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December 9, 2012

Google’s Stance on Content Length

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Quite the hot little debate has been going down in a recent Google Webmaster Help forum thread.
The member who started the thread asked whether Google views shorter content as shallow. He wrote from experience – he’d recently changed the format of his website from longer-form articles to brief articles covering a wider range of topics.

According to the member, his site’s rankings took a hit when he changed over to the new abbreviated style – even though readers loved being served bite-sized pieces of info instead of large walls of text.

So where’s the disconnect? Google talks about thorough content, but can shorter articles do the job just as well? Let’s look at Google’s stance and real users’ experiences so you can draw your own conclusions about which length is best for your website.

One Member’s Experience

The forum member, who goes by the handle “TheBigK,” runs a popular news blog and bases the content for its stories on various news sources. According to his post, the authors on the site began writing longer articles with lengthy opinions and descriptions after the algo changes.

After receiving feedback from website visitors, however, TheBigK deduced that members desired shorter content instead of these lengthy pieces. They seemed to favor brief articles with bite-sized chunks of all the most relevant info packed tightly into each one.

So what’s a webmaster to do?

If you guessed “please his visitors” then you’re right on the money. The webmaster moved to 150 – 200 word articles covering a much broader range of topics, and visitors were once again thrilled. However, Google was not impressed. The member noted that most of these mini-pieces ranked poorly even though they were receiving more loyal traffic than were their longer counterparts.

TheBigK wondered whether Google considers shorter articles to be thinner content. He says that the data and testing performed by his crew more or less confirmed this assumption. Conversely, he pondered whether it would be worth losing loyal visitors to rank better in the SERPs.

Google’s Take on Content Length

It seems that Google’s reiterated the mantra, “content should focus on users, not search engines” about a bazillion times over the years. Countless Webmaster Help videos exist that tout the importance of creating completely original content as opposed to regurgitated “me too” posts that users can find copies of on hundreds of different sites. Further, Google expresses the importance of adding your own voice to the discussion and adding a unique perspective readers cannot find elsewhere.

Big G has never released anything mentioning exact word count guidelines, but the tips above lead most to believe that longer is indeed better. After all, when users search for something, they’re more apt to favor results with more on the answers they seek. This requires one thing above all: words.

Google’s pushing webmasters to offer up more comprehensive posts because it’s trying to provide a more robust search experience for users. Is it possible to furnish that in 200 words or less? That’s doubtful. But in TheBigK’s case, it was all about providing what his users wanted – not what pleased Google… and that worked for him.

Testing On Your Own & The Way Forward

If you’re experiencing traffic fluctuations and you’ve begun to wonder whether the length of your content is playing a role in the changes, try doing what TheBigK did. Add some content of different lengths and analyze which ranks better – as well as the number of terms for which the content is ranking. Don’t just depend on Google for your feedback, however. Encourage feedback from your users as well.

If retaining your loyal visitors is more of an incentive for you to keep doing what you’re doing, don’t change for Google’s sake. Instead, adopt a full-scale link acquisition program that hinges upon building your network. Reach out to peers in your niche and market through guest posting and social networking. It is possible to build a large following without depending on Google to get there.

However, if ranking is important for generating the traffic you desire, then getting your site in Google’s good graces should be priority numero uno for you. If you feel your website is lagging in the SERPs, you still have options. Figure out which posts rank well and analyze why they’re gaining traction. Consider links to the page in question and carefully review the nuts and bolts of the content itself. Then, use that information to construct more of the same kinds of posts. Gauge their success. Rinse and repeat.

I personally believe that longer is better when it comes to content on the ‘net. That said, 1000 words of drivel will still sink your site like a stone if you let it, so make sure your posts pack some heat and controversy at every twist and turn. Get in front of breaking stories in your niche and deliver something users can’t find elsewhere. It’s bigger than pleasing Google – it’s about creating loyal visitors who are sure to return time and again.


Nell Terry is a tech news junkie, fledgling Internet marketer and staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs. She thrives on social media, web design, and uncovering the truth about all the newest marketing fads that pop up all over the ‘net. Find out more about Nell by visiting her online portfolio at Content by Nell.

38 Responses to “Google’s Stance on Content Length

    Long content pages are really a headache for google as well as users to so one should try and post content that is to the point and donot irritate the user, this type of content will gain more publicity.

