We came across a stat that said “75% of readers want to read content that’s less than 1000 words” and it got us thinking! Knowing that Google’s algorithm prioritises long form content, we wanted to take a closer look at this stat, to figure out how we could write content that not only worked with SEO, but was also engaging to human readers.
The more we researched, the more intrigued we were – if people weren’t willing to read more than 1000 words, why are search algorithms pushing results with a higher word count to the first page? If Google’s algorithms were meant to be taking a more human approach to understanding queries, then why is longer content consistently ranking higher?
We continued down this rabbit hole until we had some answers, so keep reading to see what we discovered.
Does longer content really rank higher?
Well… yes and no. Technically, content with a higher word count ranks higher on Google, but adding more words to your content won’t necessarily get you on the first page. There are 3 key factors that you need to consider when writing long form posts that will add to your chances of performing well.
Research by Neil Patel recommends that the content needs to be deep, comprehensive, and keyword focused to rank higher – let's take a look at what these terms mean in practice.
1. Content should be deep
According to MarketMuse, depth refers to how well the content covers the focus topic. The depth score they use is determined by how many times the content mentions other relevant terms, and these additional terms are given a ‘relevancy score’. The relevancy score shows how important the terms are in relation to the focus topic, which helps to build depth throughout the content. Mentioning more of these relevant keywords will show that you’re a reliable source on the topic.
For example, if your focus topic was ‘content marketing strategy’, you would want your content to explore other topics that are relevant like ‘social media’, ‘buyer persona’ or ‘marketers’. In many cases, the top-ranking content is deep because it includes a good amount of relevant terms, and this means that the content is naturally longer, as it covers as many connected topics as possible.
2. Content should be comprehensive
While depth is focused more on mentioning relevant topics throughout your content, writing comprehensive content is more about mentioning related topics. Related topics are more general, but are still semantically linked to the main focus of the content, which gives you a better chance of ranking for these additional topics as well.
Using the previous example of ‘content marketing strategy’ as a focus topic, including terms like ‘inbound marketing’, ‘digital marketing’, or ‘brand awareness’, would add context for Google’s algorithm, because it sees the content as having more comprehensive coverage of the focus topic.
3. Content should be keyword focused
It’s important to remember that, while keyword stuffing is a thing of the past, focusing on a single topic and mentioning it consistently throughout your content is still something that you can do to improve its performance. Google also recognises synonyms and variations of your keyword, so it’s a matter of naturally incorporating these key phrases and terms into your writing.
So, how long does a blog need to be?
This is where we channel that one teacher who would always say “well, how long is a piece of string?”, because it really depends on a number of factors. The length, structure, and media that you choose to include will depend on your business and industry. Additionally, understanding your audience will give you some good insight into the type of content you should be posting to get them engaged.
The length of your blog will only really matter when it’s paired with high quality content. As an example, let's take a look at a blog we wrote called “How much does digital transformation cost?”.
When we search “cost of digital transformation” in the Content Template tool by SEMrush, it shows the top 10 ranking pages, as well as a rough guide for how long the content should be. SEMrush recommends that a page covering this topic should have around 1085 words - which is interesting because our blog is currently ranking 1st, and only clocks in at around 850 words… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
This shows that aiming for a high word count isn’t necessarily the key to your success – but writing content that’s deep, comprehensive and keyword focused is what really matters.
6 ways to write for SEO and humans
Google’s search algorithms (especially after the RankBrain update) are designed to comb through hundreds of billions of webpages to find the most relevant and useful content based on the query. The search algorithms look at a number of characteristics when dishing out content, like the words used to search, the relevance and usability of pages, the expertise of the source, and your location settings.
Gone are the days of keyword stuffing to get your content ranking in the top 10 – instead, Google’s search algorithms aim to understand search intent from a human perspective, and prioritise pages that could be valuable to the reader. This comparison shows how search queries have changed over time from being relatively simple, to something more conversational, and this has become standard.
According to Quora Creative, the average person only spends around 37 seconds skim reading a blog post - so how do you write content that engages human readers while also climbing the SEO ladder?
1. Review the top-ranking pages
Take a look at the pages that appear on the first page of Google when you search for the keyword you’re targeting – this will show you the type of content you should aim to write. Take note of the length, media used, structure, and other features that might help to capture your audience's attention.
2. Understand your audience
Taking time to research and understand your target audience and their needs will inform your content writing strategy. Addressing common queries with useful information will keep prospective customers on your page for longer and build trust.
3. Use natural language
Using a relaxed and conversational tone not only keeps readers more engaged, it also gives your content a better chance of ranking higher on search, by covering queries that a user might type into Google.
4. Quality over quantity
Writing well-researched content is much more effective at holding your readers attention than writing 5000 words of surface level information. It’s more important to focus on writing comprehensive pieces that are valuable to your audience.
5. Structure your content for scannability
Structure your writing in a way that your readers can skim for the information they actually need to solve their problem or query. Try to avoid large blocks of text and instead use H2 and H3 header tags to break things up, and make use of numbered or bulleted lists.
6. Keep readers on the page for longer
Increasing the ‘dwell time’ spent on your page tells Google’s algorithms that your page is useful to readers. You can do this by adding fun and interesting media to your content like GIFS, images, videos and infographics, which makes it a little easier for your readers to digest.
All that to say, there are no strict rules when it comes to the exact length of your content to get it ranking higher. As long as the content is well-researched, and comprehensively covers the topic you’re targeting, it stands a good chance of getting pushed up the ranks - regardless of whether you write 850 words or 5000.
Content is a powerful tool to have as part of your digital marketing strategy - it not only provides value to your customers to get the conversation going, it also helps your website rank higher, to increase your chances of being found online. At H&D we have a team of content writers who specialise in content strategy AND creation, so get in touch if you're ready to boost your blog to it’s full potential.