Category Archives: On-Page Optimization

Video Optimization SEO

Video has a couple of different purposes in SEO. Including a video in your page can help your page rank slightly. But the larger use of video is to try to optimize the video so that the video itself ranks in the search results, and ranks in YouTube video search.

The importance of YouTube in the world of video cannot be overstated. YouTube (owned by Google) is actually the world’s second largest search engine. More people search on YouTube than they do on Yahoo or Bing.

Of course they don’t search for the same things — far fewer people will search YouTube for “pizza delivery” than they will for the latest pop song, but there are many people who have built their entire business by acquiring customers via YouTube.

Suffice to say, if you’re going to use video as part of your marketing or traffic acquisition plans, you probably want that video to be on YouTube.

Where Videos Rank

YouTube videos give you two different high-traffic places to rank: on YouTube itself and in Google’s standard universal search results. For some search queries Google like to show a video or two, even if the ranking signals for those videos are much lower than the ranking signals needed by anything else to get on the page.

This can be a shortcut onto the first page of search results. Often a site that doesn’t yet have the authority to rank can get to page one via a YouTube videos. Similarly a site that is ranking on the first page still benefits from video because Google will rank your site and the video result (which will point to the video on YouTube). It’s a fairly easy way to eat up a second slot on page one, which means there’s one less spot on page one for your competitors to rank.

Ranking a page and a video in the SERPs

I’m not saying that video is for everyone. For many queries Google just isn’t going to show any video results, and no one is searching for the keywords on YouTube. Ecommerce sites in particular have difficulty ranking videos in the competitive product landscape. But a surprising number of sites can boost their traffic through well-optimized videos.

YouTube Video Optimization

YouTube video optimization is very similar to standard video optimization, but stripped down and with a couple additional metrics thrown into the mix. Your on-page video optimization factors include:

  • Video title
  • Video description
  • Category
  • Tags

As with standard on-page optimization, don’t go crazy with this. You absolutely want to include your keywords in all these fields, but don’t go stuffing it with keywords and make it look spammy. In addition to these standard on-page optimizations YouTube has some other factors, including:

  • Resolution: Google gives bonus points to high res videos, so make them at least 720p
  • Number of views
  • Number of views to completion (if a lot of people watch the first 15 seconds and leave, that’s a sign that the video probably isn’t very good)
  • Likes and comments
  • There are indications that including an in-video transcription via YouTube’s tools (not done in your own video editor) also improves topical relevance

And of course in addition to these we have the standard authority signals, except in the case of YouTube videos, embeds count as an authority signal. Thus if lots of people take your YouTube video and embed it in their blogs, that’s a signal that your video is probably pretty good and should rank higher.

Similarly, the surrounding content of sites that embed videos also help let Google understand what the video is about. If a video is embedded in a bunch of posts about the World Cup, then Google is more confident that the video is about the World Cup, and that people find it to be a good video that people interested in the World Cup will probably like.

Finally, you can create a video XML sitemap for YouTube videos (or any videos) that are embedded on your site. Unlike a regular sitemap, a video sitemap can actually improve the ability of your video to rank, because it can give Google more information about the video that Google cannot get just by crawling the page hosting the video.

You can find instructions on how to create a video XML sitemap here. Once created just post it to your site and submit the link to Google via Google Search Console.

Video Promotion & Competition

Competition on YouTube is much smaller than it is on the internet as a whole, and as such there are some small niches where the competition is so small you can rank your video well purely on topicality signals (and even have it rank in standard Google universal search when the video block appears). I once worked with a metal stamping manufacturer and got their cellphone-quality video to rank for YouTube and on the first page of Google, just because so few other metal stamping companies had any videos at all. The competition was incredibly low.

But for areas where there is competition, you will have to promote your videos. Just like you’re not going to get your site to rank in Google with on-page work alone, in most cases you won’t get your video to rank without promotion.

The best way to promote videos is to already have a blog with many subscribers, or a strong social media following. When I was running my World of Warcraft site, the site was popular enough that I didn’t need to work hard to rank videos: I just posted them, and the most popular ones got shared all over the place. Eventually I had many videos with hundreds of thousands of views.

