The length of blog posts, and other web content for that matter, has been hotly debated for several years. Before 2011, nobody really gave content length a great deal of thought, but the first incarnation of the Google Panda algorithm, which was unleashed to the world in February 2011, resulted in widespread panic regarding content length. Much of the panic was, of course, totally unfounded.
When Google penalised sites for “thin content”, it was assumed that short blog posts were a problem. However, more recently John Mu, one of the public faces of the Google webmaster team, has said that the length of a blog post really does not matter.
From our own experience, the only pages that have ever resulted in a serious Panda penalty are empty pages – usually empty search results or category pages contain popular keywords in their titles, and that have been indexed by Google. This is one of the most common reasons why eCommerce sites are affected by the Panda penalty – when stock is removed on some content management systems, empty pages remain.
However, this is not to say that short posts are not without their own problems. While Google will not specifically penalise for having short posts, sites that have many short posts, especially those that are targeting popular keyword phrases, could find themselves suffering from a manual web spam penalty. Another problem is that short posts do tend to be “thin content” and although this may not trigger a Panda penalty, it may result in content that is considered duplicate or simply worthless, low quality spam.
With all this talk of penalties it is easy to forget that we are here to optimise websites, not just to avoid a penalty. Since the Panda and Penguin updates, many SEO bloggers are focused so much on avoiding and recovering from penalties that they forget that there is still a lot of work to be done in optimising content to improve search engine ranking. Fortunately, some detailed research was carried out by serpIQ on this exact topic, and the conclusion will surprise many SEOs, bloggers and content marketers.
How Long Is The Best Performing Content?
After some thorough analysis of content length and search results positions, it was discovered that the best performing content was, on average, over 1200 words in length, with pages of around 2000 words tending to perform the best. This is not a huge surprise, as articles that are between 1200 and 2000 words will be more thorough than shorter pieces. The study by serpIQ suggested that 1500 words is a good figure to keep in mind for content. But the real surprise is the worst performing articles.
Articles Between 500 and 800 Words Are Worse!
Yes, articles that are somewhere between 500 and 800 words tend to perform worse than shorter articles. So, it seems that, on average at least, if you want a page to perform well in search, you need to either create a relatively short piece of content of around 200-300 words, or a much longer piece.
The results of the research did not go into any great detail regarding different industries (niches) or the type of content, so we do not know for sure where business news, for instance, is better when shorter, whereas medical information better when longer – although based on our experience, this tends to be the case.
Why Is This?
As already touched upon, the reason may simply be that short pieces tend to appeal to people who are after a specific piece of information and are not interested in details, or those looking for short news updates, whereas longer pieces provide more information, which appeals to people who want read some in-depth analysis on a particular topic.
The reason why mid-range content performs worse is not clear. It might just be that it neither appeals to those in a hurry or those in need of a detailed report. Then again, it could be a signal that Google has picked up, based on the fact that so many bloggers who write for business produce content that is around 600 words long. It is possible, therefore, that blog posts of this length are actively penalised, although we certainly have no proof as yet, this is merely speculation.
One of the most interesting findings from the SerpIQ study was that the length of pages has been getting shorter of the past decade – domains that are less than a year old have, on average, content that is almost half as long as domains that are over 10 years old. This may reflect the trend of writing shorter articles for mobile readers, but it could also be an indication of the rise of short-blogging for SEO.
Once we have come to some more concrete conclusions we’ll provide an update. Until then, subscribe to our SEO blog and take a look at some of our other articles. If you wish to improve the quality and quantity of your business content, contact FSE Digital today.