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Content Quality vs. Quantity: Is One Long Post Better Than Many Short Ones?

7 min read

Content length and quality is a hotly debated topic in the world of SEO, though most experts believe that longer content is better. The rationale is that the longer the content, the higher the chance of ranking for keywords and covering enough material to match your user’s intent. 

But does that mean all your content should be over 1,000 words? And, for that matter, should you be posting as often as you can, even if it means creating content that doesn’t necessarily follow your content goals?

Probably not. How long your pieces are and how often you post depends on your brand, your audience, and your content strategy.

Why Industry Studies on Quantity vs. Quality Don’t Help

There’s been plenty of research (of varying quality) on exactly how long your posts should be. Yoast explains that your posts should be at least 300 words long (that’s only a couple of paragraphs) to rank at all. Though, it recommends posts of more than 1,000 words because it allows you to rank on a variety of long-tail keywords.

Others warn that blog posts between 300 and 500 words won’t have much SEO impact, and you should really aim for content between 1,000 and 2,000 words.

While they’re all kind of saying the same thing, there is some discrepancy between what they all consider the perfect word count.

The same can be said of publishing frequency.

Hubspot reports that publishing 16 or more posts per month got 3.5 times more traffic than companies that published fewer posts.

But, of course, news sites are going to publish a lot more content than that, while a small business may only publish a few posts a month.

Moz said it best, I think, with their post entitled The Perfect Blog Post Length and Publishing Frequency is B?!!$#÷x.

What it all really comes down to is how well you cover the topic you’re tackling and that you post with some regularity. It all depends on your brand, your audience, and your content goals. Engaging content knows no limits when it comes to word count.

Take a look at this word count data pulled from MarketMuse. There’s a significant variance in blog post length, depending on the search term. The difference is far too great to pronounce that there is an ideal word count.

Average word counts of top ranking posts for specific search terms.

Search engines don’t care about content length either; it’s not a ranking factor. They aim to provide the most relevant results for every search query.

The Importance of Content Strategy and Planning

In previous posts, I’ve talked about the importance of covering a topic in-depth. To cover all angles, sub-topics and alternate topics, it makes sense that you’d be writing a pretty long blog post (which is probably why so many industry experts recommend longer posts).

But longer posts don’t always make for the best user experience, and it may not serve your content well. In the quality over quantity debate, the assumption is that longer content is better.

Have you ever looked for a last-minute dinner recipe online? You click on a link to a casserole that seems quick and easy and what do you find? A 1,500-word blog post about the history of the dish and the writer’s nostalgia for the good old days. You have to scroll way down to find valuable content; the actual recipe.

It’s annoying, and I’m more likely to click away if I can’t find the recipe right away.

Instead of creating one long post, a recipe site may want to create topic clusters, the pillar post containing the history and nostalgia, and the smaller pieces containing a variety of casserole recipes that link back to the pillar post.

That way, users who have more time to research casseroles can read the pillar post and all of the linked recipes, while the mom looking for something quick to make can go straight to the recipe.

That’s why it’s so important for content marketers to conduct audience research, create their content strategy and plan topics before they start writing.

Create an audience persona and build content that serves that persona well. If you’re an auto parts business, your target audience may be looking for instructions on fixing cars. More in-depth content that takes users through a process step by step will most likely satisfy user intent.

Product descriptions, on the other hand, are never more than a few hundred words, but Google still counts them as part of your content offering.

Which leads me to my next point. The length and frequency of your content depends on your content goals. If, for example, you’re looking for ad impressions, page views, time on page and scroll depth are pretty important, so frequently published, longer content that holds your audience’s interest will help get you those impressions.

If your goal is to raise awareness for your business, a few, well-written posts each month may do the trick.

It’s all about your content strategy and planning.

Your content creation efforts will most likely results in a mix of long-form content and shorter pieces posted at a frequency that works best for your brand.

When I ran a parenting website, we frequently posted to keep readers’ interest, but the length of our posts depended on our topic.

Our social media roundups on Instagram about celebrity parents were no longer than 500 words. But our posts about more serious topics, like pain management during labor, were over 2,000 words and covered every angle, including traditional pain management, alternative treatments, and epidurals.

How to Determine Content Quantity vs. Quality for Every Topic You Write

So far, I’ve written about content length in pretty broad terms. So how do you determine the right length for your specific content needs?

The manual way to do it is to google your topic keywords and analyze the top 10 or 20 posts that appear. Determine how long they are, and if they’re covering the topic thoroughly.

If the top-ranking posts cover the topic well within a certain word count, you can use it as a benchmark. If there’s room for improvement in your competitors’ content, this is an opportunity to create a longer piece (or a topic cluster of shorter pieces) that will rank better.

You’ll have to do this analysis for every topic you plan on covering, which could take a while.

There are tools, though, that will do the work for you. MarketMuse can take each topic, look at the competition and then determine how many words you’ll need to cover the topic completely and rank well on SERPs.

For this article, MarketMuse analyzed the topic (quality vs. quantity content) and determined that I would need to write a post around 1250 words.

It makes no sense to create long pieces of content if it means you’ll be writing a lot of fluff to hit a certain word count. Likewise, if posting often means you’ll be posting content your audience won’t find valuable, you’re probably better off reducing the number of posts.

The quantity and quality debate will not end here. However, the best content marketing strategy is to stick to your content plan and create relevant content that matches user intent.

What you should do now

When you’re ready… here are 3 ways we can help you publish better content, faster:

  1. Book time with MarketMuse Schedule a live demo with one of our strategists to see how MarketMuse can help your team reach their content goals.
  2. If you’d like to learn how to create better content faster, visit our blog. It’s full of resources to help scale content.
  3. If you know another marketer who’d enjoy reading this page, share it with them via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook.

Laurie is a freelance writer, editor, and content consultant and adjunct professor at Fisher College.  Her work includes the development and execution of content strategies for B2B and B2C companies, including marketing and audience research, content calendar creation, hiring and managing writers and editors, and SEO optimization. You can connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.