Is word count really important for SEO content?

In the world of search engine optimization (SEO), the best copywriting strategies are constantly changing as we adapt to updates to the Google algorithm.

You may have come across digital marketing experts who provide guidance on how to improve your place in the search rankings by following their recommendations for word count range.

There have been multiple discussions about whether word count matters in SEO, and it’s time to get to the bottom of it.

Is word count a ranking factor?

Google’s John Mueller emphasized that word count is not a search algorithm’s ranking factor.

Specifically, he said, “Just blindly adding text to a page doesn’t make it any better.”

Instead of looking at the number of words on a page, Google’s algorithms search for relevant, original, and high-quality content.

Why long content tends to rank higher

Although Google confirms that word count does not directly affect ranking, you can still find plenty of articles and keyword tools that indicate a longer word count.

So why do tools like Yoast and Clearscope provide the recommended word count if the numbers on the page don’t directly affect the ranking?

There are a few reasons why a higher word count may indirectly improve your ranking.

Some of these tools are based on word count recommendations based on competitive analysis.

Writing longer content on the Google algorithm makes it easier to learn what your page is about.

Well-written comprehensive pieces also put you as a reference on the topic and enable you to rank for long-tail keyword variants.

How to select the right word count for your content

There is no general rule to follow in terms of maximum word count in SEO.

Alternatively, you can look at keyword research, competition, and past performance to determine the best range for the number of words in your content.

Start with your keyword strategy

You can create a new piece of content with one target keyword in mind.

But a study by Ahrefs found that longer content is more likely to rank in the top ten for multiple keywords.

By increasing the length of your article, you can cover your primary topic from different angles, which means you can rank for more keywords.

In particular, longer articles have a higher chance of ranking relative to the long variations of your primary keyword, with lower competition and higher conversion rates.

For example, long-tailed variants of “Microsoft Word” might include “Microsoft Word for Mac” and “Microsoft Word Resume Form”.

A screenshot of the search for [Microsoft Word]Google, March 2022

So if you’ve identified long-tail keywords you want to target, consider increasing the word count to process those more specific queries.

Check out the competition

You can also use word count as a benchmark when comparing your content to the competition.

Many keyword research and content optimization tools provide the word count of the best performing articles for any given keyword.

Clearscope grade summary graph with grade content, word count and readabilityScreenshot from Clearscope.io, March 2022

If you don’t know how long an article should be, looking at the word count for currently performing best is a good place to start.

Pay attention to the search intent

In addition to looking at what the competition is doing, you should always pay attention to the search objective associated with your target keyword.

Intent will help determine what makes the content useful and relevant to the user.

In other words, think about what your target audience wants when they type a keyword into the search bar.

If they want comprehensive information, you might aim to meet or exceed your competitor’s word count.

Conversely, you may choose to create shorter content that gets to the point faster for keywords where the audience wants quick answers.

As it relates to word count, search intent can help you decide if you want to follow the progress of the competition or differentiate your content by length.

review your performance

Finally, you can take a look at your past performance to discover the length of content that works for you.

Review your SEO performance regularly and see if there are trends.

Is there a good point in word count where you tend to rank higher?

Or maybe you have some shorter articles that aren’t arranged in the order you want them to.

In that case, try going back to your keyword research and finding out how you can lengthen the content with more useful and relevant information.

Additional factors that affect your ranking

You can use word count to improve keyword research and competitive strategy, but it won’t be the ultimate deciding factor for search algorithms.

If you want to improve your SEO performance, here are some additional writing tips to consider:

Content Structure

Google looks at structural elements, such as title tags, as a way to better understand your content and send the right users to your page.

Formatting your content with a clear and logical structure to your content improves readability and usefulness to people searching on Google.

table of contentsImage created by the author, March 2022

Instead of just stuffing title tags with keywords, think about the best reader experience.

Use headings to break up large pieces of text and make it easier for anyone to find the information they want.

information quality

Information quality remains a major determinant of search engine results page (SERP) rankings.

In other words, adding a bunch of fluff to increase your total word count won’t help you.

According to Google, the search algorithm prioritizes information and authoritative pages that “demonstrate expertise, credibility, and trustworthiness on a particular topic.”

Back up data and prompt links to relevant external data sources to improve the quality of your content.

You should also ensure that your content is original by performing plagiarism checks and avoiding duplicate content on your domain.

Visual and image support

Images and other visual support can help you show how relevant your target keyword is, which is another key factor the algorithm uses.

For example, if you target the keyword “Harry Potter”, Google will search for relevant tags such as character photos or videos related to books or movies.

Adding media can improve the user experience by breaking down large blocks of text and catering to the needs of visual learners.

High quality original photos also enable you to rank in Google Photos.

Optimization for special content blocks

Google continues to make SERP pages more accessible and browsable with special content types and featured snippets.

These content resource blocks appear at the top of SERP pages and often give users a quick answer to their queries.

SERP Results for A screenshot of the search for [best places to live in the us]Google, March 2022

Optimizing your content for featured snippets can bring your content to zero, above all other results.

About 70% of all featured snippets are paragraph types, which can be an excellent place to start experimenting.

Aim to answer the keyword question using 50-250 characters.

Final Thoughts: Why is Word Count Important to an SEO Strategy?

Optimizing your content for search engine optimization (SEO) is not as simple as running a checklist with keywords and article length.

Ultimately, you have to understand the audience for each keyword and publish content that best serves their needs.

Word count won’t be the factor that pushes your content to the top, but it can help you determine what is “relevant and useful” for a particular keyword.

Use the writing tips and questions above to find the perfect starting point for your word count, but keep in mind that all of your words should provide value to your readers.

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Featured Image: Wall to Wall/Shutterstock

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