SEO word count is not a ranking factor says Google's Jon Mueller.

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 and what you do. Additionally, say how you will add value and then capture the interest with a strong, clear Call to Action (CTA) or signpost your visitor to further information before satisfying them again and capturing 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, authority and trust. These are your E-A-T criteria that Google will judge content against.

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 534 680 or complete our easy contact form and we’ll be happy to help you get the right word count that captures your users’ attention.

Never be afraid to link out - Clever Marketing.

Never Be Afraid to Link Out

Every so often, I’ll hear a comment or be asked a question about external links in website content.

Once, the comment was

“I was going link out from this article but then I decided not to.”

Another time, the discussion was about some copy that I’d crafted for a client:

“But there’s an external link in that article”

My response is usually a quizzical

“Why do you say that?”

The answer is always less of a statement and more along the lines of another query…

“Oh, I heard that it’s not good to link out?”

So, let’s clear this up for once and for all…

Never be afraid to link out

I have never been one for skimping on external links unless there is a very good reason not to. It may be that you wish to reference a competitor but not give them traffic and help boost their rankings. But we’ll look at that later.

However, here’s a good reason why you should be linking out…

About ten years ago I used to run a news desk for a business information website. The news was initially supplied by a third party vendor and I’d typically receive a document consisting of a heading and about 300 words of copy. I chose to improve and support the simple news story by adding an image to accompany the copy and do some SEO too.

However, reading the articles before publication, as an editor, I’d always be frustrated by the failure of the article to provide relevant and useful external links. A story might be about the latest research on SMEs by the Royal Bank of Scotland and the author would quote a few figures from that report. But that was it.

In 300 words there was little to say of any real depth and I’d be wanting to read the source report for myself. But there was no link to the source of the information. Basically, the writer was saying there was this fantastic new piece of research but if you wanted to read it you’d just have to go and find it for yourself.

So, in order to fulfil the purpose of conveying newsworthy information to the reader, I had to search for the report and provide the link myself. And if there was a convoluted path to get to the report, I’d simplify it.

The aim of the news was to make the items newsworthy and to ensure the web pages were as useful to a visitor as possible. Providing links to external websites was a big part of that.

Another Big Reason is this…

The very nature of the world wide web is to provide information, to share, engage and enlighten.

The language of web pages is HyperText Markup Language (HTML) and the clue is in the name. Hypertext is text that does more than just get read. Text with links to sources of more information are really useful. It’s valuable, it adds richness and depth to the experience of being on a web page.

This was the major concept behind HyperText as dreamt up by the father of the world wide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Pages of scientific information at CERN, the European Centre for Nuclear Research, did more than just sit as static text. Once-boring pages came to life with references to further information, giving greater depth to the user experience.

So, back to the issue of external links: Yes, a visitor will click away from your website, but if you gave them valuable information, then that’s brownie points for you. It enriches your brand as being a provider of useful things.

Never Be Afraid to Link Out? But My Link Juice!

When a page links to another page, it’s supposed to pass on some of its benefits to that other page. So, an extremely popular and high quality website will have earned some “domain authority”. That means with the number and quality of inbound links, that web page is deemed as important and is assigned a certain score or level of credibility by the search engine.

Whichever pages are then linked out to also receive some of the benefits of that domain authority. This used to be measured under the old Google PageRank metric.

As an example, the BBC website has both the highest domain authority (100/100) and therefore some very high page authority (The homepage has 96/100). You can check that using Moz’ Open Site Explorer.

The spam score of the BBC domain and pages is very low so it just goes to show that the BBC usually provides links to high quality sources and references.

The holy grail of many webmasters is to gain links from such high quality sites because they pass on this “link juice”. Site owners used to “sculpt” the link profile of their websites so that they only gained incoming link juice but did not pass it on, usually by the use of “rel=nofollow” attributes on the links.

And What About Losing Visitors?

That’s one way to think about it. If someone clicks out they click away, right? Well, you could always open that link in a new tab. That way your website will stay in the users browser and you’ve provided them a useful link.

If the external link was what was useful to the visitor then so be it. Que sera sera, as the song goes, whatever will be will be.

But think about it this way – if your website was SO GOOD then why would you be afraid of sending visitors to third party sites? You need to make your site and your pages great quality and providing information, on your site or someone else’s, is providing that very service.

Again, kudos to you, my friend.

I’m Not Giving Out THESE External Links

We mentioned earlier that there may be some reasons why you don’t want to link out, and here they are:

Don’t want to link to competitor? That makes sense. If someone comes to your website looking for information or a sale of your products and services then why make it easy for the competition?

Are you using anchor text to link out for things that you want to rank for? Again, if you are a provider of say digital marketing services then maybe you don’t want to be giving out free links to anyone else who offers the same service.

With these two points, one thing to bear in mind is that if your business offering is strong enough you may have no fear of linking out to competitors. It shows your readers that you’re not afraid to link out even if it is at the perceived risk of giving props to someone else. That in itself is a subtle but powerful message.

