What is content? Content is something that you use to fill up a container. It is the substance of a vessel or a shell. For your website, content is the stuff that draws site visitors in and persuades them to stick around, buy products, or leave comments. It is also the part of your site that your users are most likely to share with their friends and family through email and social media sites. Besides, having a great site design that inspires confidence in users, having great content is what will help your site go from zero to hero of the internet.
However, for much of the history of SEO, quality content has taken a backseat to quantity content. Quality content was reserved for independent bloggers who really liked geeking out about their niche subjects. And large companies hired hordes of writer drones to produce mountains of keyword-rich articles that were shallow but SEO friendly. In fact, whole industries rose us around simply creating mounds and mounds of content to draw in readers through search engines and profit off advertising. But SEO has evolved, and Google has wised up.
Google recently released the farmer update to its search engine algorithm, which effectively lowered the search rank of a number of content farms—the kinds of sites that would produce thousands of low-quality blog posts for the purpose of profiting off advertising. With this step, Google has moved the emphasis off of content as a primary search engine factor. Now Google is moving in a direction that places more emphasis on website authority (or popularity) than on site content, taking into account backlinks and social media shares more heavily. In terms of SEO, this means that on-site search engine optimization is still important, but perhaps not as important as off-site SEO—or the building or backlinks and involvement in social media.
The farmer update tended to weed out content farms in general. In order for those farms to be profitable, they needed to produce a large amounts of content at a very low price. Thus, most articles created for these sites were anywhere from 200-400 words long—maybe 500 in some cases. The point is, it is much cheaper to produce short content than it is to produce long content. If you pay writers by the word, you want them to keep their articles short. And 200-400 words is plenty of space to insert a handful of keywords and make the text search engine friendly—boosting the SEO of the site it was eventually posted on.
In an effort to correct this, it seems that Google (since the farmer update) has chosen to trust long-form posts more than short form posts for SEO. That is, it appears that content that is over 550 words tends to be more favored by Google than short, 200-word content.
To an extent, this makes sense. Generally 200-400 word blog posts are extremely short and cannot provide any amount of in-depth insight on any topic. Short posts like these tend to be very shallow and general. On the other hand, blog articles that are over 500, 600, 700 words or more, tend to be articles that are more in-depth, share more specialized knowledge, and are more useful to people looking for good information. So it is no wonder that Google tends to like those types of articles and has given them an SEO boost through the farmer update.
On the other hand, internet readers tend to be less patient than they would be with a book or a magazine article, and thus prefer short, information-packed content to long-form posts. Perhaps, this is because for so long the content farms taught people to read in short bursts. But whatever the case, most internet readers prefer shorter content to longer content. That is, they are more willing to read a short, but tight and information-packed post than they are to read a longer treatise on the same subject. When searching on the internet, people want information, and they want it fast. Longer content tends to be glossed over and skimmed more than read. So how does this affect your content SEO strategy?
If long content is more SEO friendly, but short content is more readable, how do you go about attracting search engines and readers? Well, SEO is about more than simply filling your site with content. SEO is a delicate balance between writing content that is search engine friendly and content that is likely to be shared. So, your SEO content strategy needs to find that balance.
Perhaps that balance comes in the form of varying blog post lengths, alternating between long and short. Or maybe, for you, it is better to hit a nice middle-ground word count like 700 words on a regular basis to that you aren’t too short, but not too long either.
Keep in mind, however, that SEO is not simply about site content, but the amount of backlinks and social media shares you can generate for your site. This means that, above all, your site content should appeal to readers in a way that gives them value and provides them with useful information that they can share. In other words, quality should be your number one priority when looking at an SEO content strategy. Quantity, no matter the length, is what is going to get you noticed and shared across the internet—boosting your SEO, driving more site traffic, and increasing your profits.
Brad Anderson is the Founder and CEO of Fruition. Brad’s focus is supporting Fruition’s team to enable sustainable growth and excellent client satisfaction (EBITDA growth). With a strong statistical background, Brad built Fruition’s in-house software that is used to manage client success.
President & Founder, Tru Family Dental
Marketing, Dependable Cleaners
President, Frame Destination
President & Founder, Family Travel Association