Perhaps two of the most commonly asked questions in the world of SEO are

  1. How many words of content should be on each page? and
  2. What is the ideal keyword density for a page?

Getting answers and advice on these questions might feel like getting advice on dating; everyone seems to have their own opinion. Truthfully, there’s no right answer for either one of these questions. Just like you shouldn’t believe anyone who says they’ve found the exact secret to dating, you shouldn’t believe anyone who claims to have the magic SEO number for word count or keyword density.

So, while I’m not going to give you any magic numbers, I am going to tell you what to focus on (or not focus on) for each of these questions.

 

How many words of content should be on each page?

Alright, first of all let’s dispel one common myth right off the bat—there’s no minimum word count in order for a page to be indexed or ranked by search engines. There’s just not. Furthermore, there’s no magical number of words per page either. So how will you know how many words to put on your page? Well, that depends on the user.

User Experience

The answer to how many words to put on your page is really more a question of user experience than it is of a specific number. Simply put, focus on writing unique and valuable content that thoroughly addresses your topic. Ask yourself questions such as:

  • Have I addressed possible questions or concerns my reader might have?
  • Have I adequately explained the topic in an engaging way?
  • Is my content thorough enough, but still easily understood by my audience?
  • Is my content unique and informative or valuable?

If you can answer yes to questions like these, then your content is ready – regardless of word count.

The Trend Between Length and Ranking

Now, at this point you’re probably thinking, “But wait, I’ve seen some fancy graphs before showing that pages ranked higher on Google generally have more text!” You’re right. In fact, here’s one source for you. And if you really want to see some length numbers that various SEO experts have given, you can look at this compilation. The important thing to remember is that there are more factors at play here than length alone. It’s a classic case of correlation not proving causation.

The first thing to consider is that data shows that older websites generally have more text on each page. That’s significant because domain age is a proven ranking factor that can increase page rank. So in part, the domain age—not the length—is helping the ranking.

The second consideration is that longer copy often creates a better user experience. For instance, more text is more likely to answer all of a reader’s questions or thoroughly explain a topic. For these same reasons a longer article might be shared more or linked to more. So again, it’s more about writing comprehensive, unique, and valuable copy than it is about hitting a specific word count.

Don’t Write Fluff

Just as you should make sure you write enough so that your content is complete, you should make sure you don’t make your content longer than necessary either. Don’t write fluff for the sake of hitting a perceived magic word count. The damage this will do to user experience will far outweigh any benefit you receive from having more text. A factor like readability is far more important than how long your article is.

I want to be clear on one thing. I’m not saying that longer content doesn’t benefit factors like thoroughness or an increased number of long-tail keywords. For this reason longer articles often do rank higher. What I am saying is that length doesn’t rank better for the sake of length alone. Focus on writing content designed for your audience and use however many words are necessary to do that—be it few or many.

 

Keyword Density

Let’s just nip this one in the bud too. Keyword density is not a ranking factor. It’s just not. The fact that there are so many SEOs who still think that it is a ranking factor is frankly concerning.

If you’re uncertain as to what keyword density is, it’s the number of times a specific word appears on a page compared to the total number of words on the page. So, if I wrote an article with 100 words, and I used the word “apple” three times, the word “apple” would have a keyword density of 3%. For some reason, there is a myth that having a higher keyword density for a keyword will help you rank higher for that keyword. Well, take it from Matt Cutts, that just isn’t true.

In fact, legitimate SEOs like Rand Fishkin don’t even worry about the number of times they use a keyword and don’t use any kind of density metric. Having it one or two times on a page is enough, and if it naturally fits in more than that, great.

Keyword Stuffing

The only thing you should worry about is purposely using a keyword too frequently on a page in order to try to rank higher—known as “keyword stuffing.” This will actually negatively impact your search ranking, and won’t make for a great read for your users anyway. Instead, focus on using that word as you naturally would if keyword density weren’t a factor at all—because it’s not. If you feel like you’ve used the same word a lot, it’s still not a huge concern unless you feel that you did so unnaturally.

To bring it all back to our dating analogy—just be yourself. Be natural. Don’t focus on any magic numbers or formulas, and just do your best to write unique, valuable content that is relevant to your audience.

