Long vs. Short Content for SEO? My 25 Top Traffic Posts Examined

Man sleeping at laptop computer

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.

On my B2C sites I focus on publishing long content, although late in 2015 I started adding some shorter posts to see what would happen organic search-wise.

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.

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.

My Highest Earning Ad Network

I’m going to approach this a little differently.

What I’m going to do is analyze the word count for the 25 posts on my biggest B2C that hauls in the most organic search traffic.

Data from 25 Top Posts

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.

Screenshot:

Organic Search Traffic for Top 25 Posts

Click to enlarge.

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

=> 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 make up 46.1% of all organic search traffic.

=> The top 50 posts make up 61% of all organic search traffic.

Other interesting traffic data

1. 80/20 Rule in Effect?  The top 25 organic search traffic posts (out of a total of 999 published posts)  makes 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).

2. Affiliate Promotion: 5 of the top 25 organic search posts are blatant affiliate product promotion style articles and account for approximately 75% of affiliate commissions earned ($3,000 to $4,000 per month).\

3. Long tail reigns supreme (for me):  I don’t have a single post that pulls in truckloads of traffic.  22,000 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.

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.

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 should you do?

I’ll rephrase.  Would I do anything different with respect to word count if I was starting over?

No I wouldn’t.  This website is an absolute success.

Does that mean you need to average 1,400 to 1,800 word posts?  Perhaps not average that length, but I think it’s good to publish some epic pillar content on your site.

At the end of the day, publish the best site you can.  It’s trite but true.

Oh yeah, I’ve often gone back to successful posts and made them better.  This is a great way to invest in proven winners.

Fat Stacks quote from Breaking Bad by Jesse Pinkman
My Highest Earning Ad Network

What do you think? Leave a comment!

  • shane says:

    Hey Jon,

    nice work mate, i appreciate all this data backed content information,

    whats your thoughts on google giving “less” weight to affiliate type posts compared to non-affiliate posts?

    i remember reading that u have used an “affiliate type Cloaker” ? and if so don’t you think this could be risky in the long run, with perhaps google coming up with another algorithm change to penalize those that try to hide blatant Aff links?

    Also have you noticed that the posts that don’t have any aff links in actually rank a lot higher and easier or is this all just a myth?

    regards shane paarman 🙂

    • Jon says:

      Hey Shane,

      5 of my top 25 best performing posts have cloaked affiliate links. I’m not worried, but I am in the middle of a massive affiliate overhaul. In a nutshell I’m creating a massive affiliate ecommerce store where I have unique product write-ups. I’m linking to this from my main site. In the long run this will eliminate the need for affiliate links on my main site. I may even get a trickle of SEO traffic to the store, but I’m not betting the farm on that. The key is to eliminate the need for affiliate links on my main site (or at least minimize them). I think some affiliate links are fine. A site loaded with them on every post may be a problem.

      I have no idea what the affiliate link max is or whether there is one. I think we’re all guessing and that nobody really knows. For every rule pronounced by some SEO, there are always exceptions. For example, if someone who concludes 15 affiliate links on a page is too many to rank well in the SERPs, no doubt someone will find a post with more affiliate links that’s ranking well. It’s a guessing game.

  • Joe Watson says:

    Hi John

    Doesn’t the actual value of the posts affect the ratings? Whilst the posts over 2K, 3K and 4K show lower ratings, isn’t this due to the actual value and number of keywords in the posts.

    I have a feeling that if the first post is in the 1600-2000 words range is a really perfect one as far as value is concerned, then other posts which are loaded with value can be 700-1500 .

    What do you think?

    • Jon says:

      Hi Joe,

      ROI is important for sure. However, that’s assuming a shorter post costs more to publish. Not always the case (but usually the case).

      I think it’s good test in your niche to see what works best. If 800 word articles can rank and pull in serious traffic go with it, but I think also it’s important not to get too formulaic. My range is large because many of those articles required either a lot or a few words.

      If the sweet spot is 800 words, focus on that. If it takes 3,000 words, then so be it. I think it’s niche-by-niche as well as topic by topic (or kw by kw).

