Optimal Word Count & Web Page Copy Length

Jan 31st

SEO Question: When writing content for our websites what is the optimal copy length? Is page length important for search engine optimization?

Answer: Every page and every site is unique. There is no universal correct or incorrect answer to how much content is right.

Overall Considerations:

Optimize For User Experience:

A page should not just be optimized for search. It should also be optimized for user experience. If you optimize just for search it could be to the detriment of your business.

One of my friends has most of their content on their home page. Because their homepage has most of the content and the most link equity it gets most of their traffic. They are afraid to move the content because they do not want to lose traffic, but if they moved the content they would probably maintain about the same amount of traffic, drastically improve their conversion rates, and do a better job of filtering the prospective clients.

Structure Your Ideas:

The content needs to be structured so that it is easy to consume. Use subheaders to make the content easy to consume. Also break pages into logical chunks that are easy to site or link at...don't write endless stream of mind random copy if you want people to read it.

Avoid creating low value near duplicate pages, as duplicate content filters are getting more aggressive.

Variation is Good:

Make sure there is variation amongst your pages so as not to set an unnatural pattern or give your writing arbitrary constraints. Some ideas take many words to express. Some take less. Real content sites do not have exactly 500 +/- 5 words on each page. Use as many words as necessary to express your ideas.

If you are trying to market a piece of content over-invest in ensuring it is of high quality. If you want your content to act as your marketing by being linkworthy make it appear comprehensive and well researched. If you are the first person with an idea make sure you do it well enough to spread your message far enough that you become synonymous with that idea.

Emphasize Your Style:

You also need to consider your personal style. Instapundit can write short snappy posts because Glenn Reynolds is a great writer who needs few words to convey his meaning, and tries to be first with the news. Some pages may have more credibility with less words on them. If a currency converter was given an obtuse name and had many keywords separated by commas in the footer it might make the tool look less credible and less trustworthy.

Omit Words:

I just started reading The Elements of Style, which states Omit needless words. In Don't Make Me Think Steve Krug shortened this down to Omit words.

Good writing does not add extra words for the sake of word count. Each word carries purpose and meaning. I can tell when I haven't read books in a while because I notice my writing gets looser.

General Search Indexing Trends:

Getting content indexed is becoming a major hurdle. If you have forums and other noisy parts to your site it would be a good idea to have them segregated on a subdomain away from your higher quality and more in depth editorial quality content.

There are three general trends going on that make me think longer copy is better than shorter

  • Since Google's relevancy algorithms are looking more for natural writing, the value of having small hyper-focused pages is not as good as it once was...good copy gets just as much traffic for long tail keywords you didn't intend on optimizing for.

  • Google is getting stingier with how they crawl and what they are willing to index. If they will only index 100 pages for x units of PageRank then having nearly 100% of a 100 page site indexed is far better than having 40 or 50% of a 200 page site indexed.
  • The line between pure PPC ad pages and content is blurring. With domainers increasing the uniqueness and content weight of their domains it is going to be harder for search engines to filter out their sites, and thus search engines are going to get even more stingy with what they will let in the index.

On a philosophical level it also makes sense that search engines want to index richer content. The web is a series of incomplete thoughts. The more search engines can make people write in depth high quality content that provides complete answers the more they improve the value of Google. Search engines will try to push people toward writing more well thought out essays rather than empty me too cut and paste posts.

Content Suggestions Based on Publishing Formats:

AdSense Site:

A page which has 500 words on it will overlap many more keyphrases than two different pages that have 300 words each. As long as you can put your AdSense ads in a prominent position that gets a decent clickthrough rate without sacrificing your linkability I would recommend going with 500 to 600 word articles.

If you write naturally and your site gains a decent amount of authority you will end up accidentally ranking for many great keyword phrases that never showed up on keyword tools.

Site Selling CPM Ads:

If you are selling CPM ads that may favor breaking longer articles into many shorter pages so each read article gets more page views. This is especially true if you have a strong brand, great mindshare, great link equity, and many direct readers, like Wired.com.

Lead Generation Sites:

Focus your content on conversion, perhaps even using brief pages with little content, but ensure your content is unique. Get what legitimate links you can and add linkbait to your site to build up the authority of your site.

Blogs:

Do whatever you need to in order to keep your social currency. Use your market influence to push other profitable business ventures (perhaps indirectly). Only mention a few commercial offers, or place ads in a non-intrusive manner if you are in a competitive vertical and do not enjoy a large self reinforcing market position.

Site Selling Products and Services:

If you sell a commodity add some value to the transaction (consumer feedback, free shipping, brand, etc.) to make your shopping experience a non commodity.

In your content actively guide the user to do the desired goal. Home pages and other high profile pages should be targeted toward navigating users to the desired actions. Even your interior pages which are well integrated into a commercial site should be focused on conversion, building credibility, and filtering bad leads.

Get what legitimate links you can and add linkbait to your site to build up the authority of your site. If possible add consumer feedback.

How to Be Different:

Benefits of Consumer Feedback:

As noted in this study [PDF] consumer feedback adds credibility and trust which help make the online shopping experience feel more like the offline experience. Consumers also add content which makes your content unique relative to similar content from other merchants selling the same products. We tend to use language in similar patterns. Many consumers also misspell words, which helps you target many longtail keyword phrases.

Be First or Be Different:

Sometimes the easiest way to be first is to put a different spin on an idea. If you are the first with an idea push spreading it until you have enough market leverage for your ideas to spread themselves. On your best ideas do not rely on the market spreading it, use email, instant message, advertising, and other other tool at your disposal. Push your ideas to spread quickly because it is much harder to get people to link at your news when it is a couple days old. Put few or no ads on the ideas you want to spread until AFTER they have spread.

