For years, conventional wisdom was that readers wanted bitesize content that could be consumed quickly. In recent years, however, the length of content has crept up as content creators have begun to understand the benefits of longer content. While writing content of that length isn’t quick or easy, in many cases it’s worth the work.
Studies show that the first page of search rankings are dominated by longer-form content. Research from SerpIQ on the top 10 search results for over 10,000 keywords showed that the first ranking Google search result has an average of 2416 words, and the 10th ranked result has an average of 2032 words.
Backlinko, in their study, also found that the pages with longer content consistently ranked better than pages with shorter content.
The length of these pages isn’t a coincidence. Google’s search engine algorithms consistently prefer content with a longer word count. The trend from short to long form content is driven by a desire to take advantage of this. If you aren’t including some long-form pieces of your site, then you’re missing out on a potential boost to your rankings.
However, Google aren’t boosting content based solely on its word count, in the same way that cramming in extra keywords doesn’t work. The driving factor in Google’s rankings today can be simplified to page authority and user experience. Longer word counts give more opportunities to generate the signals that the search engine algorithms use to quantify these two metrics.
When displaying search requests, Google and other search engines want to ensure that the pages being shown are going to be useful to the user. In order to rank highly, search engines need to build trust in a site. A key way they do this by looking at the number of backlinks a site gets.
Long-form content consistently gets more backlinks than shorter content. A study from HubSpot found that content length is strongly correlated with the number of linking domains, up until around 2500 words. Long-form content also tends to continue to get backlinks long after short form content.
Why? High quality long-form content provides more value to the audience than short form content. In addition, long-form content is more impressive and stands out among swathes of shorter blogs.
Search engine algorithms have come a long way since trying to match the search query to words in the text. A key tool in Google’s search engine rankings today is RankBrain, a machine learning algorithm that the search engine uses to understand what the user is searching for, and then measures the user’s interaction with the results. Pages which rank highly for user interaction are boosted in the rankings.
The simplest way to measure interaction is time spent on the page, or dwell time. If you return to the search engine rankings without spending long on the page, the search engine will take that into account when showing rankings in the future. Long-form content has an inherent and obvious advantage here over shorter content.
The key reason why long-form content performs well isn’t that more words are better. Instead, longer word counts provide you with an opportunity for higher quality content. Higher quality content will mean more users share your page and spend longer on it. It’s the quality that counts – not the length.