Take Courage

What we’re saying here at Clever Marketing is don’t be afraid to link out. Links are an integral part of the spirit of the world wide web. Linking out adds depth, richness and credibility to your web pages. Including external links shows you care, it shows you’ve done the research and are willing to pass that on.

So feel free to link out, it doesn’t harm you.

Clever Marketing - Hampshire Digital Agency - Never be afraid to link outSo there you have it. Clever’s Digital Marketing Manager has 19 years professional experience in the industry. If he says don’t be afraid to link out then that’s good advice.

If you need copywritng services, SEO that boosts visibility and organic traffic or PPC campaign management, then call our Hampshire digital agency on 01276 534 680.

Content is king

Content is King – For People or Search Engines?

Content is King, the saying goes. But is that for people or search engines, who do you write for?

Our Digital Marketing Manager had an excellent discussion with a copywriter the other day…

As a copywriter and former Editor himself, he was asked to critique a piece of copy that had crossed his desk and so he went into editorial mode.

Of all the things that an online content editor should do, he assessed the article he’d received against a set of long-held, natural and instinctive criteria.

One particular benchmark was had the piece been written with the search engines in mind? The response from the copywriter was:

“I write for people”

That’s an obvious and perfect answer because, of course, who is all this online content for? People, stupid. Without people, there is no audience, without people there is no traffic, without people, there are no readers, no sharers, no amplifiers of your message.

So, of course, all content is written for people.

Or is it? What about the other option, the other end of the spectrum?

Yes, we can write for search engines and not people. In fact, our Digital Marketing Manager was once approached, a long time ago, by an agent who offered to “spin” his content. He was told to write articles in such a manner that they could be run through some software to produce multiple versions of the same article.

And what, you might ask, was the point in that?

Well, many years ago, Google’s algorithms were a little less sophisticated than they are today and so content was, at one point, quite literally churned out to produce masses of fodder solely for the purpose of ranking in the search engines.

The idea was that if you produced a lot of content around a certain subject matter, particularly niche content with limited competition, you could rank high, vacuum up all the traffic for those terms and dominate the search engines…

…with crappy content!

A whole industry grew up solely around the creation of poor-quality content. People with little or no writing skills would submit, for absolute peanuts, content that served no purpose but to attract search engine rankings.

You see, a niche term, ranking at number one in the Search Engine Rankings Pages (SERPs), might not get a massive amount of traffic but by being at #1 gets disproportionately more traffic volume than the number two, number three slots etc. (See Number 1 position in Google gets 33% of search traffic)

Churning out a lot of content on the same subject, for ranking purposes only, might then gain you authority on the subject and so a website could rank in additional slots other than the first position, thereby getting all the top traffic.

Now, ranking and gaining traffic for a low-volume niche term may not make yours the most popular website on the planet but, when you do this on an industrial scale, just think about mopping up traffic for nearly ALL the niche terms.

This is exactly what happened way back in the late 2000s. Those low-paid people churned out tons of low-grade content, enslaved for their pittance of a wage, to these content farms. Websites once existed that were stuffed full of this content, cornered all the traffic for the low volume niches and sold display ads to then generate revenue.

This, from the Wikipedia entry for Content Farm”, sums it up nicely:

In the context of the World Wide Web, a content farm (or content mill) is a company that employs large numbers of freelance writers to generate large amounts of textual content which is specifically designed to satisfy algorithms for maximal retrieval by automated search engines. Their main goal is to generate advertising revenue through attracting reader page views, as first exposed in the context of social spam.

And, for a time, it worked.

I remember well the days of eHow and the public IPO of Demand Media. Content farms were a huge business back in the late 2000s and Demand Media, the epitome of the commoditised content farm, peaked at something like $2 billion if I recall correctly.

But then you had Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO, make the statement that the Internet was a cesspoolof misinformation and low-grade websites, long before Donald Trump came along banging on about “fake news.

And so the purge began.

Google worked hard on its algorithms and still does, to eliminate poor quality content from the world wide web. When I say eliminate, I mean to remove it visibly from the SERPs.

Google Panda was the name given to the set of algorithm changes that started to see the slide of machine-focused content. All the thin content that barely scraped by at 300 words, all the spun content, the sites with 10 different articles all about how to boil an egg, they started to become irrelevant. They lost their rankings, their traffic and firms like Demand Media, much to the delight of real, passionate professional copywriters, started to nose dive.

And today, that is why we write for people.

Or do we?

I’ve been told by some people that more than 300 words is boring, befitting of that Too Long, Didn’t Read (TLDR;) moniker.

But isn’t that more a symptom of modern-day reading habits, of Generation Z being brought up on a diet of 2-minute YouTube videos and listening to 3-minute pop songs? Isn’t it because we’re living in a world of attention deficit and no time to read anything in any great detail?

When I were a lad we used to read whole stories, whole books! My own copy of The Lord of the Rings tome was a whopping 1069 pages! I read that book at least twice in the first year I had it.

So, back to the original point…

Do we write for humans or do we write for the search engines?

Well, ultimately it has to be for humans but, if you write for this reason alone and ignore the demands of the search engines then you risk losing the opportunity to be crawled, indexed, ranked and amplified.

So please do write for humans but ignore considering SEO, when you’re writing, at your peril.

Clever Marketing - Hampshire Digital AgencyYou can probably tell that, as a Hampshire SEO agency, we’re not just highly experienced in copywriting but truly passionate too. Just think about what that means if we write copy for you…

If you’d like to discuss how we can inform your readers, inspire thought and encourage debate, just pick up the phone and call us now on 01276 534 680 or fill in our easy contact form.

How to Produce Good Content: The 9 Golden Rules of Content Marketing

Although content marketing is still a relatively new idea, the message that good content equals more sales is filtering down from the niche to the masses. According to a recent study from, the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, 90% of B2C marketers said they were using content marketing in 2014, compared with 84% the previous year.

[We’ve updated the report to the latest 2020, version for you: Ed] However, the study also revealed that only 34% consider themselves to be effective at content marketing. We think that’s due to confusion about what the term actually means, and a lack of commitment or strategy from the outset (less than half of those said to be using content marketing actually had a dedicated plan in place).

In this post, we’re going to look at a tangible definition of content marketing and why it’s important for every business, before letting you in on the 9 golden rules of producing good content. Let’s start with the basics.

So…what is content marketing?

We turned to the Content Marketing Institute again for a clear definition:

“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience – and ultimately to drive consumer action.”

There are a few key things to take away from this summary: firstly, “content” is what it says on the tin: information in a range of forms – nothing more complicated than that. Copywriting, brochures, social media, flyers, emails… it’s all content. Many businesses get too caught up in trying to work out whether or not what they’re producing can be deemed as content when actually, the term refers to all collateral you produce for marketing purposes.

Secondly, content marketing should be strategic, with the end goal of driving a customer to take action, whether that be to walk into your shop, visit your website or buy your product. More importantly though, is the term “clearly-defined audience”. Producing content is one thing, producing it with a specific audience and consequence in mind is content marketing.

The 9 Golden Rules of Content Marketing

As we’ve already mentioned, it isn’t enough to randomly churn out emails and brochures with the hope of converting customers. Here are our hard-and-fast rules for making your content marketing a success.

1. Plan, plan plan

A strong editorial plan or calendar will help keep you on track when other business priorities tempt you away from content production.

2. Set goals

Like any other marketing activity, if you don’t set goals for your content you won’t know whether you’re over or under-performing.

3. Be realistic

We get it, it’s easy to become excited about content. It’s fun to produce and once you start seeing results, you don’t want to stop. But before you commit to producing 5 e-books and 30 emails a month, consider your resource. Content marketing is very much a “quality over quantity” scenario, so don’t stretch yourself.

4. Get creative

As a marketing agency, we’re used to hearing “but we can’t produce interesting content – we’re a plumbing/HR outsourcing/carpentry business”. It’s easy to think that if you aren’t Virgin Atlantic or Coca Cola, then your business is boring and you have nothing to say.

That’s when it’s time to start thinking outside the box. Look to brands like Charmin and B&Q – toilet paper and DIY probably aren’t the most exciting topics in the world, but creativity and storytelling help to bring them to life for a customer.

5. Go evergreen

The term “evergreen” applies to content that will not grow out of date quickly, if at all. This means it will stay relevant and interesting to your customer long after you’ve produced it, making it more valuable to you as a business.

6. Google is your friend

If you’re writing something which will appear online, it’s best to get to grips with SEO to make sure your content has a good chance of ranking in search engines and actually being found by customers.

7. Put your audience first

A big mistake that a lot of companies make is assuming that their customers will want to read whatever they produce.

Instead of pushing out the first thing that comes to mind, ask yourself: what is the audience looking for? Can I answer a question or provide a solution?

8. Find your voice

Tone of voice is a lot more important than many people think. Nailing the right tone of voice for your brand can make your communications more authentic and effective, as well as giving you stand-out in the marketing place. Identify the tone of voice that works best for you, and keep it consistent across your communications to build up a brand identity.

9. Stay fresh

Two tweets per day, one email a week, one direct mail piece every month… sound familiar? It’s easy to get stuck in repetitive patterns with content, especially when your budget can’t stretch to much more. But it’s important to try and keep your ideas fresh in order to keep consumers engaged. Try different things, different outlets, different tactics – but most importantly, learn from your mistakes.

Clever Marketing - Hampshire Digital AgencyIf you’re looking for assistance with your content marketing then do give us a call, we’re happy to assist with your digital marketing strategy.

Call us on 01276 534 680 or complete the contact form.

Avoid being pigeonholed by customers

Avoid Being Pigeonholed by Customers

Many of us often wrongly assume that our customers fully understand the length and breadth of our service or product offering. It can then come as quite a shock when they say “Oh I didn’t know you did that.” And it can be particularly galling when they turn to one of your competitors for that provision.

So within the best marketing strategies, there should always be an area set aside for existing customers. The idea here is definitely not to turn customers off by continually bombarding them with sales offer after sales offer.

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