How Long Should a Blog Post Be for SEO in 2018

by on September 10, 2017

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How Long Should a Blog Post Be for SEO in 2018

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How Long Should a Blog Post Be for SEO? The result of this research concludes that the ideal blog post length is 1,200+ words. Medium had reported in 2013 that the ideal length of a blog post is 7 minutes or 1,600 words. In short, the ideal blog length depends on your situation.

Read the rest of the post for how to get the ideal blog length based on existing data from your website, and how the answer of ‘1,200+ words is the best length for a blog post’ was determined for this site.

What You’ll Learn in this Post:

  • Why you should still consider blog post length in 2018
  • How to find the optimal word count for your content

Finding the Optimal Word Count for SEO

SEOs and content marketers are always trying to figure out what it takes to drive their content to the top of search results. One frequently talked about attribute of content is word count. People want to know, what length gives their content the best odds of reaching the top of the organic search results? digital marketing budget calculator

You usually get an answer like this:

blog post length

Which is true. Always focus on quality over quantity. A lot of words is not going to make up for a crappy post.

However, if you’re already in the practice of producing what you might consider to be “high quality” content, is there a certain word count threshold that drives incremental organic traffic?

The question of optimal content length – be it for SEO, social media, earning backlinks, etc. –  has been researched and answered, one way or another, time and time again. In 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. These are just a few examples, but there’s no doubt that you can find dozens of pieces of content on the subject each year as long as SEO has been around.

But as search engine algorithms change year-to-year, you can expect that the “ideal” word count for SEO does too. That’s why we’re rehashing this topic yet again to figure out exactly how long a blog post should be as we approach 2018.

Two Ways to Answer this Question

Most studies into this topic of word count and SEO take one of two approaches. They either analyze the ranking content for a broad set of keywords across many websites or industries. Or, they look at a single website (perhaps their own) to understand optimal post length for a more limited content set.

Although I enjoy combing through the big analyses, I’m a fan of the latter approach for two reasons:

 

  1. The ideal length of content is going to vary by industry and region. You probably aren’t competing against Wikipedia’s content, which can be monstrously long. So their content should factor into your analysis. Instead, you’re more likely to reach a valuable conclusion for your business if you’re looking at performance of your content by word count.
  2. It’s easier for me to do.

For example, I conducted this analysis for TimBDesign.com. I found that when they produce content of over 1,200 words, it performed significantly better, on average, at driving organic traffic.

blog post length

However, the same may not be true for your website or industry. In this post, I’ll walk you through the steps I took to arrive at these findings and show you how you can analyze the performance of your content to find the optimal word count for SEO.

How to Analyze Your Content for Optimal SEO Word Count

At this point, you may be thinking, “I don’t have enough content or organic traffic to my site worth analyzing.” That’s ok. I’ll also be showing you how you can analyze a competitor’s content with this method. Either way, you’ll come away with insights on the best post length for SEO.

First, we’re going to need to gather some data. Specifically, we want to know:

  • Organic traffic by post
  • Word count by post
  • Publish date by post (we’ll use this to exclude recently-published content that hasn’t yet had time to earn organic rankings)

Here are the tools we’ll need:

  • Screaming Frog
  • Google Analytics
  • SEMrush or Ahrefs (if you’re analyzing a competitor’s website)

Now that we have everything, let’s get started. Follow along as I analyze TimBDesign.com.

1- Connect Screaming Frog to the Google Analytics API

This will speed up our analysis. If you’re analyzing a competitor’s website, then skip to the next section.

Open Screaming Frog. Navigate to Configuration > API Access > Google Analytics. Then, get your GA account added:

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As you see above, make sure that you change the Segment to Organic Traffic.

Next, we need to expand the default date range to one year. Do that on by clicking on the Date Range tab.

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When you’re done. Click OK.

2- Set Up Screaming Frog to Capture Publish Date

As I mentioned earlier, we need to snag each post’s publish date. Why? We want to exclude recent posts from our analysis. We shouldn’t expect a post published last week to have already reached its organic traffic potential no matter how many words it has.

If the site you’re analyzing is like TimBDesign.com, then somewhere on a blog post you’ll find its publish date. For example, see the highlighted region below:

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Screaming Frog allows us to easily grab this information using custom extraction rules. Navigate to Configuration > Custom > Extraction.

The extraction method we’ll be using is XPath. If you want to what XPath is or how you can use it, then I suggest you check out Distilled’s guide on the subject. Name your custom extraction rule “Publish Date”.

blog post length

Now we need to fill in the XPath query. Here’s the simplest way to do so.

  • Using Google Chrome. Go to a blog post on the website you’re analyzing.
  • Find the post’s date, and right-click on it. Choose Inspect.
  • You’ll shown the HTML / CSS code that renders the publish date.

blog post length

  • In the Inspect window, right-click on the HTML element containing the publish date. Then choose Copy > XPath.

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  • Go back to Screaming Frog and paste the copied XPath into the custom extraction field. Your XPath will be different, but it should resemble something like this:

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  • Change the last drop-down on the right to Extract Text. Then click OK.

3- Run the Screaming Frog Crawl

Enter the full URL of the site you’d like to crawl at the top and hit Start.

Make sure that Screaming Frog is successfully pulling organic traffic from Google Analytics and extracting the publish date for each post.

