What's the 'best' word count for Google?

Dog with questionOnce upon a time, SEO consultants recommended that every page have at least 250 words of content (although that was always a rule of thumb.)

Today, it’s an entirely different story. Today, 250 words is almost considered thin content. Plus, there doesn’t seem to be a hard-and-fast answer to the “how many words is right for Google” question.

For instance:

One recent case study reports that longer blog posts (over 1,500 words) position better in Google.

Another article discusses that we’re in the “age of skimming” and people won’t read a longer article. Anything too long will get stuck in the tl;dr trap (too long; didn’t read.)

What’s an SEO writer to do?

Your answer: Quit wondering “what Google wants” and focus on your reader.

That means:

– Throw your assumptions out the window. Many writers think long-form sales copy doesn’t work in today’s overstimulated world. Yet, some studies show the opposite. Neil Patel found that long-form copy positioned better, plus provided a higher conversion rate and better-quality leads.

It’s easy to say “people don’t read online.” But perhaps it’s more accurate to say, “people won’t read content that doesn’t meet their needs.” As Seth Godin says, “Please, give me something long (but make it worth my time.)”

– Poll your readers. A simple way to learn what your readers want to read is to ask them (amazing, I know!) You may find that many of their suggested topics would make great in-depth-article fodder or quickie “tips” posts. Free software like Survey Monkey makes running reader surveys a snap.

– Learn from analytics and testing. What posts do people love? What posts fall flat? Are longer posts getting shared more than shorter ones? What are your post bounce rates? Carefully review your analytics, test your content and see what’s clicking with your readers.

– Tighten up your writing.  Godin may write a 150-word post one day and a 1,500 word post the next. And that’s OK. Either way, his word count represents how long it takes to get his point across – and no more. Don’t “fluff up” a page just to meet a certain word-count requirement. 

Finally, think about this when you’re writing the copy: Have I said everything I could? Have I overcome all objections? Have I showcased the product or service? Is the keyphrase usage seamless? Does the copy encourage the next conversion step? Have I connected with my reader?

If your answer is “yes,” you’ve done your job.

It’s really as simple as that.

(Note: This post originally ran in 2008, and I completely updated it for today’s brave new Google world. I hope you enjoyed it!)

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22 replies
  1. Patrick
    Patrick says:

    I never thought about the word count of my content…I more focused on the content itself and utilizing my H1 and H2 tags. But from the sounds of it doesn’t matter as long as I get my point across. Thanks for the article, great post!

    Reply
  2. Scott
    Scott says:

    Heather I still find myself using 250 as the word count when developing copy. But I’m curious, based on your experience, what you think is the most that can be put on a page that people will feel comfortable reading. I think at some point people will either grow tired of scrolling down or will be overwhelmed before they’ve even begun reading if it’s too much text. At what point would you recommend dividing it into more than one page?

    Reply
  3. Scott
    Scott says:

    Heather less than an hour after reading your post I began reading a column I was reading a column offering 20 things to improve your web site’s chances. One of the bullet points was “Are there at least 250 words of text on your home page to satisfy search engines?” I thought it was funny reading this so soon after reading your blog. Here was one person using this as a criteria for success on the search engines.

    Reply
  4. Heather
    Heather says:

    Hi,Scott!

    LOL – that’s funny about the column. Yes, that magical word count seems to be everywhere…I shudder to think how many copywriters are struggling to write exactly 250 words every single time.

    The “best” word count can vary. For instance, I’ve read studies that show that folks in more technical fields (think IT) can handle a longer word count. Some pages do benefit from shorter copy.

    When in doubt, it’s something to test…eventually, I’ll write a post about using analytics to help improve your content.

    Thanks for your comments!

    Reply
  5. Scott
    Scott says:

    Heather I imagine your right about people in technical fields read more. I think in their cases they’re likely printing off the text and then reading it. I look forward to your post on analytics.

    Reply
  6. Tyrone Campbell
    Tyrone Campbell says:

    I work by the rule of only quality long posts if the quality is kept, re readig what you have write rathar than grammar checking it will make you aware of useless lines of text which may disintrest, personaly the best amount of works if the amount of words it takes to explain in detail.

    Reply
  7. Chris
    Chris says:

    I’ve started hearing this more and more lately. It’s not quantity, but quality. I’ve also heard that articles of 300 – 500 words tend to be the best, so I have been striving to hit at least 250 – 300 words and keep the writing brief and to the point. If you think that you’re going to end up making it too long, then that’s the point to stop, reevaluate, and possibly turn it into 2 articles rather than just 1. That’s my thought, anyway.

