Does word count matter for SEO?
Many SEOs say yes. I think it does to a certain degree based on the data I set out below from one of my B2C websites.
This post provides word count data on my the top 25 Google search traffic posts on my biggest B2C website in 2016 and then again for the top 50 posts in 2019.
Common knowledge is that longer content attracts more organic search traffic. That makes sense since there are more long tail keywords (the lion’s share of my organic search traffic) and longer content stands a better chance of attracting links.
However, Perrin at Authority Hacker recently published a great post titled “The Business Case for SHORT Content” (ironically that post is over 5,000 words, but that’s not the point). His post analyzes many pieces of content varying in length and concludes that shorter content can and is often worth publishing.
Below I provide overviews, data and analysis of word count and SEO traffic volume for my biggest niche site – data collected and analyzed in 2016 and again in 2019.
Table of Contents
FYI, I was able to significantly speed up this analysis in 2019 with the WP Word Count plugin (Free version / Pro version). Start with the free version and if you need more features, upgrade – that’s what I did.
How long is long / How short is short?
To make things simple, I’ll apply Perrin’s cut off points for long vs. short content.
- Short Content: 700 words or less.
- Medium-Length Content: 701 to 1,499 words.
- Long Content: 1,500 words or more.
Perrin’s case study specifically looked at shorter pieces of content to see how they’re performing with hauling in organic search traffic.
I’m going to approach this a little differently.
This case study analyzes top posts from 2019 followed by an analysis of the top 25 posts from the same site in 2016.
Analysis of the Top 50 Posts as of July 2, 2019
=> Average word count for the top 50 organic search traffic posts: 2,840 words
=> Median word count: 2,650 words
=> Word count range for top 50 posts: 292 to 7,600 words
=> The top 50 posts make up 31% of all organic search traffic.
=> Total number of articles published by July 2, 2019: 3,407
=> Average monthly organic search sessions per article: 179 average monthly sessions per article
Here’s the data:
|Sessions (last 30 days)||Word Count|
Analysis of the Top 25 Posts as of Feb. 21, 2016 (Same Website)
=> Average word count for the top 25 organic search traffic posts: 1,833
=> Median word count: 1,473 (arguably median is a better metric than average)
=> Word count range for top 25 posts: 536 to 4,271 words
=> The top 25 posts made up 46.1% of all organic search traffic.
=> The top 50 posts made up 61% of all organic search traffic.
=> Total number of articles published on the site as of Feb. 21, 2016: 999 articles
=> Average monthly organic search sessions per article: 324 average monthly sessions per article
The following is for the last 30 days (Jan. 22 to Feb 21, 2016) and it’s Google organic search traffic only. Sorry, actual URLs and post names not provided.
1. Visits: 22,777 / Word Count: 1,843
2. Visits: 14,052 / Word Count: 1,581
3. Visits: 10,708 / Word Count: 1,749
4. Visits: 10,201 / Word Count: 2,033
5. Visits: 9,366 / Word Count: 1,473
6. Visits: 8,004 / Word Count: 1,210
7. Visits: 6,171 / Word Count: 1,423
8. Visits: 6,112 / Word Count: 1,453
9. Visits: 6,051 / Word Count: 1,359
10. Visits: 5,884 / Word Count: 2,029
11. Visits: 5,017 / Word Count: 811
12. Visits: 4,209 / Word Count: 1,700
13. Visits: 3,916 / Word Count: 1,435
14. Visits: 3,837 / Word Count: 2,435
15. Visits: 3,810 / Word Count: 4,023
16. Visits: 3,761 / Word Count: 3,794
17. Visits: 3,017 / Word Count: 997
18. Visits: 3,017 / Word Count: 850
19. Visits: 2,952 / Word Count: 1,854
20. Visits: 2,938 / Word Count: 1,802
21. Visits: 2,932 / Word Count: 1,067
22. Visits: 2,686 / Word Count: 1,229
23. Visits: 2,645 / Word Count: 4,271
24. Visits: 2,639 / Word Count: 536
25. Visits: 2,636 / Word Count: 2,771
Interesting Findings (2016 and 2019 data)
1. 80/20 Rule in Effect?
In 2016 when the site was much, much smaller, the top 25 organic search traffic posts (out of a total of 999 published posts) made up 46.1% of overall organic search traffic. This is calculated by adding up all organic search traffic for the top 25 posts set out above and dividing it by 323,675 (total organic search traffic last 30 days).
In 2019, the 80/20 rule is much less pronounced with the addition of a lot of content over the last 3 years. Traffic is spread out much more evenly over the posts.
2. Affiliate Content:
In 2016, 5 of the top 25 organic search posts are blatant affiliate product promotion style articles (i.e. high buyer intent) and those articles account for approximately 75% of affiliate commissions earned ($3,000 to $4,000 per month).
In 2019, no blatant affiliate promotion content falls in the top 50 posts (by organic search traffic). That said, there are several articles with affiliate links but those articles don’t target buyer intent keywords.
