Long-Form Content For SEO | The Real Truth

Last modified: Saturday, Feb 8, 2020

When it comes to SEO it is a widely held belief that long-form content ranks better.

Long-form content is better than concise content?

Really?

In this article, I am going dispel the myth that it is "universally better".

Back to basics

As an SEO one of our many roles is to help map content to certain common search queries.

We know that all search queries do not require long-form content to do this…

However, the idea that it is superior still persists.

Why?

Three reasons the industry got it wrong...

While there are many studies that show correlation between higher word counts and better rankings, there is no REAL causal proof that more words mean better rankings.

I have yet to see a study that has proven a causal relationship, but more on this later...

Surfer Word Count By Position
A perfect bell curve in this SERP where longer content does not win!

In my article on heuristics I spoke about common cognitive biases...

It is these mental shortcuts that cause us to make inaccurate judgements.

When you really start to think about it, the whole thing sure does seem like an over-simplification...

That is a common sign of cognitive biases trickery at play.

If it were actually true then by now we would already be chruning out 30,000-50,000 word articles to rank in position 1.

No such steady content inflation exists in the SERPs.


Let's recap:

  • Studies focus on correlation, not causation
  • Cognitive biases are definitely at play
  • We are not seeing word count inflation

So then, why do people rank with long-form content?

Why People Rank With Long-Form Content

It’s true that people rank with long-form content, myself included.

I’m not saying it doesn’t work.


- At times it works well because that article satisfies the intent of the search query.

- Plus, if everyone is doing it then of course you'll see it ranking more often.

- Then other factors also come into it such as overall domain authority, backlinks and more.

Many studies, that have further convinced people it works wonders, have ignored those secondary factors...

Take for example the below graph where multiple variables are presented.

SEMRush Content Length
https://www.semrush.com/blog/anatomy-of-top-performing-articles/

The general conclusion of the study, that longer articles rank better is completely ignorant to the role of intervening variables...

Concluding that long-form is more effective, due to correlation with more variables is incorrect and is what is known as a spurious correlation.

In other words the study has proved nothing...


An argument we can't rule out;

  • Longer pieces of content get more links due to design (seo interferrence) or due to people more readily linking to larger resources
  • Therefore links skew the data significantly...
  • Shorter pieces of content could potentially perform better if they received the same amount of links
  • Longer pieces of content rank for more total keywords, though not necessarily better for fewer

Good Long-Form (Laser) vs Bad Long-Form (Shotgun)

Long-form content is very beneficial in certain situations.

What we do have is data to show that it is beneficial as a linkable asset or 'link magnet'.

There is also the fact that some topics simply require a lot of explanation.

There is a massive difference though between content that is long out of necessity and that which isn't.

It's a laser-approach vs a shotgun-approach.

If you're writing an article and the topic requires a lot of content to cover it well then you're actually being laser-targeted with your content.

Shotgun Approach vs Laser Approach
https://www.researchgate.net/figure/A-More-Ancient-Version-of-the-Shotgun-Approach-A-or-a-Targeted-Approach-B-to-Save_fig16_259594793

If you're writing an article and you're adding more content than is necessary that's a shotgun approach.

While you can rank with more content than is necessary, you would rank better if you were laser-targeted and concise.

"It's not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential."
- Bruce Lee

Beware the shotgun approach...

One of the downsides of long-form content, when you’re going with a shotgun approach, is that you can lose relevance.

Another drawback is opening the door to cannibalization...

When conflating the topic you'll often see cannibalization present in long-form content.

Conclusion

Long-form content is amazing when done right and only then.

Most of the studies surrounding the effectiveness has been poorly concluded, and magical thinking has elevated it to legendary status, plus the numbers don't add up.

In all cases, the right amount of content is the right amount of content.

Which is usually anywhere between 250–3,000 words.

Tags: SEO, Content Writing, Long-Form Content, Word Count



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