    Reply
  8. Marc
    Marc says:

    Focusing on readers is definitely good advice. From my own blogs I have never been able to see a pattern of how length factors into the rankings. I’ve had some very short posts that ranked well and attracted lots of search visitors, and I’ve had plenty of long posts that don’t rank very well. In the end, if you focus on the reader your content will be better and everyone will benefit.

    Reply
  9. Kevin Carlton
    Kevin Carlton says:

    Hi Heather

    These days, I seem to spend just as much time laying out content in panels, callout boxes, bullet points and tables (as well as suggesting complementary images and icons) as I do writing the actual text.

    By doing this, you’re making it dead easy for the web page visitor to digest what’s in front of them. And, because the content is more concise and visually appealing, people are less likely to bounce and more likely to stick around and buy.

    When I’ve finished the content, it always looks so obvious and simple in the end – even though I’ve slogged my guts out to get it that way.

    But what gets me is when I present the content to the client.

    Far too frequently for my liking they’ll say something like ‘Well you haven’t written very much’ or ‘You haven’t written enough words for Google’.

    Sometimes I wonder whether I should give them the useless, flat, mono-dimensional garbage they think they want rather than the treatment they actually need.

    Reply
  10. Kevin Carlton
    Kevin Carlton says:

    That’s the answer I wanted to hear Heather.

    Although I do need to focus more on getting the right kind of client. That way, I’ll be dealing more often with people who understand what I’m trying to achieve for them and the value of what I offer.

    Reply
  11. Halona Black
    Halona Black says:

    I really find 250 word blog posts to be too short. When I see companies that have those super short posts, I think that it must have been written by a content mill writer. The content is usually not very interesting and you can tell it was SEO driven. Seth Godin can write those short posts and get away with it at times because he has already proven himself as a thought leader. So when he writes a short post, he meets his objective, and he’s done with it.

    On the other hand, I enjoy longer posts — about 1000+ words. However you need to have those subheaders in there to help your readers to skim. It is still the internet, after all, and people want to get to the point. If they choose to read the post word for word, GREAT! However I like to make it easy for them to get the info they need to find quickly, then move on.

    Reply
  12. Soumya
    Soumya says:

    Yes writing for users/audience/customer/clients is much better than writing your articles for search engines. This is understood and very natural, specially after 2013.But I have one question. Isn’t it better to write 3 articles with 500 words count each than writing one article with 1500 words count?
    Because for 500 words count 3 articles we can target 3 page titles, 3 meta descriptions etc.
    Please put some light on this point and share your valuable inputs on this.

    Reply
  13. Heather Lloyd-Martin
    Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

    @Soumya, you’re certainly right. Sometimes, it makes more sense to split one article up into multiple, smaller articles. This can be good for SEO purposes – but also good for your readers.

    However, keep in mind that Google (and your readers) like in-depth articles too. So, you may want to experiment with longer articles and see if that makes a difference.

    Thanks for your comment.

    Reply
  14. Deborah
    Deborah says:

    Kevin- Whenever I work with a client, particularly a new client, I try to explain what I plan to do and why it makes sense to do it. Most of the time people are responsive to that kind of education. You could also write a blog post on your site about how you tailor needs to individual clients based on your SEO knowledge (or something along those lines).

    Reply
  15. Sam Mudra
    Sam Mudra says:

    It is all about testing and measuring the conversions continuously. I guess, there is no typical word count for contents marked by Google or any other search engines. It depends on the industry or product or service we are writing on. At the end of the day Content Marketing is one of the best way to reach to your targeted customers. So creating good quality content consistently is more important than concentrating on their word counts. Sometimes a little content can also boost the traffic and itself ranks well and sometime a bigger one does it. It is all about my professional experience. Would like to listen the author’s opinion.

    Reply
  16. Ahmad Fahrurroji
    Ahmad Fahrurroji says:

    Sometimes I don’t think about the length of words on writing an article. Focus on how to make a high quality article. But your post is helpful for me to consider the length of words on writing an article.

    Thank you for share and great post.

    Reply
  17. Craig
    Craig says:

    Was doing some research on this and your article has summed SEO & word count up very nicely – focus on the readers and make sure you do the necessary testing. Thanks a lot!

    Reply

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