    A very interesting article and another thing we have to abide by to keep the “Big G” happy as a website really has to rank well on Google.

    Would a mixture of both long and short articles work or once the long article have been created also create an abbreviated version so everyone is then kept happy?

    avatar Kevin says:

    I would think that most users want as much resourceful information as possible from any given site that they search for and visit. And, in most cases this would simply mean creating more lengthier articles and posts. However, my question is, how come there are countless numbers of blogs and websites that provide shorter posts or articles, yet they still rank higher in the search results?

    Thanks for the info!

    Kevin

    Great article, very informative. We always thought at least 500 words for an article was about right.

    Honestly google doesn’t care about the users, all matters to google is to serve ads and make money. ( i’m ok with that, it’s their business they do what they want, if only they could just no lie about their intentions )

    We have tons of unique content, and we don’t even show up in the top 60 PAGES of google.

    Their algorithm is a failure for real users but it is a real success for ad sales :)

    avatar Brian says:

    I think Matt Cutts gives you a clue about article length when he discusses guest blogging.
    He suggests that 300 or 400 words is the bare minimum that guest bloggers use to get by when they are only in it for the links and don’t really care about the information they are trying to communicate.
    Yes it is reading between the lines but it sort of suggests he views articles in excess of 400 to be of higher value. There is always a risk that this may be taking his words out of context, so I guess as usual the only real way to find out is to experiment as you suggest.

    Why not have your long articles for the search engine content, but with a box or column on the side for short highlights versions for your readers?
    I noticed that Article Niche – a site I write a lot of personal development and health related articles for has a bit at the top of the page which shows the start of an article, and thought that looked a bit odd for readers, but maybe that helps? Or is that more for the rss feed perhaps?

    From my experience, the primary factor is the competition.

    For example, I write unique text based on existing affiliate content supplied by studios. All of these studios or sites will send out their own blurb with the media to promote, and most affiliates will just paste that in while not considering the duplicate content problem. These people absolutely refuse to accept that Google wants unique content.

    So if all of the competition out there is limited to the same piece of text over and over again and they are being disregarded because another hundred affiliates have done exactly the same, I could write anything on that same product and beat them.

    But, if ten of them have written unique content of 300 words for that product, I need to write unique content of 400 words to beat them.

    What “TheBigK” should have done is offer both a lengthy piece on the subject, and an abbreviated version. This would satisfy both his readers and Google. It would also provide a better user experience and would likely beat more of the competition.

    I would have checked who the largest competitors are, take a selection of their posts and run a count on the text, average it out to come to a number, and then consistently beat that number on every post of my own from that point on.

    There are other factors to consider also. Google likes in-depth and thorough content. This can be supported through formatting and media. Tables with consistent and relevant content can support the impression that it includes relevant data. Images with correct labels can support the text on the page. Ratings, category signals and internal linking to related content can support the post too.

    It seems that “TheBigK” didn’t go to abbreviated text just to please his readers, because he would have come to the conclusion that it would have been better to provide both a longer and a shorter version. While I don’t want to offend, I really think this is simply an excuse for being tired of writing lengthy content. Anyone with a basic understanding of what Google wants and what their readers want would have realized quite easily that providing both an abbreviated version and the full text would have been the way to go.

    Content is king. Check the competition and beat them. Make your content unique in every way possible, and write for your audience (and Google) and you will succeed over time.

    As with everything “Google”, you have to read between the lines a bit sometimes.

    We’ve always worked on the principle of 400-500 words being what Google preferred and it works well in terms of readability also.

    avatar Edward says:

    We have a site that competes in the tough world of real estate, and we`ve learned that having good quality, lengthy text will always deliver better results with the S`engines. If there`s ever a major chance of this direction it will directly impact our rankings, at least in Google.

    avatar Len Bowcott says:

    I have gone through this see-saw ride already, trying to find the combination of content length and keyword density to earn decent SERPs. I mention keyword density even though it wan’t mentioned in the article because my testing found it isn’t all about word count.

    I found the best articles for pleasing Google are upward of 1000 words. The keyword density that works best is 4% or less. It also seems that the longer the article, the lower the keyword density should be, but never below 3%.

    Articles longer than 1000 words do not seem to fair much better than those of around 1000 words. One article I used in my test was 2700+ words, with a keyword density of 3.5%. It has failed to do better than articles half as long that were on the same general topic, with the same keyword density.

