The time when it was all about targeted keyword rich, short form content, crank out a few hundred words, has long gone. Creating long form, well researched content is expensive, time consuming and hard work.
But what is the evidence that we should create long form content? How do we answer the question, “What size of content will help me rank in Google?”
Evidence that Longform content is best
Backlinko.com recently did a massive study of 1 million Google search results, published on January 21st, 2016
It’s findings regarding size of content were:
” Based on SERP data from SEMRush, we found that longer content tends to rank higher in Google’s search results. The average Google first page result contains 1,890 words.”
Steve Rayson over at Moz.com bloggged, “Content, Share and Links: Insights from analyzing 1 million articles”, you can download his 31 page pdf here
The analysis was the result of teaming up with Buzzumo.com
Deep research and opinions matter :
“There are, however, specific content types that do have a strong positive correlation of shares and links. This includes research backed content and opinion forming journalism. We found these content formats achieve both higher shares and significantly more links.”
On the length of content with regards to social sharing:
“…long form content of over 1,000 words consistently receives more shares and links than shorter form content.”
On the type of content shared
“List posts and videos achieve much higher shares on average than other content formats. However, in terms of achieving links, list posts and why posts achieve a higher number of referring domain links than other content formats on average. While we may love to hate them, list posts remain a powerful content format.”
It seems the much hated listicle is not only getting the shares, but the links too. Gathering anecdotal evidence for this article, people would role their eyes at the idea that listicles get the most attention. This may be due to that fact that people who are in the web publishing business see more of them and are not in “reader mode”, but are in publishing mode. It may also be pure snobbery, the fact that we want people to think we are more sophisticated than we actually are.
The article goes on to say that most content receives few social shares and even fewer links. This would indicate that content is being dumped on a massive scale into a vase and empty space with no one reading, sharing or linking to it.
The research indicates that longer form content in excess of 2k is more likely to be successful. Thus time spent creating 3 x blog posts 1,000 words long could be wasted, whilst time spent creating 1 blog post 3,000 words long returns rewards.
The study goes on to look at the type of content that is being shared and linked to, analysing around 70k webpages with articles from , The Atlantic, New Republic, Nytimes.com the guardian.com and indicates that it is well researched opinion pieces that are most popular.
How Important is Content Length? Why Data-Driven SEO Trumps Guru Opinions
Analysis was performed of the top 10 results in Google in 2012, using 20,000 keywords and discovered a direct correlation of long content to higher results in Google.
“As you can see, there is a drop in content length as we move from first to tenth position. On average, 10th position pages have 400 less words on the page than first position pages. This does point to the trend that higher ranked sites have more content, but keep in mind that this graph is not segmented in any way – this is just a graph of all of the SERPs we’ve analyzed.”
More evidence from Moz.com
In another study from Moz, by John Doherty, it “found a direct correlation between the number of back links…and the overall length of the content itself.”
Below is a chart of 500 posts on the x-axis and the number of words on the y-axis
If we take the chart above and overlay with the number of links each post acquired has been recorded, we can clearly see a correlation between length of post and number of links the post gets.
John Doherty states, ” if we visualize the links that these posts have gained, there seems to be a correlation between longer content and links:”
OKSUMO and Buzzsumo research
Why Content Goes Viral: What Analyzing 100 Million Articles Taught Us
“We’ve analyzed the social share counts of over 100 million articles in the past 8 months.”
“If you look at the chart below, the longer the content, the more shares it gets, with 3000-10000 word pieces getting the most average shares (8859 total average shares). Not surprisingly, there was a lot more short-form content being written. How much more? There were 16 times more content with less than 1000 words than there were content with 2000+ words.”
It is quite clear from this graph that you are more likely to have your content shared on Facebook, Pinterest, Linkedin, Twitter, and Google+ if you content is over 3,000 words, rather than 1,000 words or less.
This flies in the face of common thought that we are only motivated to share, short, snacksized bits of content. It is not what the data is telling us.
“As you can see in the graph, 3000+ word articles get more social shares on Facebook, Pinterest, Linkedin, Twitter and Google+.”
The Backlinking Strategy That Works
Patt Flynn has also noticed a relationship between shares and content length.
In Garrett Moon’s research for Coschedule.com he found that content with a higher number of words ranked higher in Google.
“Yes, it’s true. Long-form content ranks higher on average than shorter pages. In my results, the pages in the top five (1-5) averaged more than 2,000 words per page. In the bottom half (6-10), the posts only averaged 1,400 words. Long-form content was absolutely weighted to the top of the list.”
Neil Patel of Kissmetrics and Crazy Egg likes to get data driven answers in this blog post investigating the merits of long form content, Why you need to create evergreen, long form content
“I took the 327 blog posts I have written on Quick Sprout and broke them down into two buckets. The first bucket contained blog posts that were fewer than 1,500 words, and the second contained posts that were greater than 1,500 words. I then analyzed how many tweets and Facebook likes each post got.
Posts that were under 1,500 words, on average received 174.6 tweets and 59.3 Facebook likes. Posts that were over 1,500 words, on average received 293.5 tweets and 72.7 Facebook likes.”
A word about causation. We are not stating that long content causes more links and higher ranking, but we are suggesting that there is a correlation between the two, it has been my belief that this has been for case for a number of years.
However, we have a number of factors at work here, the main one is the person who actually reads the content and then reacts. Something is happening to cause them to be more likely to socially share the content or link, size of the content may be a factor, but the content must be coherent and resonate with the reader. It must engage.
Semantic footprint vs the keyword
Google introduced a new algorithm called, Hummingbird in 2013. Danny Sullivan of Searchengineland.com said,
“Google said that Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query — the whole sentence or conversation or meaning — is taken into account, rather than particular words. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.”
That Google is using the “meaning” of the whole article rather than a specific searched for keyword means that more semantically relevant content is going to help Google determine the relevance of that search term for your content.
It’s not as simple as “more is better”. It’s that more relevant, useful content is better.
If we look at it simplistically, what does a 500 word post have that a 3,000 word post does not? The answer is ease of consumption, it’s quick for the reader. But speed of reading is not the objective of the publisher, we want to produce a reaction. If a reader’s objective is to read and consume a blog post quickly, then they are quickly on to the next thing.
The problem is, most publishers see their content in isolation rather than a sequence of content from numerous other publishers.
Each piece of content consumed by the reader is battling for time in the consciousness, ready for downloading into the subconscious.
Which brand do you think is going to stick more, the brand of the content that took 2 mins to read or the brand which had the content that took two 15 minute sessions to get through?
The thing is, it’s hard to create long content. We get distracted, Netflix, Facebook, Linkedin upates, yada yada yada. And when you create something great at 1,000 words that PUBLISH button starts pulsing. Right now I’m at 809 words and I think I have something interesting for people.
But there are a few other points I want to cover on this issue, and hopefully it takes this particular piece of content from good to great, but that is your call not mine.
We now know content has to be big and thus requires more investment