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Is There Such a Thing as the Best Word Count for SEO?

Word count has usually been a contributing metric helping content marketers judge the quality of text-based content. Historically, some assume Google has been doing the same.

Together with keyword density, word count has been assumed to be an SEO factor as part of educated theories: Google is a machine, and how else would a machine understand content quality? Word count seemed to be the only straightforward signal a machine would be able to understand.

Yet, Google representatives clearly state word count was never an SEO factor claiming, “More words are not better.”

So why does the word-count belief persist? Quite a few tests indicate a connection between word count and Google’s rankings. Each of those analyses found content between 1,000 and 2,000 words seemed to rank higher.

But with so many signals in play, you can never tell if word count is a causation factor or an indirect influencer. In other words, longer content may be better researched (so Google has found it useful) and it may attract more backlinks. Both of those (content value and backlink profile) are confirmed direct ranking signals.

In and of itself, word count may not be a ranking signal, but content depth definitely helps, so instead of focusing on numbers, focus on quality.

Instead of focusing on word count, focus on quality for #SEO, says @SEOSmarty via @CMIContent @semrush. Share on X

Here are five ways to improve content quality apart from a word count:

1. Content structure

Content structure helps readability and usability, and it makes your content easier to understand for a search algorithm.

Structuring content is about breaking your content into logical sections so that it’s not just a wall of text. Instead, subheadings drive a reader further into an article.

Creating a logical structure helps make your content more user-friendly, and everything user-friendly is also Google friendly because Google definitely prioritizes its users.

A logical content structure makes your content more user-friendly, which makes it @Google friendly too, says @SEOSmarty via @CMIContent @semrush. #SEO Share on X

Site Checker is a great tool to evaluate your page structure as it appears to a search crawler:

2. Semantic optimization

You need rules and guidelines for writers to follow. Semantic evaluation is one of the easiest ways to encourage them to create in-depth content without blindly using the word-count metric.

Semantic evaluation with a tool like @textoptimizer encourages in-depth content without blindly using a word-count metric, says @SEOSmarty via @CMIContent @semrush. #SEO Share on X

Semantic analysis focuses on making sure the content includes related concepts and entities to ensure Google can definitely understand what it is about. Text Optimizer is a great tool to score your content’s semantic optimization:

Text Optimizer’s score is based on how many related and underlying concepts have been included in the article on a specific topic.

3. Data freshness and sources

The inclusion of external links as a direct ranking factor is another matter of SEO debate. No one knows for sure, but one thing is certain: External links can make your content more useful and trustworthy.

External links can make your #content more useful and trustworthy, says @SEOSmarty via @CMIContent @semrush. #SEO Share on X

Your referenced sources show how well-researched and up-to-date your content is. For example, don’t just cite any web page mentioning a statistic you included in the content. Do your best to track down the original source because that shows to your readers and Google that you took your research seriously.

Try searching for official sources using this advanced Google search: [keyword site:.EDU OR site:.GOV]

This search brings up official educational and governmental sites (those using .edu or .gov domains) mentioning your keyword or data. They usually have high standards for quoting their sources, so you are likely to find the initial source of any statement or number using that data.

TIP: Make sure OR is in all capital letters for this trick to work.

4. Keyword and search intent

More importantly, no quality metric works for every case. Some search queries are straightforward, meaning an essay is not needed to provide the most useful answer.

For example, someone asking, “How far is the moon,” needs an answer in the form of a number. Of course, you can expand on that by converting that number into different units or comparing it to something a human could relate to (e.g., how many Empire State Buildings that is). But that is hardly long-form content. NASA’s page is a perfect example of that search intent served well.

NASA’s copy provides different and captivating ways to represent the same data without being repetitive. It is short but unique, interesting, and engaging, and covers the query from different angles, all of which are relevant.

The bottom line is that the length of the copy is hardly an important SEO or usability factor but search intent optimization (i.e., how good of a job your copy is doing answering the actual question behind a search query) surely is.

Strive for originality and usefulness, not for the word count.

5. Content usefulness

Based on your identified search intent, you can make content more “useful,” including:

  • Definitions, frequently asked questions, etc. Instead of linking to other sites explaining a concept, define them within your content. This trick also works great for organic featured snippet optimization.
  • Tables of content. For long-form content, make it easy to jump to the most relevant part of the document. A table of content is easy to create.
  • Visualizations (graphs, comics, etc.) or videos. Most content should be visual, but sometimes search intent calls for visual explanations, so things like infographics or how-to videos would be helpful.

It is a good idea to add these tips in your brand’s writing guidelines your writers are using to create content.

Stop counting

You can stop calculating and adding extra words for your content to hit the perceived SEO sweet spot. In many cases, you still will create long-form content to include all the necessary angles, definitions, and concepts. But using a cookie-cutter method to ensure all your content has a certain number of words or characters is a poor strategy. By following the five concepts detailed here, you are more likely to find the topics and cases most helpful to your content and your target audience of searchers.

All tools noted in this post are identified by the author. If you have a tool to suggest, please add it in the comments.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute