For website content, the issue of word Count crops up mainly when the discussion turns to SEO. Numerous theories based on various statistical patterns suggest Google favors content with this or that particular number of words per page — leaving SEOs to ponder which magic number of words is the right one. There are two problems with this approach to word count:
1. Google doesn’t have a firm word count target or requirement. A complex algorithm determines organic rankings, with word count being one component, and generally not a highly weighted one.
2. Word count discussions should start with the Human, not the search engine. The real question is, what word count is ideal for turning human readers into customers or prospects? If the word count is right for SEO but wrong for the human, all the website traffic SEO generates won’t do any good in dollars and cents.
5 Important Word Count Factors
Essentially, the ideal word count for a given web page is the number of words it takes to convey the message and motivate the desired user action. Too many words bore the reader; too few words confuse the reader. Either way, improper word counts diminish the odds of readers taking action — that is, converting. Questions to consider for determining word count include:
1. Is the message simple or complex? A product page selling a commodity everyone is familiar with requires less elaboration than a never-seen-before item.
2. Can imagery convey the message more clearly? If it takes 500 words to explain an idea that a visual representation can convey quickly, cut the text and add the image. From a conversion standpoint, you’ve got everything to gain.
3. Are we wandering off point? Companies tend to like telling their whole story on every web page, rather than stick to a specific topic. For instance, a product page need not go into a 1,000-word history of how the product was created — this information could be interesting to some readers, but for most will not be a factor in deciding whether the product can help them.
4. Is the desired conversion activity a big or small “ask”? If the goal of the web page is for visitors to place an order, they will need a lot of convincing. If the goal is to subscribe to an email newsletter, they will need less convincing.
5. What is the competition doing? Now that we’ve considered human word count issues, we can bring SEO into the equation. A simple way to do this is to perform search queries using your page’s target keywords, and check the word counts of the web pages in the top spots. If, for instance, those top five or six web pages average 700 words, your page should ideally have 700 words or more — provided that word count doesn’t conflict seriously from the first four considerations.
Very important: From a branding standpoint, word counts matter! Content that meanders, bores or confuses the reader conveys an underlying message that your company is out of sync with user expectations and needs.
A Googlebot Thinks Like Your Prospect
Google’s Googlebots, or website crawlers, seek and analyze web pages to determine where to rank them when Google users conduct searches. From an SEO standpoint, Googlebots are the “readers” your website is trying to impress.
A huge mistake many companies make is to think that one set of content “rules” applies to Googlebots, and another to human readers.
In reality, Googlebots and humans are looking for the same thing: valuable content. What is valuable content? Google spells it out. According to Google, valuable content is useful, informative, more valuable than other site pages, credible, high quality and engaging.
As a practical matter, common sense and testing lead to ideal word counts. For instance, if your web page is an analysis of a complex business issue, humans and Googlebots will expect a lot of words and a lot of credibility (e.g., citing sources, linking to source materials, etc.). If someone is searching for this analysis, Googlebots will naturally favor longer word counts. On the other hand, if the page is an order page for a simple product, Googlebots may consider word count, but far more important will be positive user reviews they find around the Web. In both cases, humans and bots are looking for the same things.
Testing is important, so word counts should be considered when looking at website analytics. If a particular product page is suffering a high bounce rate or low conversion rate, consider adding or subtracting words. Does the pattern improve or worsen? Over time, word count tweaks can add up to a big difference in lead generation, online revenue and brand image.
Brad Shorr is Director of Content Strategy at Straight North, an Internet marketing agency specializing in SEO, PPC and web design.
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