The answer I’m about to set out is based on gut feeling and somewhat on existing data. I’m going against the grain here which has often served me well in this business. If you decide to try what I’m about to tell you, start small and see if it works for you. Each niche is different. Each topic is different. I make no guarantees that what I’m doing will work for you.
Short answer: Right now (February 10, 2022), I’m of the view that seven 800-word articles is better for search traffic and for a niche site than one 5,600 word article.
Content length has gotten out of control
Long ago, Google decided it needed to make changes to deal with thin content. In Google’s view, too much weak/thin content was ranking in search, often due to other SEO factors such as links. Google unleashed the Panda update. Overnight, articles deemed “thin” lost rankings. Many sites tanked big time. I’m not sure exactly what qualified an article as thin but length was part of it.
What does a good SEO do when a Google decimates a particular strategy?
A good SEO overcompensates in the opposite direction. If short content is not good, insanely long content is very good. It’s overkill. Soon every publisher, especially those who blog about SEO, started publishing tomes. 5,000-word articles became the norm. I didn’t like it then. I don’t like it now with some exceptions. Listicles, by their very nature, will be long. I’m okay with that. They’re fast and easy to read. But publishing 5,000 word articles all the time was overkill. Too often I would visit these articles looking for something specific and couldn’t find it. It was like trying to find a paragraph in a novel.
I get why SEOs promoted long content and that’s because it worked. These articles ranked for some great keywords hauling in all kinds of traffic. When it proved to work, SEOs doubled down with even longer articles.
Long articles target more keywords
The more words on a page, the more keywords it targets and potentially ranks for. Makes sense. I’ve definitely noticed this. However, one argument in favor of multiple shorter articles is that you can go after more keywords in a more surgical manner by putting those keywords in the title. Google still puts quite a bit of stock in the title tag of an article.
Turns out long content also earns more ad revenue
Heck, I’ve mentioned this before and it’s true. Longer content means more ad impressions which means more money. Why publish an article that’s 5,000 pixels long when you can easily make it 20,000 pixels long and earn far more?
To this day, long articles have their place but what’s been overlooked is that short articles also have their place.
Despite all the perceived benefits of long content, I’m going all in on shorter articles… here’s why
Across all my niche sites, including Fat Stacks, I’m going all in on shorter articles. I’m talking 750 to 1,000 word articles. I’m amping up the number of articles published on each site as well. Why am I doing this?
1. Target more keywords in a more direct way
Google places a fair amount of ranking weight for the keywords in a title tag of an article. By publishing more articles, I can more directly target more keywords. I know Google will rank keywords in the subheading of an article but I suspect Google will bestow better rankings to keywords in the title. Even if this pans out some of the time, it’ll be worth it.
2. Better user experience because visitors find what they’re looking
The articles are extremely tightly aligned with the titles. The bulk of the article deals directly with the title. I publish most articles in a way so that visitors get the short answer within seconds. It’s possible this strategy reduces time on site and increase bounce rate but if that’s a result of better-serving visitors, I’m all for it. I may also earn less revenue per 1,000 visitors as well. I’m okay with that too.
3. Going after more interesting and precise topics
Part of my “shorter article” strategy is taking low competition keywords to the next level. I liken it to the Quora publishing strategy (I love Quora as a user BTW which helped inspire this strategy). I’m going after keywords nobody covers in droves. I’m not using keyword research software. I’m making up the topics off the top of my head. I’m doing this at scale with Fat Stacks. It’s no secret Fat Stacks SEO has been lacking. I never really tried because I didn’t want to do all the outreach and link building required to rank in this niche. So, I’m taking another path and that is going after obscure keywords nobody else really covers as directly as me. Here are some examples from Fat Stacks:
- Do I respond to inquiries from niche site visitors? What should you do?
- Can you give your team Shutterstock login credentials to access and download images?
- Are leaderboard (header) ads worth it? How much do leaderboard ads earn?
- How I place bulk article orders with WriterAccess (in seconds)?
I dreamed up all of the above article topics without any keyword research software. It definitely helps that I know the niche.
4. Attempting to create far more interesting niche sites
When visitors arrive to the blog posts page they see all kinds of interesting, highly detailed article topics. I love that. It makes for an interesting site.
5. Surgical topic selection attracts more inbound links (just a hunch)
I link out to other sites all the time from all my niche sites. I do so to provide readers more info and/or as a reference or source. When I seek out articles to link to I more often than not am looking for articles that are super-specific and detailed that I don’t cover. I figure if that’s my approach, other pubs must do the same.
For example, if a blogger wanted to reference an article about whether it’s okay to use the default text logo on a WordPress website, they may well be inclined to link this article of mine because that article is entirely dedicated to that question.
6. I’ve noticed many short articles ranking number one in many of my niches
As mentioned above, I often do specific searches in Google looking for good references and additional information for readers. I end up on some obscure topics and I’ve found that many rank number one in Google with not a very high word count. If those rank number one, there’s no reason other articles can’t rank number one.
7. More fun to write
I write quite a bit of content for my sites. I enjoy writing short, to-the-point articles. It can be a slog banging out a 3,500 essay but 800 words on something super specific is merely a writing sprint.
8. More aligned with search intent
When addressing a specific topic, short articles more succinctly align with the search intent. Too many longer articles add everything and the kitchen sink to it in an effort to strong-arm its way to the top of Google search.
Not all my articles are short though
I’m not totally forsaking long articles. I still publish guides and listicles that are 1,800 to 4,000+ words. All I’m saying is that I’m not restricting word count to long articles.
I could be totally wrong
I could be throwing thousands of dollars away and wasting hundreds of hours of my time with this strategy. I’m not the only publisher doing this shorter article strategy though. Many do it so I can’t claim to be some publishing sage changing the publishing landscape. That said, I’ve often made big leaps with my business going against the grain, and by grain, I mean doing what all the “how to blog” folks are talking about.
If I’m wrong, it’s no problem reverting to the insane long content approach. I just hope I’m right.
BTW, this article came in at 1,284 words. Not short. Not long. Just right.
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.
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.