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Kristine is the Director of Content with Boostability. She brings a decade's worth of communications strategy work to the company. Kristine has a Masters Degree in Leadership and Communications from Gonzaga University and graduated from BYU with her undergrad in Broadcast Journalism. She's worked in television news, public relations, communications strategy, and marketing for over 10 years. In addition to being a part of the marketing team, Kristine enjoys traveling, sports, and all things nerdy.

10 Comments

  • Drew Whitmill, September 25, 2015 @ 12:18 pm

    I completely agree. Lots of times clients ask about keyword density and %. Giving a % gives the wrong idea about the content and honesty the quality of the content as well. Even how much content should be on the page can switch from keyword to keyword.

  • Caz*, September 28, 2015 @ 7:18 pm

    I love the controversial point of view here Jamison! I think a lot of SEO-ers get stuck on “best practices” and suddenly start talking about these things as absolute factors. I suppose it all comes down to how you define a factor. There are many, many, many things not listed as absolute factors that become those “round-about” factors simply because they’re good baby steps to live by. Every major factor has a subfactor. Coming full circle, keyword density or number of words on a page have no hard set rule where Google says, “Please make the minimum keywords on this page….” blah blah blah. There are, however, many tests that say blog posts between 1,800 and 2,400 words in length tend to get the most “play,” and I think we can agree that obvious keyword usage is always going to hurt. The mistake people make is in turning these tested truths on their head and thinking that it also means that pages with less than 1,800 words are not as valuable, for example. That is very far from true. It all comes down to doing whatever is most natural. Some pages naturally have a lot more information than others.

  • Maria Williams, September 29, 2015 @ 1:31 pm

    Good Article Jamison ! I do agree with you and I think it’s important to educate our client’s in regards to this. I read before an article that said that it’s good idea to add synonyms of the keywords as well as keywords that Google will expect to see on the website.

  • Jamison Michael Furr, September 29, 2015 @ 4:10 pm

    Thanks Caz!

    I think a really good way to think about “ranking factors” is that you have your direct ranking factors and your indirect ranking factors. Not sure that those are technical terms, but that has always helped me sort it out anyway. For instance, in this case, we can look at word count as being an indirect ranking factor. So Google isn’t going “this article has XXX words which affects its ranking like this…” Instead, it indirectly affects rank because by being longer, an article might answer more questions, be shared more, etc. – all of which may boost the ranking. On the other hand, a longer article could also negatively impact some of those same things and hurt its ranking.

  • Caz*, October 5, 2015 @ 7:04 am

    You’re absolutely right! And I think those are technical terms enough. 🙂 They certainly make sense.

  • Ben Hanzel, October 21, 2015 @ 12:40 pm

    I see a lot of ‘keyword stuffing’ when browsing on the web. It just looks plain unnatural. Like, if you have a lot of content and the keyword naturally comes up more frequently than normal, I can understand that. As a reader and web-searcher, I don’t want to read something that is unnatural and doesn’t flow.

  • Tonya Davis, October 22, 2015 @ 9:54 am

    Content has certainly come a long way as far as SEO goes. I remember back in the day when the keyword density did matter, and people would just stuff the keyword wherever they could, regardless of how spammy and unnatural it appeared. I’m glad Google decided to crack down on that and started rewarding people for quality content. Makes you wonder what they are going to crack down on next?

  • Jamison Michael Furr, October 27, 2015 @ 5:19 pm

    Thanks – I’m glad you liked it!

  • Josh Virchow, November 9, 2015 @ 8:16 am

    I don’t know about everyone else, but I’ve seen a lot of fluff lately on a lot of websites where you can easily tell that they are trying to just fill their webpage so it looks informational.

  • Marco Panichi, January 27, 2016 @ 1:51 am

    Great article, very good considerations.

    I would like to add another point of view: Quality raters (in detail see Linne guide Quality raters Google) are not asked to rate the pages according to their length, but based on their ability to achieve their own purpose.

    If the goal of a page is “making people laugh with a cartoon”, length of text is areally marginal factor. Instead the cartoon should be well presented, not covered by advertising, loaded quickly.

    So, the crucial point, forever and ever, is the user intent – I suppose.

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