What do we really mean by content length? Does it refer to the number of words, images or graphics? Does a one-hour long video mean that it packs more value than a 5 minute or a one minute video?
Actually, the reverse may be true. A longer piece of content (in terms of the number of words, images, or time in the case of video) may have more room for redundancy. A video may, for instance, begin by greetings, an introduction of the team, an introduction to the content, and of course the usual “please subscribe” message.
What then does content length then refer to? Content length is the amount of time that a user will spend when consuming a piece of content.
Is content length is important for high ranking on search engines?
According to several studies done over the last 6 years, longer content seems to rank higher when compared to shorter content. Different people give different explanations as to why this may happen. Let’s get more into this.
In 2016, Backlinko carried out a study to identify the factors that correlate with search results that rank on the first page.
One of their findings was that longer content ranked higher in search results. In fact, the average length of the top 5 content was 1890 words.
Content that was topically relevant was also found to rank higher than that which did not cover a topic in depth.
Another study by Can I Rank also showed that higher content ranked higher, just as this study by SerpIQ and Moz.
As much as the different studies have different conclusions on the word count, the general agreement is that longer content tends to rank higher. From the angle of the time a user takes to consume the content (dwell time), 7 minutes seems to be the minimum.
Here at SEOptimer we use ‘500 words’ as our indicator of a good content length based on research and studies.
While there are no minimum requirements from Google. They did mention in their Quality Rating Guidelines 6.2 Low Quality Main Content (MC):
Some Low quality pages are unsatisfying because they have a small amount of MC for the purpose of the page. For example, imagine an encyclopedia article with just a few paragraphs on a very broad topic such as World War II. Important: An unsatisfying amount of MC is a sufficient reason to give a page a Low quality rating.
What is it really that makes long content rank higher?
- Relevance – There is a high likelihood that longer content tends to cover a topic in-depth, making it more relevant. Google tends to rank content that is relevant higher, and such content also results in lower bounce rates.
- User intent – Longer content also tends to serve user intent better when compared to shorter content pieces. If a user wants to buy fishing gear for instance, a long article or video that covers all the aspects of good fishing gear, where to buy, how to know the best gear to buy, questions to ask a supplier before buying, and even goes ahead to compare different brands is highly likely to serve that user’s intent than a shorter piece of content.
- Value – the truth is that when it comes to content length, visitors may spend a considerable amount of time consuming a piece of content full of fluff, or that uses complex sentence structure, and redundant examples, in a bid to get the gist. These visitors are not likely to return to that site after such an experience. The value in a particular piece of content matters.
- Message – the message that you want to put across determines how long the piece of content should be. If the message is short, there is no need to force long content. This is where redundancy comes in. You have for instance read long articles on how a company changed its model and got an 80% increase in CTR. Such content will be more self-focused, and provide little value if any, to the user. It would have been better if they had extracted simple, practical steps from their story and created content around that. The message, in this case, is short, there is no need to belabor the point.
Content length and niche
While there are many studies to show that the length of content matters for ranking, shareability, and traffic, Rand Fishkin brings another perspective into the whole discussion. According to his point of view, it is good to consider factors like whether the content analyzed targets audiences similar to yours, is in the same niche and uses keywords that you might be targeting.
This chart above by Viperchill breaks down the content length per niche. If your niche is not included here, you can use a tool like Ahrefs to do a mini-analysis. If you go to their Content explorer and type in a keyword, you will see the most popular content for that keyword and word count for each link:
For instance, you can look at the top 10 results in your niche, and try to get an average of the length. You can also use a specific keyword to do a little analysis of the same.
We have looked at long-form content, what it means, and why it ranks. Having long content is not enough on its own. Ensure that it is relevant, has value, meets user intent and that the message therein needs to be packaged in long-form content. It may help to consider Rand Fishkin’s perspective too.