How to Tell If Your Web Pages Have Too Many Words

Greetings Web writers! In the last SEO copywriting video how-to for 2011, Heather answers a question posed to her on Twitter: “How can you tell if your Web pages have too many words?”

Given that last week’s video discussed three essential tips for writing for the Web, the question of word count makes for a natural fourth in the Web-writing fundamentals sequence.

So without further ado, tune in as Heather discusses how you can tell if your web pages are jammed with too many words:

It’s true that writing for the web is different…

As we learned from last week’s video post, writing copy for the Web is markedly different that writing for print. With online copy, people are scanning, and they’re also viewing your content from a variety of different mobile devices – and possibly even when they’re doing something else, like watching T.V.

According to usability expert, Jakob Nielsen:

  • People scan first, THEN read. 79 percent of people scan a new website, picking up individual words and sentences.
  • If people are viewing your site on a mobile, they may not want to “pinch” and scroll if the content is hard to read.

So the challenge is that you have to present the copy in a way that makes it really easy to read and really easy to take action.

Unfortunately, some folks react to the “too long” dilemma by going the other way.

The unfortunate side effect…

  • Some online writers who know that readers are turned off by long, scrolling pages may tend to over-react, and produce too-short copy that doesn’t help with conversions, SEO, and most importantly, reader engagement.

From an SEO perspective, there could be more room to insert the keyphrases if there was more copy to work with. From the readers’ perspective and the conversions perspective, more content will help the reader to engage more in the experience, and thereby help conversion rates.

  • You don’t have to strive for super short content. You do have to be able to showcase your content so that it’s easy for people to read the copy, and take action.

So here are some ways to tell if your Web content may be a little too long for the page:

Tip #1: How easy is it to read the copy?

  • The first way to tell is to take a step back and simply look at your site: evaluate how easy it is – really and truly – to read your content.

Take the snippet shown as an example. It is only part of a webpage that is 1,600 words long.  Not only is it a very long page, but for some folks, reading this particular font online might also prove challenging. So these are the things you might want to consider when evaluating your own site copy.

  • If you feel like you’re “too close” to your site content, ask other people for their feedback. It might be interesting to hear their perspectives and suggestions.

Tip #2: What do your analytics say?

Of course, you always want to look at your analytics to find out what people are actually doing on your site:

  • Are people quickly bouncing out of a page?
  • Are your conversions low (or non-existent)?

Analytics allow you to check out those pages that you’re afraid might be running a little too long, and see how visitors are interacting with the page: are they bouncing right off of it? How are the conversions?

Your analytics will let you know if there’s an opportunity to re-write that page if your bounce rate is high, and/or if your conversions are on the low side. Then you can see if you can improve the amount of time that visitors stay on the page, and if you can encourage more visitors to take action.

Tip #3: Test, test and test again

Testing is something that more sites should do, because it is such a powerful tool!

  • Until you test, all you can make are “educated guesses.”
  • Test short vs. long copy and see what happens.

No matter how skilled you are as a copywriter, no matter how well you know your business, until you test your copy to find out what really works, all you do is make educated guesses.

So go ahead and test that long copy against the short version, and see which one pulls better!

From there, you can start testing other page elements, like headlines, and get really dialed in to the point that you have Web pages that you know work: for the search engines, and for your readers.


photo credit to: chris-sy


2 replies
  1. Jeff Zadzilka says:

    Fully agree. Without SEO, no traffic to read the good conversion copy. So, SEO must be primary if that is how we are attracting visitors, then reader-friendly persuasive copy is next priority.
    Question: Project for website that has a great deal of competition for S.E. ranking. When all tools are applied, it will still be the visitor stats and momentum, past linkings, massive pages of SEO’d content that will play highest for search engine ranking. That is my educated assumption. Is there anyway to outcompete an enormously and previously favored Search Engine website other than to beat them with added great content (SEO’d)?
    Jeff Zadzilka, SEO Course graduate 2011

    • Heather says:

      Hey Jeff!

      Great question – and it completely depends on the industry, the competition and the desired visitor outcome. Something to consider is leveraging opportunities (such as Google +) that the competition is ignoring. Things like guest posting, white papers and video can help drive traffic and build buzz (and rankings, too). :)


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