But if you don’t already have a following in place, many of the approaches to authority building in Authority: Off-Site will apply to spreading the word about your video. Note that because video plays to completion will help your ranking, even social shares of your video will directly improve your video ranking ability within YouTube search. Leveraging the social networks of friends and peers can be a great way to spread word of your video and boost the views and rankings.

Image Optimization SEO

Image optimization is similar to the SEO we do for normal web page optimization, but slightly different. The idea behind image optimization is that you’re trying to get your image to rank in Google’s image search. And remember that image search blocks are sometimes pulled into Google’s regular (universal) search results:

Google SERPs image block with kittens

At one point image search was a significant part of the SEO strategy for certain kinds of sites. They collected (or stole) great images on topics that people were interested in, and worked to get those images to rank well for related searches in Google’s image search. The user would see the thumbnail and click through to the site to get access to the full-sized image.

These sites typically monetized their sites with ads, so every time someone clicked through to get to the full-sized image, they landed on a page that had some ads as well as the image they were looking for. Some ecommerce sites even got a decent amount of traffic from image search: image traffic converted worse than regular search traffic, but it still converted, so they tried to get their product images to rank.

Google Takes Your Images, and Your Traffic Too

Unfortunately, Google has since changed image search as part of its efforts to keep people from leaving Google. Now in Google’s image search you can click on any image to see a larger version right in the image search results, and Google gives you the option to click through to the site, or the option to just view (or download) the full-sized image directly from Google.

When they launched this feature, traffic from Google image search dropped dramatically. Image search was never a primary focus of SEO, but its value is vastly lower than ever now that Google just takes your images and serves them to users themselves.

That said, you can still get some traffic through image search. Let’s talk about what you can do to optimize your images for that small percentage of image traffic that still remains to us. It’s not hard to do, so you may as well optimize for it all. Just don’t sink a huge amount of time into it.

Image SEO Ranking Factors:

  • The filename of your image should include the keyword you want to rank for. Don’t name your image “DCM8873.jpg” — name it “cute-cat-slays-dragon.jpg” This is a substantial ranking factor in image search.
  • The image alt text helps Google understand what your image is about. This text appears within the image html tag like this: <img src=”blah.jpg” alt=”Cute kitten slays real life dragon!”> Obviously your alt text should also accurately describe your image, and be pretty short.
  • Surrounding text: a meaningful image ranking factor is the text on the page that the image lives on, especially the text immediately before and after the image. Google assumes that your image will be relevant to the part of the page where you insert it.
  • Links: images can have authority just like web pages do. The more people that link to a picture, and to the page that the picture is on, or who embed your picture in their sites, the better that picture will rank.
  • Size: Google seems to prefer delivering larger images over smaller ones, though other ranking signals can certainly push the smaller images to the top.

It’s pretty easy to be in the habit of saving your image file name with logical keywords, and likewise it’s easy to toss in some decent alt text when you’re embedding the image in your content. You should be optimizing the text on the page itself anyway, so all in all tending to some basic image optimization isn’t really much additional work.

If image search is an important part of your strategy, it may be worth your while to create an image XML sitemap. Similar to a regular XML sitemap, the idea behind the image sitemap is to help Google find all the images on your site so that it can include them in its image search. Of course just like a regular sitemap, the presence of an image sitemap does not in any way guarantee that Google will choose to include your image.

However, unlike regular sitemaps the image sitemap can actually help your rankings: because Google doesn’t understand images very well, the information about the image that you include in the sitemap can help Google understand the topical relevance of the image, which can help it rank better.

You can learn how to create an image sitemap here.

Story Time: How Content Can Win it All

So now that we’ve discussed the truth and lie of Content is King, there are situations where content can do most of the heavy lifting for you. In low competition niches, sometimes you can build a successful site with just content coupled with good on-page and technical SEO — but it is a slow process and only works when competition is very low.

