Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – long content ranks better. Like most people, you’re probably on one side of the fence or the other when it comes to an opinion on word count.
So I’ll try not to rough too many feathers. Besides, asking whether or not long content ranks better is the wrong question. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The Word Count Myth
A couple of years ago, a few well-known people within the SEO sphere took a look at some data. They found a correlation and decided that correlation was the same as causation, concluding that long content ranks better.
The long content ranks better myth spread rapidly via social media to such an extent that it has become embedded within the content marketing psyche. Now when people talk content marketing metrics, word count is sure to enter the conversation at some point.
Orbit Media’s annual survey confirms that the length of a blog post is increasing. Those people are also self-reporting “strong results,” whatever that means.
I get it though.
Content length is one of those key metrics that’s simple to measure. The data is easily obtained and determining performance requires little in terms of analytics.
The argument in favor of long content is seductively convincing. It follows a line of logic that longer content, by virtue of its length, stands a better chance to rank for more keywords than shorter content.
I’m not here to debate that.
Although, I do feel that word count should be considered as one of those vanity metrics for content marketers, just like follower count is for social media marketers.
If hitting a specific word count makes you feel better, more power to you. Just be aware that the number most people use is too general to be of any practical use. A word count study may conclude that 2000-word blog posts rank better. But that’s an average number and doesn’t mean your blog post should be that length.
Restricting a study to data based on industry, as some have done, may be a little more interesting. But it still misses the mark.
The underlying assumption that longer content is better is false. Google’s own John Mueller explains is very concisely.
“Word count is not indicative of quality. Some pages have a lot of words that say nothing. Some pages have very few words that are very important & relevant to queries.”
Here’s CEO of Siege Media Ross Hudgens’ take on the content length debate.
That’s not to say that word count is useless. Far from it. Word Count, when combined with MarketMuse Content Score is a wonderful combination of metrics.
Combining Word Count With Content Score
MarketMuse Content Score is a quality score based on the usage of relevant concepts and entities for a specific focus topic. For any given topic, MarketMuse analyzes thousands of pages of content to create a topic model of relevant keywords and their usage. It analyzes the top 20 search results in Google to determine a target content score and target word count.
Take for example the topic we’re discussing right now. The model shows a number of topics that an expert-level piece of content would cover, including metrics, quality score, content audit, content marketing and more.
For this post to be considered expert-level content, I need to make sure I incorporate these concepts into the discussion. The model also offers suggestions as to how frequently a topic should be mentioned. However, the content scoring methodology is designed so you can’t game the system. Repeating a topic ad nauseam in the text won’t improve the content score.
Two things to keep in mind.
We’re talking about metrics related to a specific topic. The target word count is specifically based on that of the top 20 search results for a specific search term. It’s not a general number like you’ll find in those word count studies discussed earlier.
Same thing with the MarketMuse Content Score target.
To create content that our target audience will judge as expert level we need to meet both our target content score and target word count. Let’s look at all the possible scenarios to understand why.
Low MarketMuse Content Score and Low Word Count
This scenario is indicative of amateur writing. The low content score indicates that few of the relevant topics were covered. The topics covered were only glossed over as evident in the low word-count.
Low MarketMuse Content Score and High Word Count
This content is best described as “fluff.” The low content score and high word count suggests amateur writing that was padded to bring up the word count without adding anything substantial to the conversation. Can you say cheap offshore content writing business?
Target Content Score and Low Word Count
Two possibilities exist in a situation like this. It could be a case of expert-level content (good content score) created by an extremely concise writer (low word count). But that’s a rare case. That level of brevity is normally only found in copywriters of ads and similar content. Most likely, this piece of content touches on the important concepts but fails to examine them in depth.
Target Content Score and Above-Target Word Count
The writer has most likely covered all relevant issues in depth – they’ve met the their targets. However, the high word count suggests the possibility that there’s some padding of the content. Unfortunately, paying writers on a per-word basis can encourage this type of behavior without providing additional ROI.
Target Content Score and Target Word Count
You’re in the zone! The writer has covered all relevant sub topics and done so in a sufficiently detailed manner.
By the way, Jeff Baker’s Moz post 7 Search Ranking Factors Analyzed: A Follow-Up Study has some interesting insight into MarketMuse Content Score and content length. Definitely worth reading.
How to Track Key Performance Indicators like Word Count and Content Score
If creating expert-level content is one of your marketing goals, then you need to track this for every content piece created. MarketMuse Suite makes this simple to do as it analyzes your entire inventory, tracks content and enables you to run any content item or topic through any of its applications. You can see the targeted word count and content score for every piece of new content or existing content piece you wish to optimize.
Using these metrics without MarketMuse is difficult to say the least. You won’t have the benefit of content score and we’re going to have drastically simplify things. However, there are some measurement you can perform to determine if your target audience deems your content worthy.
1. Conduct a content audit so you have a list of url’s along with the length of each piece. (Something like Screaming Frog SEO Spider should do the trick).
2. Export the results to a spreadsheet and calculate the average word count.
3. Use Google Analytics to examine pages with below average work count. Earlier I explained that using general numbers for word count isn’t a good idea. But if that’s all the data you have to work with, then that’s what you’ve got.
4. Pay attention to metrics such as bounce rate and average time on page. Basically you’re looking for any indicators of poor user engagement. Examine those pages to determine how they can be improved.
Word count in combination with MarketMuse Content Score are great metrics to determine if your content is written at an expert level. The key to remember is that they measure aspects unique to specific topics. For example, the target word count and content score for a post on making apple pies is going to be different than a post about the history of apple pie moonshine.
In today’s environment, creating an authoritative website is impossible without expert-level content. Use these advanced standards of measurement to ensure every article you publish is of the best quality.
Written by Stephen Jeske