3. Long tail reigns supreme (for me):
In 2016 I didn’t have a single post that pulls in truckloads of traffic. 22,000 visits plus for the best performer is good, but it’s not a high search volume keyword. In fact, my organic search traffic is widely spread out across many blog posts.
By 2019, my highest traffic post is half that of 2016 (and it’s not the same post as it was in 2016). I’m less dependent on any single piece of content for traffic.
I like the fact my organic search volume is spread out because I’m not terribly vulnerable for losing tens of thousands of organic search visits by losing a top ranking for any one keyword. Being dependent on one or a few keywords for all traffic is vulnerable. Sure, I’ll take a top ranking for a monster 500,000 per month keyword, but I know I’d be pretty nervous about losing that ranking. I know I’d grow dependent on that traffic pretty quickly, at which time I’d be worrying about losing that traffic.
4. Articles got longer
From 2016 to 2019, my average article length increased considerably which overall has helped traffic.
5. Things are always changing
My current top traffic post gets half the traffic as my top traffic post in 2016 (bummer). Moreover, there are many different articles in my top 50 now than there were in 2016. Several of my top performers in 2016 aren’t performing as well.
6. Sessions per article dropped
While overall traffic nearly doubled, traffic per article dropped by nearly 50%. I’ve gone after many lower volume keywords in recent years and result is higher aggregate traffic but each piece of content less profitable.
Part of this is due to adding hundreds of articles over the last 6 months. I’ve increased output tremendously in 2019 and many of those articles are still new.
It’s also a result of my not investing into link building. I don’t strive to rank big keywords. I’m a volume publisher and as long as net profits and aggregate traffic grows, I’m happy. Of course, I’d prefer average traffic per post to climb, but it’s not – I’d rather that metric drop and profits/total traffic increase. In fact, it’s in line with my strategy.
Does this data mean anything?
Yes and no.
I think generally SEO case studies and data is more correlation than causation.
For example, my highest organic search traffic post, which brings in more than 22,000 monthly visitors is 1,843 words. Does this mean if you publish posts that are 1,843 words or more you’ll have similar success? Of course not. There are many variables other than word count.
Despite the above data being correlation more than anything, it does support the fact that you don’t need to always publish 3,000 plus word posts in order to generate decent organic traffic. However, my best posts have an average length of 1,843 words and a median word count of 1,473 words. Those aren’t short posts.
That said, I have 6,000 plus word posts that don’t even make the top 50 organic search traffic posts on my site suggesting longer isn’t necessarily better.
I think the above data does illustrate that medium length content, at least for my site, performs quite well. 800 to 2,000 words is a sweet spot for the site and within the niche. Of course, there are many other variables, but the data does support the fact that most of my best performing organic search posts falls within a fairly tight word count length.
Caveat about the data above:
Most of the content on my site is longer so naturally the best performing organic search traffic posts will have a fairly high word count. While I did publish 100 short posts in 2015, it was toward the end of 2015 and they targeted very long tail keywords so they will never attract a lot of traffic.
The question is, would I have been better off publishing shorter content? In other words, would I have the same level of Google search traffic if I published posts with a 750 word count average?
While I can’t prove it, I doubt it. I have no regrets investing as much time and money as I have in longer content.
What does this mean for you?
A few things:
1. Invest in illustrations (as part of your content strategy)
I’ve invested in dozens (probably over 100) and the results are fantastic. They attract links, get shared and haul in a lot of traffic with very little work or expense.
The thing is few sites commission original graphics. This is one very easy way to stand out.
I hired a graphic designer from Onlinejobs.ph.
2. Generally, longer is good… to a point
My longest articles are not in the top 50 performers. However, the average word count for my top 5 articles is 3,880 words and top 10 is 3,708 words. Length matters as long as it’s good, informative content.
3. You know it when you see it
With very few exceptions, I’m not surprised that the 50 articles in the top 50 are there. I know each article well and I know they are good. I know they are above average relative to many other articles. I also know they are well-chosen topics.
Once you get rankings, you’ll probably realize much the same – that your best performing content is the best. Yes, there are exceptions, but generally, it’s amazing how the good stuff ranks. And they’re good not because of word count but because they serve the topic.
4. Keyword difficulty matters
As part of my keyword analysis that I’ll soon publish, I’m incorporating a keyword difficulty analysis. I’m not done yet, but overall, I don’t rank for high keyword difficulty keywords (I use Ahrefs Keyword Difficulty score).
Here’s a sneak peak to my upcoming keyword ranking analysis – my average keyword difficulty score is 6.76 for the 26,077 keywords that rank #1 in Google search. Yes, I rank #1 for over 26,000 keywords… but many of them generate very little traffic. It’s just pure content volume (which is my main strategy and it works).
Jon runs the place around here. He pontificates about launching and growing online publishing businesses, aka blogs that make a few bucks. His pride and joy is the email newsletter he publishes that’s “the best blogging email newsletter around.”
Hyperbole? Maybe, but go check it out to see what some readers say.
In all seriousness, Jon is the founder and owner of a digital media company that publishes a variety of web properties visited and beloved by millions of readers monthly. Fatstacks is where he shares a glimpse into his digital publishing business.