When developing content for your website – whether it be a blog post or web page – you’re sure to encounter the question of how long your content should be per page. Does it matter?
After all, whether you’re writing the content yourself or paying a freelancer to write it, it’s an important question, leading to either more of your time (if you write it yourself) or more of your money (if you pay to have it written).
But really, there are a couple of questions here. The simple answer is that yes, it matters – though the reasons and takeaways are a bit more complicated.
As Internet Marketers, we want to know:
- Does content length matter for SEO? (Driving leads)
- Does content length matter for the user? (Driving engagement and conversions)
What I hope to make clear here is that these questions are increasingly becoming the same question, mostly revolving around the latter.
After all, search engines are getting better and better at determining when a web page is filled with content that users actually find valuable, making the SEO question itself largely a question about user behavior.
So first, I’m going to make a case for why lengthier content is sometimes – and generally – better for users, and then move on to how this plays into your SEO.
User-Focused Content Length: What The Research Indicates
During the early years of the web, people were pretty averse to the notion that people actually read online.
Studies came out to support this, and it quickly became a well-worn platitude that no one actually reads on the Internet.
But there is an important caveat.
When people say that users don’t read online, they don’t literally mean that they don’t read anything on the web – instead, they mean that they don’t read in a linear fashion, as with a book or magazine, but instead scan text the majority of the time.
(Which is why the final section of this post gives you some actionable tips for keeping long-form content simple to read and scan.)
Not only do people read, however, but it goes a bit further, in a direction that seems counterintuitive.
Users (also known as people) prefer long-form content.
The Proof Is in the Ranking
One of the most famous primary sources for proof of the positive effects of lengthier content is serpIQ’s article from back in 2012 that analyzed content length based on search result rankings.
What they found was an almost-perfect positive correlation. Lengthier content consistently ranked higher.
Subsequently, lots of thought leaders have pointed to this study as an example of h:ow lengthier content (which we define as 1,500+ words) is better for SEO.
SerpIQ went quite in depth with the study, attempting to uncover the reason behind the correlation. In short, it’s not entirely clear cut. There are other things in play, as well, including domain age, the competitiveness of your keywords, etc.
In other words, seeing content length as something with a strong direct tie to organic rankings (i.e. causality), is not seeing the whole picture.
Google does pay some attention to how many words are on your page, but don’t think that lots of words will automatically translate to higher page rankings.
Google pays attention to hundreds of factors when ranking pages, and the weight is continuously shifting toward providing users with real value, with understanding and measuring how useful users are finding content to be.
So, if we’re seeing a positive correlation with content length in 2016, it’s relatively safe to assume that there’s a good reason for it, and it’s closely related to what Google sees as authoritative, valuable, and relevant.
User-Focused Content Length
But we aren’t in the habit of just taking Google’s word for it. And luckily, we don’t have to.
There have been a number of studies that have argued and provided evidence for the point that users engage more with long-form content, including the above-linked serpIQ piece.
For another example, Medium.com – the popular content publishing platform – analyzed user engagement of their articles to determine the optimum read time. What they found was that the sweet spot for content length was 7 minutes of reading time (which roughly averages out to 1,500 – 2,000 words).
Now, Medium is a platform where people typically intend to spend a lot of time reading, so the results might be a little high as compared to other publishers.
But the point remains that people are not averse to reading online.
Especially as publishers, businesses, and the government continue to improve and develop digital assets at an incredible pace, people are increasingly willing to engage with – and trust – the information they find there.
Beyond Time on Page: Analyzing User Engagement
While looking at time on page is an important part of analyzing user engagement, there are other variables to look at that might better our understanding of how – and why – users engage with lengthier content.
In 2009, Moz – an authoritative source on SEO – did a study where they claimed the optimum length for user engagement is 1,800 words.
They based this off how many users had linked to the pieces of content, comparing against how long the content was. Once again, a near-direct positive correlation emerged.
What this indicates is just what the thought bubble in the graph explains: Users like to link to in-depth (lengthy) content.
In fact, according to Buzzsumo, a platform designed for researching what content (and writers) are prominent for specific keywords, “the longer the content, the more shares it gets,” with pages 3,000 – 10,000 word pages receiving the most social shares in their study.
After all, while people may not want to read through that much content, at least in one sitting, they like to share free resources that they believe have long-term, “evergreen” value.
For example, if you were to create the definitive guide on what to do after a car accident in X state, and it ended up being very thorough and lengthy, many more people are likely to share that than they are a short article on the same topic.
But wait, what does this have to do with SEO?
This is what I meant in the beginning by saying that these two questions – like many things dealing with both the SEO and the UX – are becoming conflated, due to Google’s algorithm becoming more sophisticated, able to focus on metrics that pretty much prove the value of content, as opposed to, say simply how many words were on the page.
For example, user engagement is measured, in part, by how long people spend on your site (time on page), something Google takes into account when ranking sites and pages. There’s also talk that Google pays attention to a similar metric called dwell time, but that’s for another discussion.
The point here being that, if users spend 7 minutes reading your content, that essentially proves to Google and other search engines that people are finding your content useful.
That being said, you have to give them 7 minutes of content worth reading if you want them to stay that long.
Conversion-Focused (Read: Quality-Focused) Content Length
Not only is lengthier, high-quality content good for engagement and, therefore, SEO, but it’s also ideal for converting your leads, as well.
Case studies have indicated that long-form content can have a dramatic increase on conversion rates. Some studies show over a 30% bump in conversion rates after switching to long-form over short-form for specific pages.