Published: January 31, 2007

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Comments

August 20, 2007 - 5:09pm

Thank you very much for the post! This is really useful information I have been looking for.

gices
April 4, 2007 - 3:42pm

I'd have to agree that writing naturally is the way forward these days as the algorithm used by search engines are refined for better text analysis and spam detection.

Just being curious here - how long does it take to become an authority website? Anybody knows?

January 31, 2007 - 6:02am

Great post Aaron. I know I break a few of these guidelines, but one I can attest to is writing naturally. I've picked up a lot of long tail traffic that i never would have found with a keyword tool. And as my site has gained authority it's only increased.

January 31, 2007 - 8:22am

What's the old saying about how long a piece of writing should be?

Like a woman's skirt - long enough to cover the important stuff, but short enough to still be interesting.

February 7, 2007 - 12:04am

Great article aaron. you put it best: On a philosophical level it also makes sense that search engines want to index richer content. The web is a series of incomplete thoughts. The more search engines can make people write in depth high quality content that provides complete answers the more they improve the value of Google.

January 31, 2007 - 5:51pm

Aaron,

Thanks for the suggestions.

"The more search engines can make people write in depth high quality content that provides complete answers the more they improve the value of Google."

Looks like you might generally consider Google = search engines at some level. Am I ready more into this than you intended?

January 31, 2007 - 6:16pm

A very well written tutorial , but is there any limit for specific keywords on a page ?

January 31, 2007 - 7:43pm

Very good article Aaron. It is interesting to note that people still want to write for the search engines rather than the ultimate user. Maybe the actual realistic view is that there are more people turning to the net and doing their own content, with the goal of enhancing their SE position. Ergo, the repetition of how many words to a page.

It is further interesting to note - search engines have not gained in determining if the message on a page can be delivered in a concise manner versus a large document.

I believe that I read on WMW that the average site visitor scans a page in half the time, than if they were to read the whole page. Interesting comment - like which comes first the chicken or the egg?

So if a writer can present information in a concise manner for the ultimate user in 100 words or 500 words what is the difference?

January 31, 2007 - 9:32pm

Hi Jim
Google is the search engine with the largest distribution, most aggressive stances, and thus the engine which has the most impact on the shape of the web.

Hi Glenn

So if a writer can present information in a concise manner for the ultimate user in 100 words or 500 words what is the difference?

The 500 word document has more words, and will match many more long tail search queries.

January 31, 2007 - 11:31pm

another bookmarked article Aaron. I'm going to have to give you your own folder in FF now.

I agree with you about be first of be different. I found this out on my own when I would run to the computer to blog about something I just saw on tv. If I was first I got nice traffic for a few days if I wasn't then I started to think of spins on the same idea.

Later I found that I didn't stumble on to something that was unique. Plenty of people have talked about it and I was just learning now.

February 1, 2007 - 12:40am

Aaron--thanks for the Search Engine history. But please insert lynx.

David McCullough

February 1, 2007 - 5:31am

Aaron, thanks for another strong and *comprehensive* article.

While I think you did a good job of covering all the bases, I think you underestimated the value of *radical* content length variation.

In any event, I share a few of my own thoughts about this subject in a post on my blog.

February 1, 2007 - 6:27am

Great post, and an interesting point about consumer generated content. As far as blogs are concerned, if you can generate a good discussion in the comments you are getting a lot of keyword-rich content created for you!

I'd never thought of it like that. Now I won't feel so bad about dealing with all the spam I get.

February 1, 2007 - 11:41am

Nice post, but could you also mention Amazon Associate style advertising (that is, where you get commission from a product sale) ?

February 1, 2007 - 12:02pm

I probably would not review books with the intent to make money. The margins are too thin. I might review ebooks though, as they are more likely to have a nice payout.

And with those types of reviews the key is to be perceived as unbiased, structure the review well, give the call to action early, and then give it again near the end.

February 1, 2007 - 3:17pm

"Real content sites do not have exactly 500 +/- 5 words on each page. Use as many words as necessary to express your ideas."
Great tip - thanks for that.

August 29, 2007 - 12:16am

That was a great post. It made me think about a lot of things and I may make some page changes as a result. Also, love the comment about the woman's skirt!

February 19, 2007 - 12:24am

Writing rich content is very good for ranking on Google. But it might be bad for your business. Why? Think about why would you consider coming back to someone’s blog or website. The first thing is probably because the article was well written and the second would be because the author has something else to share. So you have to do two things: don’t share everything and subtly convey to your reader that you have a lot more to teach him.

February 19, 2007 - 2:36am

I think you can give away about everything you know, but the key is to space it out to make it more convenient to buy off you...you can give away more info if you are selling an info based product than a service.

If you are selling a service I think it helps to have a crisp site shell that leads toward conversion, and then maybe bolt the informational parts onto that.

Philski
May 31, 2007 - 7:07am

Awesome post Aaron,
I have just started to understand all the stuff you write about. and how to apply it in practical everyday SEO use, Only took me 6 months,,,lol

it really is great information.

Thank you
Phillip

February 4, 2007 - 3:21am

Great post Aaron. "Answer: Every page and every site is unique. There is no universal correct or incorrect answer to how much content is right." Thank goodness you didn't leave it at that.

December 4, 2010 - 5:35pm

"Good writing does not add extra words for the sake of word count."
I agree with you, that we should writing effectively

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