What's New in Website Trends: Go Long!
Why go long? Improved search rankings, backlinks, and social shares. But learn the caveats before you dive into the deep end.
Google has come a long way, especially when it comes to page length.
Remember when we were admonished to keep everything “above the fold”? When a 500-word count was the high water mark for web pages? When people didn’t know how to “scroll”?
But then along came social media. Now, with readers trained by the never-ending pages of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, page length is on a roll.
And Google’s on board with it. In fact, as noted by Search Engine RoundTable: “Google Generally Prefers One Stronger Page Versus Many Smaller Pages.”
John Mueller, Google's webmaster trends analyst, noted: Multiple little pages can make it harder for Google to piece together the individual parts and the point of all those pages.
A longer page has an obvious focus. Lots of short pages tend to come off as fragmented and it’s harder to connect the dots.
Plus, a longer page offers a more complete explanation of a topic, which makes it more useful to a larger group of people with related, but different, questions. And, as we all know, more people visiting a web page translates into more “votes” for your site in the eyes of Google.
When you think about it, longer pages just make sense. If I’m researching a vision procedure, say LASIK eye surgery .... how could an article of just 500 words convey all the information I’m looking for? As a prospective patient, I want to know what’s going to happen during the surgery, what I should do after the surgery, the pros and cons of getting the procedure and … well, you get the drift.
Now, maybe all that information is on the website. But if it's not on one page, then I’m forced to open and close a dozen pages to piece it all together. If I’m a typical user with a low threshold for annoyance, I might decide it's easier to return to Google and let the search engine work its magic.
Long form, comprehensive content is clearly good for the user, but its good for you too.
Improved Search Rankings
Multiple studies show that longer content wins in the war of words when it comes to higher search rankings.
SEO analyst Brian Dean in a study of 1 million Google search results found that longer content tends to rank higher in Google. His research buttresses SerpIQ’s study results (below) that showed the average content length of the Top 10 results on Google all averaged over 2000 words.
Longer Content Earns More Backlinks
Longer content is generally more useful, so in addition to attracting more readers, it also tends to garner more backlinks than short content. Research by inbound marketing and sales software developer HubSpot found that articles with a word count over 2,500 earned the most links.
More Social Shares
HubSpot also found that articles with a word count more than 2,500 get shared the most on social media. Again, longer content tends to be more useful, which encourages social media users to share it.
Google’s RankBrain Rewards Long Form Content
Long-form content has the advantage when Google’s RankBrain steps in to assess websites and how high they should land in search results. RankBrain is Google’s artificial intelligence system and an important component in sorting search results.
RankBrain looks at user behavior as a reflection of user satisfaction. One indicator of satisfaction is “Dwell Time,” a calculation of how long a person spends on a page. The fact that a user spends more time on a page indicates to Google that they found the content useful. Not surprisingly, longer dwell times correlate with … you guessed it … longer content.
But ... Length Doesn’t Guarantee Rank
Don’t get carried away with length. Just because content is “long” doesn’t make it “great.” And Google most definitely wants content that is not just long, but great.
And just like your high school English teacher, Google won’t be fooled by rambling sentences strung together to give the illusion of greatness.
So write enough to cover the subject comprehensively. And then stop. Don’t be a blowhard by padding your content for length.
And don’t forget: Content is not just words. Content can be video, images, and animation. By picking a variety of formats for your content, you’ll appeal to a variety of visitors.
Plus, images, video, and animation act as “thumb stoppers” as users scroll down the page. They catch the eye and cause readers to come to a hard stop.
Thumb stoppers are useful digital “road signs” to alert readers to upcoming content, clueing them in that they should slow down and pay attention.
Graphics are also ideal for clarifying complex topics that otherwise would take hundreds of words to explain. Take for example this animation explaining IOL refractive surgery:
Even small typographic flourishes create guideposts to help the reader. Well-written subheads, for example, offer a quick outline for an article and are invaluable for long-form copy.
Tactics that make long copy scannable for hurried readers:
- Numbered lists
- Bullet Points
- Boldface copy
And don’t forget the words themselves. A well-written article pulls the reader along, enticing them to keep reading. Done well, it's like eating potato chips. You can’t stop.
What's a good page length? The answer to that is both art and science: Write just enough to cover the topic. Some topics need only a short answer. Others need more. Sometimes a lot more. Just remember these tips:
- Don’t be afraid of the scroll. Google generally prefers long content. And so do readers: Quality long-form content, on average, earns more engagement, higher rankings, and more shares.
- Don’t assume long content = great content. Write only enough to comprehensively cover the topic. Length alone does not determine greatness.
- Do use “thumb stoppers” — Design, art, and typography capture attention and stop readers mid-scroll.
- Do use a great writing style to keep your readers reading.
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