It seems counterintuitive to some of us, since we’ve heard so much about how people don’t read online, about how bite-sized content is the only way to go, how our attention spans are waning.
But the data just doesn’t back up the notion that long-form content doesn’t sell, and this is really a conversation and debate that transcends Internet marketing.
David Ogilvy, a founding father of modern advertising, has long argued for the benefits of long-form content, particularly in the form of direct mailers. He held fast to the fact-based notion that, if you write useful, engaging content that speaks to your audience’s needs, then people will read it – even when it’s long. Especially when it’s long. And he seems to still be right.
But all of that comes with an important caveat…
Don’t Publish Words for Words’ Sake
Most digital marketers you talk to who are worth their weight will tell you that, in today’s digital climate, quality is so much more important than quantity. Not for SEO and users, but for SEO because of users.
As we’ve shown above, the reason long-form content tends to excel is because people tend to engage with it better and share it more. In the process, it sets you up as an authoritative source of information on X area of law, and can do a lot to promote that reputational aspect of your brand.
But we believe that part of the reason long-form content is more successful is because it’s more thorough and it’s more intentional.
As briefly discussed in the above-linked Medium.com article, there appears to be a positive correlation between long-form content and quality content, which makes intuitive sense.
If you’re dedicated to creating long-form content as a means of increasing engagement with your brand, chances are that you’re doing so intentionally, with a good amount of thought put into the purpose and intent of the content.
Therefore, when people are searching for information about a legal topic, and they want to find an extensive, reliable, singular source of information that will provide them with all they need to know, you can hit this sweet spot with long-form content.
After all, from a user perspective, it’s a pain to skip around to different sites looking for the info you need, and the quicker you can find what you’re looking for, the better.
Hence, if you have a web page or blog post on your site that is a 2,500 word, near-exhaustive breakdown of how to approach a divorce, that piece of content will likely do much more for your site than a 500 word blog post attempting to do the same.
But it’s so important not to get it backwards. Some businesses, when they hear that lengthier content is better, just start publishing as much as quickly as possible. While that tactic may seem great at face value, I hope it’s clear at this point that it’s not likely to be effective.
Think of it this way.
When you hear long-form, you should think more. When you hear content, you should think value.
Long-form content = more value.
Which brings me to my next point…
Some Content is Better than No Content
Just because lengthier content should have a place in your marketing plan doesn’t mean that it should have the only place.
Lengthier content doesn’t make sense for everything on your site. For example, sites such as Roofing Marketing Geeks offers written content at 500 words per page. Perfect for a roofing contractor website. This is true for some law firm websites as well; not all pages have to be extremely long.
You may want to publish some shorter articles on news updates, brief insights to case rulings or an award you’ve been given. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, and this too can help boost your SEO. (Just make sure to share on social media to drive more traffic to your site.)
At the same time, however, this isn’t a very sound approach to your “cornerstone” content, i.e., the primary pages of your website. All of these should be useful, detailed and around 1,500 words.
If a person looking for an attorney finds a competitor’s brief, 500 word page on, for example, auto accident cases, and then your page with 1,500 words of detailed, thorough content on the same, which are they going to be more likely to trust and engage with as a reliable source of useful information?
Which, by the way, is an example of why it’s important to know what your competitors are up to. To get an SEO bump from content length, you’ve got to be producing more (at a higher quality) than your competition.
Rubber Meet Road: How to Write Lengthier Content
To finish up, we wanted to provide a few actionable tips if you’re going to tackle writing some lengthy content for your law firm’s website all on your lonesome.
The Number One Rule: Make every word count
When intentionally creating lengthier content, people tend to fluff. Long paragraphs, all kinds of adverbs and unnecessary sentences.
Don’t be that guy or gal.
- What information would be useful to them?
- What questions do they have?
- What’s causing them the most pain?
We would recommend creating an outline beforehand to make sure that the whole of the piece is geared toward providing that level of value.
And if you’re not certain about what content your audience would find valuable, pay attention to how your content is doing in Google Analytics, and – depending on how deep you want to go – consider spending some time speaking with your client base, either in the form of direct conversations or surveys.
The Number Two Rule: Format for readability
When creating that outline, it’s a good time to think about how you’re going to display your information.
While there’s no one right way to format a long-form piece, there are certainly wrong ways, such as including large blocks of text.
After all, people won’t want to read the whole thing, most likely. They may not need to know the details about this or that aspect of their situation, and you shouldn’t force them to focus hard on finding the info they need.
You may even want to consider including a table of contents and, at the very least, include a lot of subheads, bullet point lists and some imagery, if it would aid in the explanation.
The Number Three Rule: Make Your Offer – but Subtly and with Class
At the end of the day, your business objective with your content is to increase conversions. So of course you have to include an offer in your content. Most likely that will be in the form of a free consultation offer.
The whole point of content marketing is to build trust with your audience by providing them with useful, reliable information that they need, which then ideally leads to them seeing you as an authority, someone they would trust to help with their legal dilemma.
In other words, your content should be doing the heavy lifting. That’s what will get readers to contact your firm; and if you litter your content with redundant pitches that make it abundantly clear that you’re just trying to get a conversion, you’re going to diminish their trust in you.
Remember: Lengthier content = more value.
Need Help with Your Content? You’ve Come to the Right Place
At Black Fin, we put a lot of effort into ensuring that we provide our clients with valuable, user-focused content that speaks to your prospects – and, accordingly, boosts your SEO.
If you’d like information about our rates, or would like to talk with an expert about how to get your content and other digital marketing efforts up to par, give us a call or fill out our short online contact form.