      The thing is though, the cost of a 3,000 word article is nominal if it pulls in 10,000 visitors each and every month. The ROI is insane. In fact, if I knew with a certainty that every 6,000 word article I published would pull in 5,000 visitors per month, I’d publish nothing but 6,000 word articles. Yes, the articles would cost me $250 to $1,000, but I’d make that back in 4 to 10 months and after that it’s all profit.

  • Rinkesh says:

    That being said, it doesn’t mean that long content will work in all the niches. I am in a niche where average content can take you to first page of Google by doing some good on page SEO and few good backlinks.

    • Jon says:

      Hi Rinkesh,

      Sounds like a good niche to me. I totally agree. You need to test and see what works. There’s no reason to do anything unnecessary. Thanks for your comment.

  • RJ Bryan says:

    Nice findings!

    In 2015 I found that it can really vary. One of my most successful post was 500 words and received thousands of clicks and views. It was surprising cause the keywords was searched about 100 times per month.

    This was true for a few post actually. I remember seeing/commenting on a post Perrin shared on the topic.

    I think its really important to base your word count on the topic- not just the keyword length or search volume. I think, for my niches, thats why some short content dominates vs long content (as it relates to SEO)

    Cheers!

    • Jon says:

      Hey RJ

      You bring up an awesome point and that is how what may appear to be a low search volume keyword can result in a lot of traffic as a result of variations. The more in-depth you go into a niche, the more you figure this out.

  • Mukesh Negi says:

    Hi Jon,

    It clear show that if you have written more then 1000 words content then you have more changes to get more traffic.
    I always write under 500 words content but once i write around 1800 content i saw that i reach in 15 position with in 3 days with some traffic.

    so according to me write as much as you can.

  • Jon Haver says:

    Jon, great post thanks for sharing your data. I think your assessment is pretty fair. Longer = Better but not all the time.

  • Mike says:

    Hey Jon,

    thanks for the great info you provide.

    I’m missing your income reports for the last couple of months.

    Thanks
    Mike

    • Jon says:

      They’re coming. Buying a new site has really taken up my time. January was so-so, Feb. was awesome.

      • Mike says:

        Good to hear that Feb was awesome since I heard from many guys that facebook ads are becoming very expensive, so I wanted to know if this the concept is still valid of using facebook to drive the traffic.

        What is a good CPC or cost per engagement that you consider profitable?

        Thanks
        Mike

        • Jon says:

          Most organic traffic that made it so good. I haven’t spent much time/money on ads lately because organic (search and social) is growing so well I focus on that because it’s passive in the long run. Also I’m doing a lot of testing and site redesign work which is totally consuming my days. I hope to get back to buying more traffic soon. I’ve had some decent results with lower budgets lately though (the little I’ve done) with boosting posts.

  • Mike says:

    Good to hear that Feb was awesome since I heard from many guys that facebook ads are becoming very expensive, so I wanted to know if this the concept is still valid of using facebook to drive the traffic.

    What is a good CPC or cost per engagement that you consider profitable?

    Thanks
    Mike

  • danny says:

    I just stumbled upon your blog and I’m still trying to go back and read all of your income reports 🙂

    Was wondering what software powers the full page ad when a visitor first enters your site (the one that asks a user to signup for the email list)

  • Derek says:

    Jon,

    Thanks for the great article. I normally end up with 700-1,000 words for my posts. It is nice to know that I shouldn’t strain to add “fluff” to extend articles out when it may not be necessary.

  • I normally end up with 1000-1500 words for my posts. This brings good results.

  • Imer Imran says:

    Hi Jon
    As far as I understand from your analysis, I agree with Jon Haver says above “I think your assessment is pretty fair. Longer = Better but not all the time”.

    Anyway, just wanted to say this post was awesome and It’s the style of your writing that I like.

    Imer

    • Jon says:

      I think long content is good if it’s long for the right reason and not just to be “long content”. I mix it up. For instance on this website, I never consider word count. That said, admittedly for some of my gallery style posts on niche sites I’ve added more text than necessary in an effort to attract organic search traffic. It’s worked for the most part.

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