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

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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

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