SEO Word Count is Not a Ranking Factor

There has always been talk about the pace of change in the world of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Sometimes you notice the SEO change, sometimes you don’t.

Some changes in the SEO landscape seem minuscule and incremental, at other times they can feel seismic.

However, the latest revelation by John Mueller, the Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, is an interesting talking point.

In a February 8th Twitter post, Google’s JohnMu said:

The salient point here is this:

“Having the same word-count as a top-ranking article isn’t going to make your pages rank first…”

And, you know what? John is right. Just because a top-ranking article has 1,158 words doesn’t mean that you can beat it with the same word count. There are SO many other factors that search engines consider when ranking pages.

Now, we must admit, we’re advocates of the “long form” article, what you would call an evangelists. Colleagues and friends often say “Great writing, but nobody’s going to read that!”. Agreed. Yet also being realists you’ll often hear our SEO experts speak about context, in all manner of applications.

A clear point in case is this:

It is a long-held belief in SEO circles that the “minimum word count” for an article is around 300 words. There have been studies that indicate the top 10 articles for any keyword in the Google Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) are over 1.000 words.

The hugely popular WordPress plugin “Yoast SEO” reinforces the minimum word count and gives additional “brownie points” when you go beyond the minimum recommended threshold.

Where Does Word Count in SEO Come From?

Many years ago, Google was far more “easy to game”. Every opportunity to rank a webpage was exploited, using every black hat technique from “doorway pages” to “keyword stuffing”.

In 2008 Google realised it was being gamed and the quality of its search results were suffering. This was at a time when it launched Google AdWords (Now just called Google Ads), the platform to allow you to “be number on in Google” at a price. [I remember when some clicks were as little as 2p – Ed]

The issue was that if the organic search results were full of poor quality pages, then it’s not good to have to pay to “leapfrog” the results.

Google’s then CEO, Eric Schmidt, famously called the Internet a “cesspool” due to the sheer number of poor quality websites and soon after, the Penguin and Panda updates were released in answer to these concerns.

Google Penguin addressed the the linking issue. Massive amounts of rapidly-built, poor-quality links were recognised and ignored.

The Google Panda update addressed the thin content problem. The content farms of the day would churn out low-quality web pages that were short on content. The sheer volume of pages would increase the keyword counts and poor value sites could rank at the top of the SERPs. By “sorting the wheat from the chaff”, Google would allow the best sites to rise in the rankings.

Since those days, SEO professionals have tried to address the issue by encouraging website owners to create quality content. The word count focus was all part of this agenda and I for one have been a willing participant.

So is Word Count Still Relevant?

Well, as of the time of writing, Yoast SEO still counts 300 words on the path to “green light” your content. That may change at some point.

Our advice in our many years of content creation and marketing is this;

  1. Does the word count in the page you have created serve the user well?
  2. In context, is that the right amount of copy for the function of that web page?
  3. Think about the purpose of each individual web page and see if it passes “The Goldilocks Test”. Is the content too much, is there not enough or is your word count just right?

How do you know that your word count is just right?

Look at the page and it’s function.

Is it a homepage? In that case you need to very quickly wow your visitor. You need to say who you are, what you do and what benefits you provide for your users. Say how you will add value and then capture the interest with a strong, clear Call to Action (CTA) or signpost your visitors to further information before satisfying them again and securing that lead.

Is it a contact page? Clearly and quickly show the options – a form for the lazy, an email for the writers, a phone number for the time-challenged. Do you have a physical location and a map to direct real world visitors to your door?

What if your page is a report or a news article? Then you need to convey as much accurate and useful information as you can. Convey the facts, illustrate the points, use tables, charts, images and link as appropriate.

Whatever purpose you are creating content for, always see if it passes the “so what?” test. Put yourself in the shoes of a person who will manually evaluate the page and ask yourself if it demonstrates expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. These are your E-A-T criteria that Google will judge content against. (Google added another E for Experience to the criteria, see E-A-T becomes E-E-A-T in the QRG)

Then there are the social shares, the links, the conversations about your piece in the wider world. This isn’t word count, these are the ranking signals. Does your target audience read masses of words e.g they are scientists or technically-minded, are they just looking for quick snippets of information?

These are the reasons why you should evaluate word count on a piece-by-piece basis.

300 words or 1,158 words? Your stats will show you if readers are clicking away part way through a page. Bounce rates will give you an indication. Look at user flow, where the go and for how long. Heat maps are useful to show where users click, where they scroll.

When content doesn’t work, change it. Beef it up or cull it down. How about clearly having options so that readers can access long-form content if what they see isn’t enough?

Ultimately just write for your audience and the correct word count will follow. (See also our article Content is King.)

Clever Marketing - PPC & SEO. Hampshire Digital Agency.Hampshire SEO agency Clever Marketing are here to answer your questions and, if you need help, do your work for you.

Data analysis, consultation, copy writing, content marketing, we do it all. To secure our talents, call 01276 402 381 or complete our easy contact form and we’ll be happy to help you get the right word count that captures your users’ attention.

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