    I also worried that visitors would be turned off by more wordy posts. I tested a theory, and came up with a solution that so far is proving to please readers and Google. I’m changing all my blogs and websites to have a shortened version of posts and articles rather than having excerpts followed by a Read More… link. For the abridged version, I go with 150 to 200 words. For visitors seeking more in depth information on a topic they can click on an internal link that takes them to the full length post or article.

    I do my best to please Google because I need the quality traffic, but Google does not make purchases. Since visitors are my bread and butter, I’m basically writing two articles or posts to please both. I have tested numerous short cuts, but thus far this is the only approach that seems to work the majority of times.

    avatar Ray says:

    The problem with analysing these results is that the website owner changed two things. Article length and the range of topics.
    To now suggest that the resulting fall in Google love is due to article length may not be correct it could be due to the website being less focused on a topic than it previously was.
    When carrying out tests it is important to change one thing at a time.

    avatar Deb says:

    I noticed that as well and suspect that the broader focus had more effect than the shorter length of the articles. Also, as I noted in another comment, there are side effects to increased length, such as the tendency to use more related keywords, that could also have an effect.

    avatar Anjum Husain says:

    i’m new to blogging and i feel, good content is all that matters….a good 300-400 word article packed with info can do the same as a 600+ word article…we are all writing to be read after all

    It has always been said and from my past experience that a minimum of 350 words is a good place to start. But as not to over do it as well. I agree with your numbers very much so. You can still write a good article and make it worthwhile even at a low number of 300 or 350. 500 is the ideal post though.

    avatar Deb says:

    I think the healthiest approach to posting content is to provide a reasonable mix of lengths and formats, whichever is appropriate to the content being posted. Short pieces can provide all the information people need if they’re well-written and long pieces can be nothing but fluff. The difference between 300 words and 500 words is pretty minimal, but if you’re used to packing all the information into 300 words, the additional 200 words serve no purpose and are nothing but filler. Also, keep in mind that the fall in SERPs may have less to do with length and more to do with the side effects of length: more room to add in related keywords, for example.

    avatar Bill says:

    I would concur with The BigK, we see this all the time in the UK.

    We provide website marketing services to many organisations from various business sectors. Our target for website copy is 500 words and often 800, we find that the more copy we put onto the page the better the results in Google’s search engine.

    Our customers dislike this approach; our website marketing customers want their websites to look great and make good use of their product images, having tons of copy on the page distracts from the website look the customers wants to deliver to their customers.

    We recently started designing sites in a similar way to the old newspapers, the actual website displayed above the fold and all of the wordy content displayed below the fold. Most customers find this acceptable, and those that just don’t want all that copy on the page, well they experience less search engine traction.

    A real downside for us is potential new customers looking at our customers web designs on our website; they perceive websites with lots of words on them as bad design.

    We were just discussing this post amongst the team, we have a figure of 500 -900 words per page in our heads as a Google preference, we have held that belief for a number of years, none of us know where we picked this up! Everyone here believes it is one of the mythical Google 200 measurements used to rank web pages.

    Bill.

    avatar Steamy says:

    Very interesting debate!!

    I have always tried to write articles in the same format as articles directories.

    So this means that it has to be a minimum of 500 words.

    avatar Cheryl Veon says:

    Writing content that fully explains is much better. I would rather go to a site that gives me all the info I need so I don’t have to go searching around.
    Also, when I get little snippets of information only, I feel like the author is hiding something. Not necessarily true but I can’t help feeling that way.
    Thanks for this article.
    Cheryl Veon
    http://www.CherylVeon.com

    avatar Match Income says:

    I always thought at least 400-500 words for an article was about right. Yes I knew quality matters but many concepts are clear now about content length.

    avatar nick sharpe says:

    I’m thinkin’ there must be a way, like a long FB post that displays only the first bit of content with a link to show more content on the same page, to code that into html or WP (that would make a great plugin) because all the content would be in the html file that google reads, but only the first couple hundred words visible to the reader.
    the content question is crazy. in the very competitive market niche for most of my sole proprietor small biz clients (used car dealers), a less is more approach for one site kept him out of the SERPs for almost a year (he didn’t want to pay monthly SEM and got my cheapest build). But now, ranks at the top of Google and can’t knock him off with one tenth the content of his competitors!
    A look under the hood shows a great use of headings to create an “outline” that really tells the story. that is the only thing that the bigger marketing dept competitors didn’t do.
    As a relative newbie (3 years) in the web design biz, my clients rank because its all about the words. That’s how I started and seems it hasn’t changed. How many words? My client’s competitors have lots more, but rank below. G figure.