This is the story of a site that won a small niche without authority building / marketing efforts.

Warcraft Hunters Union

In 2007 I started a blog about playing the hunter class in the online video game World of Warcraft. I started the site because I wanted a platform to experiment with various SEO things, and chose the topic because I loved the game.

Grandpappy Frostheim

Grandpappy Frostheim, the name I wrote under for years

I retired from blogging there years ago, but the site is still up at warcrafthuntersunion.com

I never did any authority building for the site. Never once did I ask anyone for a link, or reach out to anyone to promote my content.

Instead I built a strong SEO site structure and wrote well-optimized individual pages. I wrote a new post every weekday without fail, for years, and the average word count was over 500 words. I did keyword research to find out what kind of topics my audience was searching for, wrote in-depth articles explaining those topics, and made sure that my site was interlinking to those articles well.

I spent hours upon hours reverse-engineering the mathematical formulas that control the game, so I could understand and explain how to optimize them (we called it theorycrafting, and it’s really not a whole lot different from SEO testing & research).

World of Warcraft Hunter math

I told my friends about the site, and for a while they were my only readers. I did not create a sitemap or submit the site to Google. Google discovered it on its own within a couple weeks.

Eventually Warcraft Hunters Union began to rank for some long tail searches. With that I began to get some traffic. Because I had great content that answered players’ questions combined with other entertaining content, some of those searchers started linking to my site from other sites and forums. In particular those guides that I wrote based on keyword research attracted links.

As the site started accumulating links, the ranking started increasing faster and faster. There wasn’t much competition in the space, and the competition I did have was largely ignorant of SEO and did a very poor job of optimizing their own sites, making it even easier to rank.

Over the next few years the site grew until it was widely considered the preeminent source for World of Warcraft hunter info. I was offered a paying gig writing a monthly column for the AOL site devoted to World of Warcraft news. I made guest appearances on podcasts, attended conventions where I signed autographs, was invited to consult with the game developers and I even had an item in World of Warcraft named after me. At its peak the site was attracting around 30,000 visits and 80,000 pageviews a day.

A song/video I made for the site — over 1 million views.

This is how great content is supposed to work, and this is what success looks like to the people who say Content is King. The idea is that you rank on the very long tail and get a wee trickle of traffic, but your stuff is so amazingly good compared to everything else out there that people start sharing it and linking to you on their own, and that is how you build authority to your site. Over the course of years.

Unfortunately, most sites can’t do this. The level of competition on the internet is so high now that for most niches you won’t even rank in the long tail without decent links pointing to your site. For sites that aren’t informational like Warcraft Hunters Union was, it’s even harder. After all, if your site sells iPhone covers, it’s going to be pretty much impossible to have something incredibly unique to say that a hundred other sites don’t also share.

There are two lessons to this story. The first is that even for sites where you can eventually rank on content alone, you still need links, just the idea is that the content is so great that people start linking to it because they want to point other people in your direction (and it takes years).

The second lesson is that with the vast majority of sites, content alone still isn’t an option. You have to have a way to get links to that content before it’s going to rank, which means you have to have a way of promoting the content, which is where authority-building tactics come into play.

Boss Down motivational poster

Content Is King: The Great Truth and Lie of SEO

You can’t read SEO forums or new sites for long before you’ll hear someone declaring that Content is King! This is both one of the great truths of SEO, and one of the most deceptive lies.

The Truth

Content is absolutely very important for SEO. I’ve spent a lot of the Topicality section stressing the need for quality, useful, and longer content. Good content makes ranking much easier, and it’s vital for attracting the long tail searches, which is the bulk of your potential traffic.

For most sites, most of the time, you simply cannot rank without good and well optimized content.

We’ll also learn later in the Authority: Off Site section that content is also key to many authority-building tactics. And when we get into the world of authority building, the bar for content is much higher: good content isn’t good enough. It has to be great, and have some kind of unique twist.

So yes, content is super important. Does this make it King? Well… I’m not authorized to grant sovereignty within the SEO industry, but even if I were I’d still be reluctant to give content the crown. Because when you say content is king, you start to spread misunderstandings that begin to echo across the SEO interwebs.

