Quality vs Quantity: What’s the Ideal Article Length for SEO?
Is there a typical article length? If so, how long should an article be?
At one time (pre-2010), articles written for SEO—regardless of length—could rank with the right title tag, keyword density, a high number of backlinks, and a PageRank higher than competitors.
While algorithm updates occurred prior to 2010, Google Panda shook the SEO world to the core in early 2011 by penalizing publishers for things like thin content, duplicate content, and poor quality content, in general.
Google routinely tweaks their algorithm, usually without confirmation, and ranking factors are unclear. While the latest ranking factor reports give a good starting point, none of them answer a common question among editorial folks: How long should an article be?
Ideal Article Length – Competitor Research
If you want to determine the ideal article length for a given search engine result page (SERP), start by conducting competitor research for your top keyword targets on a desktop/laptop and a smart phone/tablet. Record your findings for later reference.
Type the keyword into the search bar on a desktop. Eliminate ecommerce sites, landing pages, press releases, etc., and record the word count only for articles. Next, type the same phrase into a mobile phone or tablet. Compare the results in a spreadsheet.
Here’s an example for recording competitor blog post data:
Page One results for home decor VR tool:
Note: All of the results match, except for the last listing.
Instead of showing the Houzz blog post on mobile, there is an Ad for the Houzz App at the bottom of the page, and a LifeHacker blog post showed up in place of the Houzz blog post.
Typical Article Length – Case Studies & Influencer Recommendations
Once your competitor research is complete, keep these case studies and influencer recommendations in mind.
Yoast: In 2016, Yoast says that a minimum word count of 300 words is required to rank, but posts over 1,000 words have a higher chance of ranking well.
Buffer In 2016, Buffer identified the ideal blog post length in terms of minutes, translating to a 1600 word count.
SerpIQ tackled the subject back in 2012, and higher word counts are associated with higher rankings. Note – That was 2012, and they included landing pages, news articles, and all types of content in their results.
Moz is the only resource that tackles the desktop vs. mobile word count analysis and average session duration. While the contributor identifies 1,125 as a maximum word count, the findings are restricted to medical keywords. The jump in traffic (57%) is impressive, so increasing word counts on existing articles is something to consider.
Taking all of these recommendations to heart, you might reasonably conclude that a minimum article length should aim for 1,000 words for SEO purposes. Does this minimum word count apply to every keyword target? Absolutely not.
Look at the number one blog post from our competitor research above: Decorilla’s blog only had 686 words.
There’s a clear trend these days toward longer articles for SEO purposes, and for good reason: if you analyze the first page results of any given SERP yourself, you’ll see that Google has a strong bias toward longer, more comprehensive content. But don’t let this tempt you to add a lot of fluff to a shorter piece that fully serves its purpose. An article should be as long as it needs to be to clearly and descriptively communicate its intended message, and not a word longer.
Other SEO article factors to consider:
- Backlinks and Shares – If you go to the trouble of writing articles specifically for ranking purposes, consider a backlinking and social media share strategy.
- Drive high-value backlinks to the article
- Get influencers to share the article
- Target Audience Consider audience personas when identifying an ideal article length. Understanding your audience will help you understand their behavior, giving you insight into factors like:
- Device type for consuming content
- Topics that drive conversions (eg. subscriptions, sign-ups, etc.)
- Calls to action that are valuable to the reader
For example, if your personas match up with people who search for and consume content on mobile devices, have limited free time to research and make decisions, and juggle a packed schedule with work and kid activities, they don’t have time to read a 1,000+ word article. Give them short cuts.
- Device Formatting Make sure blog posts are formatted for quick, easy reading, skimming if necessary, and readers can easily locate calls to action.
- Page Speed Google revealed that page speed matters as early as 2010, and a mobile-friendly algorithm was released in 2015. Don’t go to the trouble of articles that are the right length for ranking without reviewing performance factors that might kill your page speed.
Article Optimization Shortcuts
Upgrade Existing Content
The fastest way to improve rankings with article optimization is to dive into your existing archive and work with posts that have high bounce rates, lack CTA’s, and contain long, boring blocks of text.
You can also use a ranking tool like Ahrefs Rank Tracker to identify posts that are hovering on page two or three and increase word counts to try and push them to page one.
Transcribe Video & Podcasts
Does your brand have a video or podcast library? Transcribing these videos and recordings for blog posts will deliver fast and valuable content to your blog without delay.
Invite freelancers, industry experts, etc. to submit guest articles. Not only will it cut down on content creation and publication time, but the author will promote the content to their audience.
Is someone on your team attending an industry event? Ask them to write up a summary blog post that captures the highlights of the event. Event previews also work well, attracting influencers and increasing the chances of social shares.
Case studies provide excellent opportunities for valuable blog post content. By featuring partner brands, you’ll increase the posts share value.
SEO is no longer a straight and narrow process. A holistic approach to rankings is necessary to achieve long-term success. I’d be leery of an SEO firm who insists on a minimum word count for a series of articles without asking about the target audience, page speed, device information, and shortcut options to cut down on publication time.
Whatever your approach, the message is loud and clear: your articles require a checklist of SEO items for them to rank well. The right word count might help you get there faster, but it won’t guarantee results on its own.
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