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Is Long Content Always Better for SEO?

It’s impossible to execute an effective search engine optimization (SEO) strategy without the help of content. Onsite content helps you improve the value of your site and optimize for specific keywords, while offsite content helps you build links and generate visibility. Either way, the quality of your content matters, with “better” content doing a better job of improving your domain authority—and ultimately helping you rank higher. 

But the question of what makes content “better” in the first place is often debated. Most people, for example, believe that longer content is better for SEO—not only does it provide you with an opportunity to include more content and more keywords, it also allows you to cover a topic in greater detail. 

But is long content always better for SEO? 

The Evidence for Long Content

Back in 2015, Moz and BuzzSumo teamed up for a massive study of more than 1 million articles to see which types of content were best for SEO. They found that 85 percent of content was less than 1,000 words long—yet the 15 percent of content that is 1,000 words or longer consistently receives more shares and links. In other words, long-form content is better for generating shares, links, and authority for your website. 

Similarly, the average content length of the top 10 results for a given keyword query hovers between 2,000 and 2,450 words. 

There are several potential reasons for this: 

  • Long content is explicitly favored by search engines. We don’t know this for sure, since Google has never come out and said that it looks for a specific word count when evaluating the authority of a page or calculating SERPs. However, there are some clues that Google and other search engines disproportionately favor “long” content over “short” content. 
  • Long content has a longer dwell time. We do know that dwell time—in other words, the length of time a user stays on a page—can have an impact on search rankings. Users who stay on a page longer can influence that page to rank higher in searches. Long content, of course, takes longer to read, and therefore influences a longer dwell time. 
  • Long content has more to cite. Longer content tends to have more facts, more statistics, and longer, more detailed arguments—all of which lend themselves to earning more links. If an external source reads your content and finds many things worth citing, they’re going to be much more likely to link to you. 
  • Long content is distinguished. If 85 percent of online content is less than 1,000 words, writing a long-form post instantly puts you in the minority. Longer posts are harder to find, and are therefore distinguished from posts from other brands. Writing long-form posts can be a great way to improve your brand reputation and stand out from the crowd. 
  • Long content covers more detail. Longer posts tend to be more comprehensive, covering topics in greater overall depth. This leads to covering a wider range of potential search phrases, and ultimately a greater chance of being considered a truly “definitive” guide on the subject. 

However, it’s worth noting that if you take a look at an average search engine results page (SERP), you’ll see entries for articles with a wide range of different word counts. Some will be just a few hundred words long, while others will be several thousand. 

The Caveats

Of course, nothing in the SEO world is this straightforward. It can’t be the case that longer posts are always better for increasing your search engine rankings. 

There are several caveats we need to keep in mind: 

  • Length doesn’t always imply depth (or quality). First, understand that length doesn’t necessarily imply depth. In other words, you could write an 800-word article that’s very concise and packed with meaningful data, then write a 2,000-word article that’s mostly fluff; in this case, the shorter article will be higher-quality. You shouldn’t be striving to hit a word count if you don’t have the substantive information to make all those words valuable. 
  • Your industry matters. It’s also worth considering the fact that different industries can benefit from different content lengths. If you’re reporting on tech news, you might benefit from short, to-the-point articles that merely cover current events. But if you’re analyzing new medical techniques or if you’re reporting on the science of sleep, you’ll need to explain these complex topics in much more detail. 
  • Your audience matters. Think about your audience as well. Is your target demographic the type to sit down and read a 5,000-word mini-eBook? Or would they rather be able to digest a full article in the span of 5 minutes or less? Which type of article would they be more willing to share with their friends and family members? 
  • The format matters. Most of the time, when we talk about content length, we’re referring to written articles published on a blog—but we also need to consider other formats. For example, what if you’re publishing a 10-minute video? Or what if you’re posting a new infographic? Do you really need to write 1,000 words of content to make this piece of content “better” for SEO? The short answer is no; different formats lend themselves to different word counts and structures. 
  • Short content can succeed, too. While long content definitely has many advantages, we can’t ignore the fact that short content can be successful, too. Short posts are highly effective at relaying information in a short, concise manner, and are explicitly preferred by some audiences. They also take far less time and effort to generate, meaning they have a chance of producing a higher return on investment (ROI). 

The bottom line here is that in most contexts and situations, longer content is a superior choice for SEO; it’s capable of getting more shares and links and is much more likely to be high-quality than a comparatively short post. However, you shouldn’t assume that a long post is automatically a “good” post, or write off the potential benefits of short posts. 

