SEO can easily feel like a moving target. Every month – or even every week – a new strategy for optimizing your search results is touted as the one true way. Searching for a solid answer as to what is an ideal word count for web copy produces several contradictory answers. Is it true that short attention spans are rising, meaning everything should be shorter? Or will people only share and connect with substantive articles? Does it matter how many words your blog post has? And if so, which way to skew the results: more or less? The answer, like anything complicated, is: it depends.
Is Bigger Better?
One easily overturned myth is that the longer the article, the higher the ranking it will receive. This is not necessarily the case. In short, bigger is not necessarily better. But the longer the article (and the more substantive), the more likely it will be backlinked, and backlinks are always good for raising your ranking. One 2018 study found that the content length for Google search results showing up on the first page never dipped below 2000 words. And another study showed that longer content gets shared more than shorter, which makes sense. Are you going to repost a 250-word blog post that has one item of data you want to share? Or at that point, would you rewrite it in your own words? A larger body of content – good content – requires sharing. You wouldn’t retell the story of ‘Moby Dick’ to a friend; you’d lend them the book.
How Much is Enough?
Still, some sites explicitly state that longer is better. Shorter (roughly 300 words) posts get labeled as “thin” content, meaning they have little or no added value. This is misleading, though, as a 300-word post that gives the user precisely the information they need has a very high user intent success. And even Google says that word count alone does not indicate quality content.
Padding the Numbers
But not unlike the last-minute effort by a mediocre high school student, merely stuffing your article with extraneous words to get your word count up doesn’t work. In addition to making your article potentially unreadable, Google is good at sorting out the wheat from the chaff. They easily counteract obvious tricks like copying text verbatim. Readers also remember when a website doesn’t offer useful information. One padded page in a search result can ensure that the reader won’t come back, which reduces shares, which lowers backlinking, and so on.
So how long should your text be? Simply, as long as it needs to be. Content that needs 2000 words to be said is going to do better in users’ searches than 50 words of substance in a 2000 word bag. And this makes sense: a user searching for a single piece of information doesn’t want to comb through an essay to get there. Understanding user intent is crucial. If your goal is to connect with as many users as possible, offer the most information they need, and the world will find you.