The Lie

When inexperienced SEOs read Content is King and Content Marketing proclaimed again and again, it creates the impression that all you have to do is create great content, and the Google rankings will follow. And that is demonstrably not true. It is so incredibly far from the truth that it looks a lot like a lie.

In fact, it is a lie.

Content alone is rarely enough. Great content on a site that doesn’t rank will simply never be seen. The site needs authority in addition to topicality to rank, and no one is going to link to that great content if they don’t know it exists.

Great content that’s marketed will without proper optimization and internal site structure will also struggle or fail to rank.

Content must be combined with on-page optimization, with promotion or outreach for that content, and that must be combined with a good site structure and internal site authority flow.

For the vast, vast majority of sites on the internet, no one piece of the SEO puzzle is king. It takes all of them working together to win the SEO race against the competition.

Content can be considered the foundation of your SEO house. Without a good foundation you probably don’t want to live there. But you also don’t want to live there without walls, or a roof, or high-speed internet. If great content is your only strategy, you’re sleeping on a bare concrete slab while rain soaks your britches and raccoons nibble your toes; and you don’t feel a lot like a king.

Optimization Saturation and the Limit of Topicality

Some correlation studies have found interesting and contradictory things about topicality, which led me to do some experiments with surprising results. It appears that there is a cap to topicality: at some point your page is considered optimal for a given keyword, and further topicality improvements won’t help.

And that topicality cap isn’t as high as most SEOs think.

This point of optimization saturation has a big impact on how much effort we need to put into our topicality optimization, and means that there is no reward for perfect. It turns out just getting pretty close is actually just as good as perfect.

Correlation Studies & SEO Testing

I read a correlation study in 2012 that found no correlation between the title tag and rankings. This surprised me since it’s generally considered one of the more important topicality signals. More importantly, I have personally seen substantial increases in ranking just by improving title tags. Not just once, but many, many times. All SEOs have.

So I set out to prove this study wrong.

I approached it in two ways: I took pages that were ranking highly for a keyword, and completely removed the keyword from the title tag; then I built new pages with no keyword in the title tag, waited for them to rank, then optimized the title. I did this for a over dozen sites in all industries, with all traffic levels. I did this both on in incredibly competitive keywords and fairly noncompetitive ones (one of the advantages of working in an agency is the ability to test on a lot of different sites — with their permission, of course).

What I learned surprised me. Indeed, for page after page the title appeared to have no impact on rankings! This was shocking. It ran in the face of common belief and personal experience. But then I started encountering some pages where, as I expected, the title was hugely important. I removed the keyword from the title and when the page was reindexed the rankings fell precipitously.

Optimization Saturation

I eventually realized what was happening: the pages that were well-optimized (which was most of them I was working on, of course) had no ranking change when the title was changed. But pages that were not well optimized — ones with only a short paragraph using the keyword once or twice — were hugely influenced by the title tag.

With this hypothesis in mind, I then expanded the test and was able to verify that this was in fact the case. Not just with the title tag, but also with the URL. As long as the content of the page itself was of a decent length, on topic, and had good keyword (and synonym/variant) usage, the other topicality elements didn’t matter at all.

And while this was a departure from common SEO thought, it also makes perfect sense.

Topicality is essentially just telling Google whether or not the topic of the pages matches the search query. Some pages might just mention it once, others might be pretty relevant while the best Google is confident are entirely about the query.

But at some point, when your page is entirely about the keyword, it can’t be more about it. And there are enough pages out there with poor URL structure or flavorful titles that aren’t keyword rich that these can’t be required signals if Google is to do its job well.

Implications of Optimization Saturation

This is why I take a somewhat more laid back approach to on-page optimization than you’ll see in a lot of other SEO guides and books: they stress the importance of optimizing every factor to the smallest degree. But we now know that while every factor can matter, if we’re doing our jobs well not every factor will matter.

