1500-3000 words

After 3000 words, as many studies suggest, you’ll be experiencing diminishing returns in terms of engagement, effort and conversions. At the same time, understand that increasing the word count is not the goal. Your long-form content needs to be valuable and relevant. 

Landing pages: 400-1000 words

When it comes to landing pages, the jury’s still out on how many words your content should have. But based on our experience with clients, we’ve realized that landing pages with 700 words on average tend to rank faster than those under this amount. 

Companies that heavily rely on SEO traffic to get more clients, such as Canva and VEED, use SEO landing pages that have 700 words or more to rank. Case in point:

  1. Canva’s Meme page has around 700 words
  2. VEED’s tools page has landing pages with 700 words or more.

Saying no to thin content

Ultimately, you cannot just recycle and repurpose existing content to bolster your word count. Additionally, just adding adjectives and adverbs won’t help you rank better. In fact, it probably will have the opposite effect.

Thin content tends to annoy readers and make them bounce off the page straight away. Here are some examples of what you should not produce:

  • “Spun,” copied, scraped, paraphrased, or plagiarized content. These are articles that have been copied in one way or another from existing ones. 
  • AI-generated copy. AI copywriting tools have been springing up here and there due to the innovative GPT-3 technology. But remember that you’ll still have to have a final edit before publishing this type of content. 
  • Irrelevant content. No matter how many words you’ve published, it’s not going to rank well if it’s not relevant to the query being asked. Make sure that every section in your content piece provides value one way or another.
  • Doorway pages that contain just slightly rewritten content in an effort to rank for similar topics searched in different ways. For example, this could include creating landing pages to target “subtitle editor” and “caption editor” with almost identical content. Your sections need to feel novel compared to the ones you already have. Spun content has the same information in other words.

How to calculate the word count for your content

Tools to use

  • Google Search – Even when you can afford pricier tools such as Ahrefs, nothing beats a rudimentary search engine results page analysis before creating content. 
  • Word Counter Plus – This is a free tool that allows you to calculate the total word count of content published online.
  • Frase – An SEO content optimization tool that allows you to make your content as relevant as possible by providing a list of keywords for you to include. It also has a handy content brief editor that automatically calculates the average word count of the top 16 ranking pages for that keyword.
  • Google Search – Geolocation & Language Change – Another free tool that lets you search in different countries and languages. This is excellent for figuring out the top-ranking articles for a certain region and understanding what kind of content you need to make to rank there. 

Let’s assume that you don’t have Ahrefs and Frase at your disposal, and you want to increase the chances of your content ranking for that specific keyword. In that case, all you need to do is a bit of searching and some number crunching along the way.

Let’s use the term content analytics to illustrate our example.

#1. Cross validate the user intent through a simple Google Search

When searching for the keyword, you want to make sure that:

  • You understand the type of content that’s ranking (e.g., landing pages, blogs, dictionary entries, forum posts, etc.). For instance, if most of the top-ranking content consists of blog articles, then producing the same helps boost your chances of ranking.
  • The top-ranking content is relevant to your niche. If the top search results cover a different topic to what you thought of (e.g., the search term is actually a company name), pick another result.

Let’s validate user intent for content analytics.

Notice that the search results are populated by:

  • Guides on content analytics (most common)
  • Dictionary entries explaining what content analytics means (2nd most popular)
  • The odd landing and social media page

The top-ranking search results indicate what people want to find when typing in this query. Here, they want to read a guide on content analytics to better understand how it works, so writing an article on the topic will be your best chance of ranking high.

#2. Go through the average word count for the top 10 articles you want to rank for

If you don’t have Frase to do the calculations for you automatically, Word Count Plus is free. You’ll have to go through the process of manually figuring out the word count for the top-ranking search results.

For content analytics, as you want to rank with a blog post, you need to take the average and/or median word count of the top 10 articles ranking for the keyword. 

To do this, go to the actual page, and highlight the main body only. Use Word Counter Plus to see the total word count.

Do the same for the other articles.

Having the recommended word count of 1500 words is more than enough to rank for most keywords (assuming you have the right domain authority). But you may have to write more depending on the niche. Marketing articles tend to be harder to rank for and have higher word counts than the general average, so you may want to do this calculation.

#3. Create relevant content

As a final step, when you’re in the process of creating the content, read through the top-ranking articles and make sure that the information you’re providing is relevant to what’s already ranking.

Relevance isn’t optional. Your content must be relevant. You can’t just write 1500 words of pure fluff and expect your content to rank above those currently ranking. By going through the top-ranking content, you’ll have a sense of the right kind of information you need to provide to start the ranking process.

Word count is a proxy of content quality.

By now, you should understand that having an article or a piece of content with lots of words isn’t enough to get you ranking on the first page. Word count is a proxy of the quality of your content. By having a high word count, you should be able to tackle different sides of the topic you’re trying to rank for and have the right depth of information.

Categories: Digital Marketing