When Is Short Copy OK?

Have you heard that writing short copy is spammy, and you should always write a minimum of X words?

You’re not alone. Recently, I received this question:

“What is the minimum number of words for a blog post? 

I was told many years ago that it was 300 words and then a couple of years after that I was told the minimum should be 500 words. Anyway, recently, I read somewhere that the minimum number of words is 300, although, longer posts have a tendency to rank better.

I’ve been blogging for an attorney for about 2 years and making sure that I hit the 500-word minimum but I’m wondering if, every once in awhile, I can throw in a 300 or 400-word blog without creating SEO problems.”

Short answer — yes! There’s a huge misconception about word count and what Google “wants to see.”

Let’s break it down.

Once upon a time, you could get great Google rankings by writing short, crappy content. People would create poorly-written 100-word “articles” that repeated the keyword over and over — and those articles would actually position (!)

In fact, a number of large companies moved their content production offshore to non-English speaking countries. Although those writers did their best, they were paid (very little) on volume — not on value. The result was typically pretty horrible.

Then, Google made a sweeping change and made it known that “thin” content was bad. This algorithmic update, called Panda, devastated sites that relied on poorly-written content.

But here’s the thing…

Although “thin” content is often short, short copy isn’t necessarily bad. 

“Thin” content and “short” content are two different things.

Here’s more information on what thin content is and how to fix it.

In fact, Google said in 2019 that word count isn’t indicative of quality.

Sometimes, what you’re writing only needs 300 words to fully explain the topic.

Maybe even less.

The purpose of smart SEO writing is to answer the readers’ query and to entice her to take the next action step. Adding 200 more words to reach a mythical word count “requirement” won’t serve the reader and may detract from what you’re trying to say.

So, don’t be afraid of short copy. It can position.

BUT…

Know that short copy positions for highly specific queries — not broad concepts. Don’t expect a 300-word article to position for in-depth topics like [how to take care of a kitten] or [content marketing strategies for 2020]. 

It won’t. Nor will it fully answer your readers’ questions. That’s when longer content comes into play.

In fact, this post weighs in at slightly less than 500 words. Sure, I could have gone in-depth on the history of content words counts, and discussed why everyone wanted short copy back in the day.

But, that wouldn’t add much value, would it? :)

So yes, short copy is OK.

What do you think?

Have you been asked to write longer content “for Google?” Leave a comment and let me know!

6 replies
  1. Michel Fortin says:

    I agree 100%. I love the difference you make between “thin” and “short.” I’ve made the corollary for the opposite (you did too, when you mentioned that word count isn’t indicative of quality). And that is, there’s a difference between “long” and “boring.” Boring copy will always be too long for the reader, no matter how long (or short) it may be.

    From an SEO perspective, it also goes to search intent. What exactly does the reader want? Are they looking for informational or transactional?

    Good post, as always, Heather.

    Reply
    • Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      Hello!

      Thanks, Michael! Thanks for your great comment — yes, search intent is so very important. :)

      I love to use recipe sites as an example of long, boring copy. I understand why some bloggers go that route…but when I’m looking for cooking instructions, I don’t want to read about the history of the recipe, how the person felt when they first made the recipe, and all the ways their family loved (or didn’t love) the recipe. :)

      Reply
  2. Oli Clifford says:

    Great article, it’s really interesting to note the difference between content that is thin on substance and content that is concise AND of value.

    SEO copy has always confused me though…I read a lot on the theory of it and what Google’s algorithms reward etc. and always seem to find examples that directly contradict them.

    I read an article the other day that was something along the lines of “9 things you need to know about XYZ”…the grammar was terrible and 5 of the points were just rehashes of the same idea, but it was still first-page content!

    Would love to know your thoughts on this.

    Reply
    • Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      Hi, Oli!

      Ugh, yeah. I hear what you’re saying about spammy content. It’s so hard to know why those pages position. Maybe it’s because there are a bunch of links pointing to the page. Maybe it’s because Google honestly “believes” that the page provides the best answer, despite its flaws. Maybe it’s something completely different. Google is like my cat — I can usually tell what it’s thinking, but sometimes, I just throw my hands up in frustration and give up.

      On the flip side, I like to see competing pages like this when I’m creating new content. It’s a good sign that my quality page should position nicely. :)

      Thanks for your comment!

      Reply

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