If you have genuinely good content with good keyword usage, that is very likely enough right there. Including the keyword in the title and URL is still absolutely something you should do, but it’s more of a safety net than something that’s going to make a big difference. Definitely don’t waste your time going back and changing the URL of every page to squeeze the last ounce of SEO juice out — because you probably have all the topicality juice you can get.

If you’re very confident in the quality of your content optimization and length, you can even use the title tag to target a related keyword, rather than your primary keyword (as long as it still makes a good title for CTR purposes, of course).

Confirmation on Wayfair.com

Years after doing this research, I encountered some big confirmation of this while leading the SEO team at Wayfair.com.

An accidental code change altered the title tags of every page on every site. For one site (Wayfair) this made no difference to rankings and traffic. For another site (AllModern) rankings feel hugely.

In the case of AllModern, we used the title tag to optimize the word “Modern” for our topicality: because the pages themselves often never even used the word modern (generally for good reasons), or used it seldom. So with poor “modern” optimization, the title tag was vital. But on Wayfair a page selling Beds was well optimized for “beds” by default, so the title tag was irrelevant.

I wrote up this “accidental SEO test” along with a summary of other findings over at Moz.com.

Oh, and here’s one final fascinating tidbit on the topic: the only on-page factor that does not appear to have a cap is word count. More words is always better.

Keyword Density: Not a Real Thing

Back in the wee early days of SEO when SEOs were far more obsessed with topicality than they are now (because less was known about it, and because it was possible to rank on topicality alone) there was a lot of speculation about what exactly the ideal keyword density was.

The idea here is that if you used your keyword in the content more often, you would be more topically relevant. But, if you used it too much it would look like spam. SEOs guessed that Google detected that spam by setting a threshold for keyword density: perhaps it was 5%, meaning 5% of your words should be your keyword.

It probably goes without saying, but this led to some truly awful content that read like it was written by a used car salesman in the late stages of syphilitic dementia.

Keyword Density: It’s Not a Thing

Pretty quickly, however, we learned that in fact Google had no keyword density formula. It turns out Google’s algorithm had much more sophisticated ways of determining if you were spamming, and in fact a lot of those people trying to follow keyword density formulas did poorly because their content still read like spam.

Don’t worry about exactly how many times you should use the keyword in your text. Write naturally and make sure you mention the keyword or variants several times, and at least once every couple of paragraphs, and you should be fine.

Keyword density is good for one thing though: along with the meta keywords tag, it’s a sure-fire way to identify people who don’t actually know SEO, but claim they do.

Minor Topicality Factors

There are a host of minor topicality factors, many of which are probably not even be factors at all. This includes things like H1 or H2 tags, bold or italicized text, etc. Mass correlation studies have repeatedly found no correlation between these signals and rankings.

It is possible that they have some minor impact, but it is certain that you don’t need to worry about them. We don’t know that these matter, but we do know there are millions of pages that top the rankings without them.

You should worry about the content and keyword usage on your site, not the tags around them.

H1/H2 tags in particular are something that you’ll hear SEOs around the world swear are important — and they know it because someone else told them so. But they’ve never tested it (because if they did, they wouldn’t keep insisting it matters).

In point of fact, headlines can be important — the big bold text at the top of a page or a section of text. However, it doesn’t matter if the headline is in a H1 tag, or a div, or a span, or any other kind of styling. All that matters is that it is big bold text, now how you make it big and bold.

Unique Text

While we’re discussing on-page optimization and recommending having nice long text content, it’s worth taking a moment to stress that you need unique text. That is to say, text that does not exist elsewhere on the internet.

I don’t mean that you can’t talk about the same subject: you can have a guide to flipping houses even though there are hundreds of other guides to flipping houses. But you cannot just copy and paste the text from those other guides.

It’s okay to occasionally quote other sites, but other than those small excerpts, every single sentence of your content should be your own, different from others.

Non Unique Content = Stealing

There are all kinds of black hat techniques that revolve around stealing content from other people’s sites and mixing and twisting it in an attempt to fool algorithms. Don’t do this.