Tips

8 Reasons More Links Aren’t Necessarily Better

In search engine optimization (SEO), one of the most important elements of your strategy is link building—the practice of establishing external links pointing back to your domain. This strategy is effective because links are the crux of Google’s search ranking algorithm; generally speaking, Google evaluates the subjective trustworthiness of a given site (and a given page) based on the number and quality of links pointing to it. If a page has a lot of high-quality links established for it, it’s going to rank higher than its link-less counterpart. 

Accordingly, most SEO professionals dedicate significant time and resources to analyzing their current link profile and building as many links as possible to improve their domain authority. The prevailing sentiment is that building more links is always a good thing for your website—but this isn’t necessarily the case. 

Why More Links Aren’t Necessarily Better

More links aren’t necessarily a good thing for your site’s rankings in search engines. Here’s why:

  1. High-DA links are better than low-DA links. First, understand that links from sources with high domain authority (DA) are much better than links from sources with low DA. DA has so much of an impact, that in many cases, a single link from a high-DA source is worth more than several dozen links from lower-authority sources. If you have a choice between building lots of low-value links or one high-value one, you’re almost always better off building the high-value link. 
  2. Links from the same sources yield diminishing returns. Many newcomers to SEO attempt to build links to their site from the same source; they establish a relationship with a publisher, then try to work with that publisher many times out of convenience. While each link you build on the same source will pass additional referral traffic your way, there are diminishing returns in terms of authority. In other words, it’s much more valuable to build new links on different sources than to build additional links on sources you’ve already tapped.  
  3. Referral traffic potential varies wildly. While link building is typically considered as an SEO strategy, ultimately meant to generate more organic traffic for your site, it’s also a useful tactic for increasing brand awareness and generating referral traffic—in other words, people who click your links in context. Some links are much better than others at generating referral traffic, thanks to their context, their value to readers, and of course, the readership of your chosen publisher. Accordingly, it’s often better to seek out sources capable of generating high volumes of referral traffic than it is to spam links indiscriminately. 
  4. High volume link building strategies attract penalties. When SEO professionals focus on building as many links as possible, they often get greedy. They build as many links as possible, sometimes in the span of just a few weeks, and aggressively push for more opportunities. However, this strategy is counterproductive; Google explicitly warns against building too many links too quickly. If its search engine algorithm detects an unusual amount of new links pointing to your site, or if there’s a cascade of new links to your site in a short period of time, you could end up facing a penalty—erasing any gains you would have enjoyed and setting you back even further. 
  5. Context matters. The context of your link matters as well. Remember, many readers will be encountering your brand for the first time when they see your link in an article. If you’ve clearly shoehorned your link into an irrelevant, poorly written article, they’re going to walk away with a negative impression of your brand—and you might end up facing a ranking penalty. It’s much better to develop links that provide citations or additional reading to visitors who want them, and ensure your links are a good fit for your external articles. 
  6. Bad links break easily. “Bad” links break easily. When a publisher site isn’t well managed, or when your article isn’t interesting to readers, there’s a much higher likelihood of your links being removed or becoming non-functional. If you’re only focused on building a higher quantity of links, you won’t be paying attention to their potential staying power; accordingly, you’ll be more likely to suffer losses in the future, negating all the effort you spent building those links in the first place. 
  7. Link value depends on destination page quality. A link is only as valuable as the page it links to. If you have a hastily written, thin page on your site, building links to it could actively harm your strategy; users who click the link will bounce, or else might never want to visit your site again. Make sure you have a solid onsite content strategy in place before you start building links. 
  8. Link building is just one aspect of SEO. While link building is one of the best ways to boost the authority of your site, and therefore your rankings, it’s still just one element of SEO. In fact, it’s even possible to manage an SEO strategy without a link building component, assuming you have a plan to attract links naturally. If you want to rank higher in search engines, you’ll need to master your onsite optimization, which means including plenty of onsite content on your core pages, optimizing for the right keywords, coding the site properly, ensuring it’s indexed properly, and improving site speed so users have a better experience. You’ll also need to write new onsite content regularly, and ensure that content is high-quality and appealing to your audience. If you build lots of links, but these other elements of SEO aren’t in place, you’re not going to see much value. 

When Link Volume Matters

Of course, if you can bear these considerations in mind, there are still some important reasons for building a greater volume of links. Assuming you’re linking to a variety of different pages, you’re using a variety of different high-DA publishers, and you’re building links with quality and context in mind, more links will almost certainly benefit you. The problem usually stems from SEO professionals choosing volume as their highest priority and allowing all other priorities to fall by the wayside. The better practice is the opposite; keep volume as a secondary priority, only after you’ve established quality and context. 

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