For far too long, content marketers have scratched their heads wondering about the ideal length of a blog post. We all know that there’s no set lower or upper limit when it comes to the length of what we write, but we also know that there’s a bit of both art and science to determining which content performs better than others.
The short answer is that a blog post should be as long as it needs to be, within reason. I say this as someone who is fully aware of many marketers’ steadfast belief that long-form content is king in the eyes of Google. Today we’ll discuss why word count matters, how to craft a piece that ranks, and how to determine the ideal length of your next post.
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Table of Contents
Why does word count matter?
It’s long been known that Google rewards excellent content, which naturally tends to be longer than average content. But does length itself have an impact on ranking? Data from Ahrefs suggests that it does:
As you can see, the correlation between word count and organic traffic is slight, but it’s still nothing to sneeze at. Even a slight boost to your organic rankings can have a huge impact on your bottom line.
When you ask Google about word count directly, though, they’ll tell you that length doesn’t matter. In August 2019, Google’s John Mueller responded to a Reddit thread about word count with this:
Six months later, in early 2020, Mueller reiterated his stance on Twitter:
Why, then, is there the correlation we saw above? The answer, Mueller would tell you, is that word count is not the cause of the boost in ranking but rather the byproduct of answering readers’ questions more thoroughly than everyone else. Being more thorough takes more words, of course, which is why we see the correlation between length and organic traffic. But what Google is actually rewarding is the quality of the content, not the length.
Rather than try to stuff more words into your posts, then, here’s how to think about writing your next piece.
Give the best answer anywhere on the internet
Blogs are great for a number of reasons: they’re inexpensive to start, highly scalable, and easily monetizable. The problem with blogs, though, is that it’s difficult to predict which posts will perform well and which won’t. Every content marketer knows the frustration of getting trickles of organic traffic from the posts they thought were goldmines, and the equally confusing feeling of receiving floods of traffic for the posts they pumped out in an hour.
When trying to decipher this, it helps to remember that readers come to your blog for one reason and one reason only: to get their question answered. Google knows this, which is why it rewards websites that do the best job of answering the question it believes readers are trying to answer—even if that question is different from the question they typed in.
Not surprisingly, giving the best answer generally involves doing a deep dive into the topic you’re writing about. Reaching the top of Google, then, generally requires hitting on all of the points addressed within the top 3-5 posts plus adding your own insights on top. If you do this effectively, there’s a good chance you’ll write a better post than your competitors. At the very least, going through this exercise will give you an idea of how long your post should be.
If you want to know the questions real humans are asking about your keyword—rather than just the data you get from tools like Ahrefs—search for your keyword on Reddit and pay particular attention to the threads with the most upvotes in the past twelve months. Redditors are an anomalous bunch, and I’m always surprised by the sorts of questions being asked about my topic. When I include the answers to the top questions from Reddit in my post (assuming they’re relevant, of course), my article takes a serious step up in the eyes of Google. This is just one way to outpace other bloggers, though it’s a highly effective one.
The ideal length depends on the keyword
Different topics require different word counts in order to rank and depending on the difficulty of your keyword, you should be adjusting the length of the post you write.
Keywords with a high difficulty score tend to have a high bar: readers are relatively satisfied with the answers already out there, so you need to work hard to get to page one. When I come across a very tough keyword (a keyword with a difficulty score of about 60 or above), I tend to write an extremely long post, such as this one on passive income that’s more than 12,000 words long.
If a keyword has a low difficulty score, though, there’s more room for you to get onto the first page. The relationship between keyword difficulty and required length is far from perfect, but it’s a good guideline.
Longer is not always better
Many content marketers focus so much on word count that they forget to add the value they started writing for in the first place. If you’re aiming for 5,000 words for a topic that can be covered in 2,000 or less, readers will bounce to another post that covers it more succinctly.
Google knows when you’re writing thin content, and your SERP rankings will drop if you get in the habit of writing long, rambling posts that offer little value. Instead, add as much value as you can in as few words as you can, and then move on to the next post.
Get insight into what other bloggers are doing
So far, we’ve established that longer content generally performs better on Google, but that the impact of greater length is a byproduct of higher quality, not a ranking factor in and of itself. If you’re still curious about the length of the existing posts out there, though, Frase is a quick way to find out.
When you create a Frase report, one of the metrics computed is the average word count of the highest-ranking posts for your particular keyword. I always recommend writing a post that’s longer than the current average that Frase offers, since that will force you to be more thorough than those posts.
For example, the Frase report for the keyword “best investment newsletters” shows that the average word count of the top twenty posts is around 2,200 words. I knew this from the outset and decided to add several additional sections to my breakdown of the top newsletters, bringing my post to 4,400 words. It seems to have worked: my article currently ranks #2 on Google for the keyword.
How to improve your blog posts with fewer words
Since word count alone is far from the only thing that matters when it comes to ranking on Google, here are a few ways to pack more value into your posts with fewer words.
Add tables & data
Part of creating valuable content comes with presenting proof of what you’re saying. A good way to do this is to include tables, charts, graphs, and other representations of data to prove your point. The more a graph or table validates what you’re talking about, the stronger your content is. Plus, tables generally communicate in far fewer words.
For example, this post on the top virtual mailboxes ranks fifth for the keyword “best virtual mailbox.” It ranks highly both because it’s more thorough than other posts on the topic and also because it’s full of helpful tables that organize the data in an easy-to-read way. None of the other top posts have such robust comparison tables, which suggests that this is one of the things Google likes, and that’s why it’s rewarding this post with such a high ranking.
It’s long been believed that embedding videos in your blog posts lead to them ranking better since Google owns YouTube and wants all of us to use the video platform more. Developing custom videos for every post can be time-consuming, though, so if you’re sold on video, I suggest either outsourcing the creation or using a tool like Biteable or Fastreel to create high-quality videos via drag and drop.
Of course, just as the relevance of the words in your post is important, the relevance of the video you embed is important, too. As a rule of thumb, embed videos that add a new perspective or additional information to what you’ve already written. Google has a surprisingly good understanding of what a video contains (again, it owns YouTube), so don’t get lazy when choosing which videos to include.
Blogging is a great way to build a brand, but that brand will only ever be as strong as the content you create. If you want to build a lasting brand, then, you need top-notch content, and top-notch content is usually long. Remember that correlation does not equal causation, though; just because an article is long doesn’t make it good.
So, how long should a blog post be? The answer, of course, is “it depends.” It depends on the type of content you’re writing, the topic you choose, and the competition that’s out there. If you choose a keyword with low difficulty, you won’t need a really long post; if you choose a hard one, you’ll generally need a lot more.
Don’t forget, though, that you can add value to your post through more than just words: tables, unique data, and videos all count, too. So before going out and writing 5,000 words on your next post, ask yourself: is it really worth it?