If Google suspects that your content is just swiped from other sites, it will not rank your page. If Google decides that many of your pages are swiped from other sites, it could well just decide not to rank anything on your site (Google has special algorithms that do just this).

One of the strange things about working in SEO is that you have to clarify tactics by telling people not to steal. In any other industry that would be a given. But in the SEO world, you would be amazed at the shortcuts people look for.

Remember what I said at the very beginning: there are no shortcuts. In the end shortcuts will come back to bite you. Just do it right the first time and avoid the penalties in the first place.

Long Tail Optimization

Optimizing for the long tail can be a confusing thing for a lot of people new to SEO. After all, how exactly do you optimize your page for keywords when you don’t know what those keywords are?

For the most part, long tail optimization is the combination of three factors:

  • Optimize for the related head terms
  • Higher authority
  • Have more quality text on the page

If you have a page about how to make soap, your head term is probably something like “how to make soap.” The better your rank for that, the better you’ll rank for long tail searches related to that.

Other than the head term, the higher your authority the better the chance that you’ll rank for any text on the page. And of course the final factor is that the text the user is searching for has to be somewhere on the page for you to be able to rank for it.

Typically the easiest way to boost your long tail is to add to your word count. As we discussed above, this only works if you’re adding actually useful information to your word count. And of course it will have the side benefit of increasing your ability to rank for your head terms!

Optimizing for Long Tail Keyword Groups

It is possible to deliberately target certain classes of long tail searches. This technique is most useful on large sites: for enterprise sites very small percentage gains in traffic acquisition can translate into large amounts of revenue. When I worked for a top 10 ecommerce retailer, if I could boost traffic to product pages by a percent or two, that translated to millions of dollars in revenue. On my AwesomeDice.com, that would translate into something like five bucks.

The typical approach to target long tail classes is to insert a programmatic text block into the site template that is a sort of fill-in-the-blank template. The templated text includes the long tail keywords that you think are worth targeting across the site. For example, if you wanted to target “reviews” keywords, you could use a block like this on all your product pages:

Site Name is your low cost source for [product name] reviews. Get all the specs and reviews of [product name] so you can buy with confidence. With thousands of verified reviews of [category] products by unbiased users, you know you’re getting the best information in the industry.

This kind of templated text block puts the word “reviews” three times on every product page of the site. By dynamically inserting the product and category name we make this text block slightly different from page to page (if it’s perfectly identical Google will likely ignore it).

Important Note: you must also have truly unique content on the page. Do not fill up thousands of pages with only dynamic text blocks like this. That can get you penalized. But this block appended after a unique description can yield great results in large sites.

Of course the ideal way to integrate your long tail classes is by having your copywriters include them when they’re writing the content for the page. That approach is not really practical for large established sites, and those are the sites who will benefit from this strategy most.

Common Long Tail Keyword Groups

Here are some common long tail clusters that are often worth targeting by appropriate businesses:

  • Reviews terms: reviews, editorial reviews, best
  • Regional terms: for local businesses it’s well worth it to have local state/city terms on every page
  • Time/Date terms: for informational sites, you would be surprised how often people add the current year to their search to make sure they’re getting currently relevant information
  • Transactional terms: “buy” “for sale” “purchase” and “online” are all terms with high transactional intent
  • Gender: certain businesses are targeting one gender specifically (such as clothing), and including that gender in their content can boost long tail for their target audience

Word Count: Bigger is Better

In the world of SEO, longer is better. Every correlation study on rankings finds a meaningful correlation between total word count (or number of characters) and rankings.

This make sense when you look at it from a machine point of view: an algorithm doesn’t actually understand what’s written on a page. If you have a page all about volcanoes the algorithm can pick up from keyword usage, titles, URLs and other signals that yes, this is a page about volcanoes. But it doesn’t know how good the article is, other than it comparing it to other articles that have lots of authority signals.

So now let’s say we have two pages about volcanoes. All you know is that they both include volcanoes in the titles, URLs and the copy of the text. But one article is 100 words, and the other is 1,000 words. Which do you think is more likely to be useful to someone searching for volcanoes?

