Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller engaged in a lively Twitter discussion on what it means to create ideal web content. He answered whether Google ranked long form content higher, commented on word count and offered his opinion on what publishers should focus on.

The discussion covered the relationship of word count to the concept of being comprehensive as well as whether word count is part of a ranking factor (it’s not).

Matching Competitor Word Count

The discussion started out with a question related to competitor research. The person asking the question apparently reviewed the top ranked pages in the search engine results pages (SERPs) and discovered the word count of the top ranked sites.

The person asked:

“What if I’m covering more information in less words than competitors. What google think about word count?”

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Competitor research is often thought of in terms of reviewing what top ranked pages are doing and copying what they’re doing in terms of keywords used, word counts, and so on.

The problem with that approach is that just because the top ranked sites have a minimum of 1200 words in their content doesn’t mean that word count correlates to the ideal word count for ranking.

It’s just what’s there, either because that’s what they feel is best or they’re copying each other.

But then there’s always that one outlier with an epic 8,000 word web page that is masterfully ranking for all kinds of keywords, that blows away any notion that 1200 words is ideal.

Can take your breath away when someone can pull that off!

John Mueller tweeted this response:

“Why would a search engine use word count as a metric?”

The person tweeted his explanation:

“Probably more word count refers to more comprehensive information and detailed answer to search query”

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Comprehensive Content Syndrome

Google is a little bit to blame for the idea that all web pages should be comprehensive.

Google’s SEO Starter Guide says:

“Content should be factually accurate, clearly written, and comprehensive.”

This is echoed in Google’s Quality Raters Guidelines that states:

“High quality information pages should be factually accurate, clearly written, and comprehensive.”

The raters guidelines also state:

“A satisfying or comprehensive amount of very high quality MC…

…very high quality MC is original, accurate, comprehensive…

…all types of very high quality informational content share common attributes of accuracy, comprehensiveness, and clear communication…”

The word “comprehensive” is used 30 times in the quality raters document. So it’s fair to say that Google is at least a little bit to blame for publisher anxieties about “comprehensive” content.

The concern for comprehensive content is practically a syndrome because it leads to content that is far longer than it has to be. Anyone who has ever researched a recipe can attest to that.

Yet, Can You Blame Publishers?

The definition of comprehensive is: “complete; including all or nearly all elements or aspects of something.”

The problem with the idea of “comprehensive” content is that it’s easy to equate “comprehensiveness” with including “nearly all… aspects of something” when writing about a topic, which can lead to a high word count.

I know because I’ve audited content that stopped ranking that is excessively wordy. Saying too much is not uncommon for sites that have lost rankings in the past year.

So Let’s Back Up

The publisher/SEO offered this reason for needing to raise the word count:

“Probably more word count refers to more comprehensive information and detailed answer to search query”

John Muller tweeted his response:

“Why would the number of words be related to whether or not the content is comprehensive?”

BERT Algo Rewards Comprehensive Content?

There are many corners in the Internet.

And apparently in one of those corners there’s a belief that Google is rewarding long form content, content that is wordy.

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This person tweeted that the BERT algo rewards lengthy articles:

And John Mueller swiftly said, no, not true.

Further down in the discussion someone added this important insight:

Mueller later affirmed that word count is not a ranking factor but more importantly, he said it’s fine to use word count as a guideline for your writing projects:

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That’s a good idea. I sometimes see articles that are so short they might as well be tweets. And that’s the kind of content that could be perceived as thin.

So giving yourself a goal of an arbitrary minimum word count can force a writer to think of important points that would otherwise have been left out.

So it’s not about reaching a particular word count but teaching yourself, sometimes forcing yourself, as a writer, to be comprehensive in a useful manner.

By Jove I Think You’ve Got It!

One of the discussion participants reiterated the lessons learned and Mueller responded affirmatively:

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In Conclusion…

The quality raters guidelines and Google’s SEO starter guide encourage publishers to write comprehensive articles. But John Mueller said that not all articles need to be comprehensive.

And he’s right.

But maybe they should add that to the SEO Starter guide?





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