    I have found on my sites that the length of content on a page is less of a factor than the incoming links and social exposure it gets. However, with everything else being equal I find 5 or 6 paragraph posts are better for rankings than 2 or 3 paragraph posts.

    avatar blog post says:

    Make websites for people and not for bots!

    And write your posts as your readers love, and everything will be fine!

    avatar pixelrage says:

    Google seems to be losing their mind. Be thankful you’re an internet marketer who knows SEO, imagine if you weren’t…….

    It seems like being a webmaster means having to jump insane hurdles and flaming hoops that constantly change.

    avatar mark says:

    This is a great little article. I did not know that about google. When I started blogging, I decided not to conform to tastes and wants, but to inject my articles full-blown. It so happens that my articles tend to be very long, which is necessary due to all that needs to be said about what I’m commenting on.

    avatar AYO says:

    i personally go for 500 words articles on my website

    Well researched piece. well done. What excites me about content for businesses is that the contacts, conversations, sharing, stories and relationship building can mean conversions to active partnerships, sales, and business growth; as well as a way to establish community and credibility .

    avatar aeron miller says:

    Creating long article and different from other sites. It’s not easy work. We need to research and have a lot of ideas to detail. Moreover, if we are also involved in the topics we write. It is very fun and enjoyable. But it takes time and energy. I totally agree with your article.

    avatar Russ Turner says:

    I cannot for the life of me understand why G would expect me to write long articles when the aim of my site is to showcase my products and images do this perfectly.

    Visitors either like or dislike what they see backed up by a brief description and price details they will make up their minds whether or not to buy. No amount of verbose text will encourage them to stay on the site.

    So what hope for site owners like mine?

    Regards

    Russ

    avatar Robinsh says:

    Previously I was writing small length content on my business niche blog and no one was caring neither the readers nor the search engines but now when I’m writing article containing around 1000 words with more elaborated description both the readers and search engines are in my favor and my blog is growing day by day.

    avatar Mikelmx says:

    Google has no clue about what they are doing. They are shitting in their pants that users will stop using Google search, as Bing does equally well job at throwing out some search results to satisfy the users. Google’s frequent updates to their ranking algorithms is a testimony that there is no right answer, and it does not matter whether you use Bing or Google or something else.

    avatar Pat says:

    It seems to be the G lumps all websites into one category and feels all need long winded information. When I am searching to purchase something, I don’t need 5 paragraphs of info, I need a picture, short description and a price.
    If I am searching for information on a subject, most of the time I like somewhat short to the point info; I don’t have time to read someone’s expanded article that pleases G but takes up my time.

    avatar matt mernagh says:

    People don’t read long content. Well the majority don’t. The switch to short word counts reflects what is going on with media. Most of my articles are about 150 – 200 word reviews, and recently I too have noticed a great deal less search engine traffic and have been trying to figure it out. I would agree with the article, Google appears to punish short word counts. Nothing wrong with a quick quirky post. MM

    avatar Tom says:

    It would seem that in many cases you really can’t please both big-g and your visitors at the same time.

    I haven’t tried this approach yet, but what is your content include a YouTube video, followed by a transcript of that video.

    1. Most people enjoy videos.
    2. Visitors have two options for consuming your content.
    3. Google loves to see their YouTube being utilized.
    4. Video rank easier/better in the SERPS.

    And I’m sure their are other good reasons to implement this strategy.

    Mr Flattop

    avatar Free Recipes says:

    Prehaps google could release examples of websites and pages that webmasters could have a look at, or release specific guidelines about formats and technical details they want to see.
    Once you think you get it right the algorithm changes, and your left scratching your head. Your content may be excellent, but without quality SEO you probably wont get many visitors.

    From my personal experience, when writing articles about hotels in Zakynthos island, or something else like best beaches in Zante island, i found my self wants to write an article about 200 words. Also i have written articles with content about 300 words. I think that over all we are humans and must do what we like to do. I don’t like rules. I write my own opinion, my own experiences and always i try to give value content to users in my own way. In this way my rankings we’ll be better.

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