Probably the longer one.

And this appears to be exactly how Google works. Your page’s word count should be as long as possible while still being quality, useful content, and while still giving a good user experience.

Don’t Add Words: Add Useful & Readable Words

Certainly any copywriter could give a 5,000 word description of every product on your site, but it would read like a weird stream-of-consciousness ramble, the Ulysses of product descriptions. Further, no shopper wants to read 5,000 words to figure out if this is the right toilet cleaner.

But, you can almost certainly write more than 50 words about that toilet cleaner. In fact, getting up to at least a couple hundred words is probably pretty easy and still useful for customers; more useful than the 50 word description.

Be the Best

So when you’re writing the content for your pages, try to keep the word count on the higher end of the appropriate range. It helps not to think of hard word counts (which encourages fluff) but instead take the mindset that you want an in-depth discussion of the topic. You want to be, in essence, the best place on the entire internet to read about your keyword — you’re trying to rank better than everyplace else, after all, which means you really should be better.

The great thing about this approach is that a longer, more in-depth article is exactly the kind of thing that attracts that very important long tail. After all, the more you say, the more chances you have of hitting certain word combinations that someone out there will type into their Google search box (or put another way: the more you say on a topic, the more likely you are to answer a question someone has).

For example: you have a page about how to make a bed. You could probably cover this with 50 words in a handful of bullet points with a couple illustrations. Congratulations: you have done the bare minimum to complete your task and produced a mediocre guide.

Problem is, no one is Googling to find a mediocre guide. They want the best.

But what if instead of just the basics you discussed the differences between king-sized beds and twin beds? Or also talked about making the bed for a crib? You could discuss the differences based on how many layers of blankets, duvets and pillows you have; hospital corners vs the fastest way to make things presentable. Maybe you could give a quick and dirty 30-second version of making a bed, contrasted to a making beds for royalty. How to get the sheet so tight that quarters bounce off of it.

This longer version covers the same ground as the short version, but it also does much, much more. It’s actually more useful to users because it gives more options and answers more potential questions that a reader might have. It doesn’t extend the word count with fluff, but instead talks about useful information, and now people searching specifically for king, crib, duvet, pillows, hospital corners or whatever are also going to have a chance to find your article, as well as just those searching for your head term “how to make a bed.”

And we have to remember that it’s not just about word count; it has to be useful word count. Content without value is spam. If you’re just filling words with fluff, restating the same thing three different ways, then your website is filled with spam.

Keep User Metrics in Mind

Remember that it’s not just about topicality, and in fact it’s not just about authority. Those pesky user metrics pop up as well, meaning your text must perform well with users. You absolutely do not want them going to another site to read another article on the same topic after reading yours — yet another reason to be as in depth as possible.

But that also means you cannot have a giant wall of text (though to be fair, that’s decent description of this very article by now — illustrating how different content presentations are appropriate for different topics and audiences).

A Story of Word Count Data

I was working with a content team that tended to write incredibly short pieces of content (rarely over 100 words; it was not uncommon to have 30-word “content” pieces).

They believed that shorter content was better: more digestible, more modern internet age. They were reading advice for sites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy while writing for a major ecommerce brand.

I dug into some data for them by building a list of every possible guide (buying guide, how-tos, etc) that was relevant for the site and had any kind of search volume at all. I then pulled up a list of the most popular articles on those topics based on which had the most social media shares.

It turns out the most shared articles had an average word count of 700 words. (It’s also worth noting the average #1 ranking article in Google for that list had an average word count of 1,000 words).

They thought by making things shorter and simpler they were making it better — but in fact looking at the data showed that their readers wanted more information, not less. Making their articles more comprehensive was better for SEO and for their readers.

Now, this isn’t always the case, but looking at the length and detail of both the top ranking pages and the top socially shared pages can be a good guide. Just be sure not to fall into the trap of cherry picking just the longest or shortest find. Look more for how detailed and comprehensive the popular stuff is rather than just at raw word counts.