Does content length affect SEO? I looked at over 14,000 search listings

Want to find out whether the length of your content affects your rankings of Google? Read on.

4th April 2021
Does content length affect SEO? I looked at over 14,000 search listings

“How long should my content be for SEO?” I have heard this question from many clients over the years. It seems like it should be a simple question, but it is not.

A quick Google search looking for the answer will return responses that include people seemingly pulling a number out of thin air to actual research on the topic.

I decided I would take a look for myself.

Researching content length for SEO

Method

To determine whether content length seemed to impact organic search rankings, I first needed some search results to analyse.

I gathered 1,500 high search volume keywords covering a range of topics, including health and fitness, beauty, business, fashion and travel. I then tracked desktop Google UK rankings for these keywords and exported the top ten results for each search term, which amounted to 15,000 individual search listings.

Once I had the search results, I crawled each listing URL to get the word count. This word count is the total number of words for all of the text in the body element, excluding the nav and footer HTML elements. However, this word count could still include text that is not unique to the page, such as sidebar content.

I spot-checked twenty results to get an average amount of words I should remove from each URL’s total word count to account for this. This spot check gave me an average result of 518 words to remove from the word counts I gathered from the crawls.

After crawling the URLs, I noticed that there were quite a few results that returned errors. I excluded these errors from the data, leaving me with 14,137 search listings to analyse.

Results

What were the results? Well, see the table and chart below.

Google UK positionAvg. word count
12257
22101
31995
42096
52069
61942
72109
81905
91862
101791

Google UK organic search average word count by position

Note that the table and chart numbers have already had the 518 non-unique words removed, as mentioned above.

Analysis

As you can see, the average word count for position one on Google for the keywords I checked was 2,257 words. Looking at the line graph trend line, I can see that as a search listing appears further down page one of Google, the lower the average word count.

Now, unfortunately, I have to say that phrase, correlation is necessarily not causation. I know, I know – you have probably heard that a thousand times. But technically, it is true. Despite this, if I had to give my opinion, I would say that content length impacts organic rankings. I doubt this comes as a shock to many people.

So, assuming content length does impact rankings, that begs the question, “why?” It is possible that Google factors in content length. If they do factor in content length for rankings, then it is possibly query dependent. For example, a search that does not need a 2000+ word essay for an answer does not warrant long content to satisfy searchers’ needs. However, a query for a complex topic may require longer content to explain it fully.

Even if Google does not explicitly use content length as a ranking factor, simply having more content allows you to include more keywords (including long-tail), more synonyms and other on-page cues that indicate to Google that your content is relevant for a particular topic. Perhaps just these reasons alone account for the positive correlation between longer content and higher rankings on Google.

Conclusion

So should you try to write longer content for your website, and how long should it be?

Well, I always caveat any numerical response to this question by telling people they need to write for the user first and foremost. Therefore, the content should be long enough to answer a visitor’s questions on a topic thoroughly, but not too long and filled with useless filler text.

In my opinion, writing longer relevant content for your website compared to your competitors’ sites will give you a better chance of ranking, all other factors being equal. In terms of a specific word count, you could aim for the average of the other position one results – so 2257 words or thereabout.

To write longer content that is still relevant and useful for your audience, make sure you have done your research to identify keywords and sub-topics that they are searching for. If your content gets really long, you can include a ‘contents’ section with links to your article’s sub-sections to allow your readers to skip to the section they are looking for. Also, make sure you include clear sub-headings so that people can skim read your article.

I feel that I should point out a few pitfalls when trying to hit a specific word count. In my opinion, providing a word count increases the likelihood of writing fluff to hit an arbitrary target article length, or you end up cutting out excellent information simply because you reach the target content length. These problems are likely to be more evident if you have a third party writing your content for you.

Wrapping up

To sum up, there is a correlation between content length and Google’s organic search rankings – at least for the search results I looked at. My opinion is that longer content will improve your chances of ranking higher on Google.

To find out more about our SEO services, you can contact hello@strategyst.co.uk.

The Author: Daniel Lee

I am a digital marketing strategist with more than eleven years' experience. I have worked in digital marketing agencies, as well as client-side. My clients include small businesses all the way up to organisations with revenue in the billions. I provide marketing consultancy both in the UK and the US. I hold a Master of Science degree in International Marketing, and I am a member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

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