Navigate to the Analytics tab. You should see GA data feeding into the appropriate tabs, like so:
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Navigate to the Custom tab. Change the Filter to Extraction. Check to see that there are publish dates for each post.

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Don’t worry if you also see text being pulled in. We’ll extract the date in a moment.

4- Export the Crawl, Import into Google Sheets for Analysis

Once your crawl is finished, export all the data to a CSV.

In Screaming Frog, navigate to the Internal tab. Change the Filter to HTML. Click Export.

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Now, bring that CSV into a Google Sheet. If you prefer Excel, then go right ahead. However, I’ll be using Google Sheets in this example.

If You’re Analyzing a Competitor’s Site, Pull in SEMrush or Ahrefs Data

Obviously, if you’re analyzing a competitor’s website, you don’t have access to Google Analytics data. However if you have access to either SEMrush or Ahrefs, you can use their reports as a proxy for organic traffic.

  • Ahrefs: Organic Search > Top Pages report

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  • SEMrush: Organic Research > Pages report

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After you’ve exported either of these reports, use the VLOOKUP function to associate it with your Screaming Frog data.

5- Prepare Your Data for Analysis

With your data in a Google Sheet, we need to prepare a few things. Plus, you’ll likely want to do a bit of cleanup before jumping into the analysis.

Here’s how I built out my spreadsheet. I recommend taking a look so that you can replicate it for your analysis: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1ARUVhyXNypInYWDsTR7bY7VLMjJuWzOt52wtPwnom2g/edit?usp=sharing

Clean Up the Spreadsheet

At this point, we’re interested in just a few columns of our data; Address, Word Count, GA Sessions, and Publish Date.

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Since we’re only looking at blog posts, you can delete any rows that don’t have a Publish Date.

In the case of our analysis for TimBDesign.com, we need to remove the text from the Publish Date cells so that we have a date format that we can work with. I used Data > Split text to columns… to remove all the extraneous text.
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Remove Recently-Published Posts

I chose to remove any posts published within the last six months. You can decide what works best for your analysis.

Find the True Word Count of Each Post

Screaming Frog’s Word Count metric includes all words on a given web page – not just the body content – like words in the header and footer navigations.

Since we’re most interested in analyzing our post’s body content, we’ll need to do our best to remove these extra words from our count.

To do this, follow these instructions:

  • Navigate to a random post. Copy all of the body content and paste into a Google Doc (use Paste without formatting).
  • In the Google Doc, go to Tools > Word Count

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  • Find the difference between the word count in the Google Doc, and what Screaming Frog reported.
    • For example, the post I chose has 2,902 word according to the Google Doc. Screaming Frog reported 3,249 words – a difference of 347 words.
      • In the case of TimBDesign.com, there are roughly 347 words in the header, footer and sidebar of our posts.

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  • Subtract all of your posts by the number you found in the previous step to arrive at each post’s true word count.

Create Groupings to Make Your Analysis Easier

This one is more of a personal preference, but I find it effective to create groupings for Word Count and Publish Date. For example, used IF() / THEN() functions to group posts by word count into these categories so they included a roughly equal number of posts:

  • < 600 words
  • 600 – 800 words
  • 800 – 1200 words
  • 1200+ words

I took the same approach to group posts by their age:

  • 6 – 12 months
  • 12 – 18 months
  • 18 – 24 months
  • 24+ months

Remove Outliers

So as not to skew your averages, it’s best to remove any posts that are on the extreme ends of your word count range.

For example, TimBDesign.com has a post that includes a podcast transcript, making it over 8,300 words in length. That’s nearly 4,000 more words than the next closest post.

6- Analyze Data, Find Your Optimal Post Length

Pivot tables are your friend as you transform your spreadsheet into helpful charts for visualizing the data.

Here are several ways you should consider visualizing the data:

Organic Sessions by Word Count Scatterplot

Viewing the data in this way might confirm what many SEOs experience: some posts blow up and other don’t, you can’t always determine why.
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There are more than a few low word count posts that do a great job at driving traffic. When we start to look at the averages, however, the picture becomes a bit more clear.

Average Organic Sessions by Post Length

Use your post length groupings to see which length of content performs best at driving organic traffic. For this site, that answer is posts over 1,200 words.
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Average Organic Sessions by Post Age

Use your post age groupings to see how older content compares to newer content at driving organic traffic. You’ll notice that for TimBDesign.com, posts between 18-24 months old are performing the best.
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When you look at the next chart, you’ll understand why. During that time frame, TimBDesign.com was, on average, producing higher word count content than the other time periods analyzed.

Average Word Count by Post Age

Using post age groupings we can view how the length of the content we’ve produced has changed over time. The average word count of a post was nearly 1,100 for content published between 18 and 24 months ago. Perhaps not coincidentally, the posts that fall in this date range do the best at driving organic traffic.
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I’m certainly no statistical analysis expert, so I’m curious to see what you all do with the data. You can, of course, replace organic traffic with any metric you’d like – social shares, email clicks, backlinks acquired… You can use the steps in this post all the same.

Now go out there and discover what makes your content successful.

Griffin Roer is the founder of Uproer, a digital marketing agency based in St Paul, MN. Reach out to Griffin to discuss how Uproer’s SEO services can drive real business growth for your company.


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