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The number of posts vs. number of words – which is more important?
I still remember reading a book back in the 1990s about website structure. I don’t recall the title of the book, but I know it was a proper university book! Yes, back then, websites were such a new concept, they had to be explained in printed books.
The book described the structure of a website in a diagram made of rectangles. Like your a family tree diagram.
Isn’t it amazing that today’s website structure basically remains the same? We just give the nodes fancy names like “Silos”, but it really is the same old structure.
The building blocks of websites, these rectangles or squares, are website pages.
Back then, website pages were static HTML files. Today they’re database-driven dynamic pages created using a publishing platform such as WordPress. But they are still the same beast – one page, with its own unique web address or URL.
How many pages does A site have?
I’ve blogged about the size of websites before. In my post about the size of the niche, as well as in this post about why I think bigger sites are better.
The unit I’ve used in both cases to evaluate the size of the site was the number of posts, or pages, on a site. Each article with its own unique URL is a single page.
This is the most common way to assess the number of a site. It then allows you to further analyze the site using metrics such as pageviews. It’s intuitive and easy to use.
Yet some people think that the number of posts isn’t a good way to assess the size of a site. At least, not on its own.
The alternative Metric: Number of Words
Some people argue that the number of words is the metric you should be using when evaluating the size of a website.
In a way, that makes sense. After all, in most cases, people pay for that content by the word. The total number of words signifies the amount of investment.
Assuming the site owner outsourced writing, in all likelihood, they paid per word. Let’s say they paid 5 cents per word.
A site with 100 posts averaging 1,000 words each has a total of 100,000 words and costs $5,000 in content investment.
A site with 100 posts averaging 2,000 words each, has a total of 200,000 words and costs $10,000 to produce.
While established sites are typically sold by earnings multiple if the site is young and the content still hasn’t had time to rank, the content investment may become an important pricing factor.
This brings us back to the question at hand –
Does the high word count matter? Is the second site really worth twice as much? Will it bring in twice the amount of revenue down the line?
Number of posts vs number of words: The Traffic Angle
Some web publishers argue that longer posts necessarily get more traffic. There are convincing arguments in favor of this axiom.
Longer content keeps your reader on the page for longer
Time on page is supposed to be an important factor for Google.
Assuming the content is engaging if your reader stays on the page for longer, longer time-on-page should tell Google that human visitors like your content and find it helpful.
Longer content allows you to go after more queries
Let’s say your main query for the post is “How falcon 9 landing works”.
You wrote an awesome answer to that. Why not keep on adding a section about “How do SpaceX landing legs work?” With any luck, your post may be able to rank high for both queries, and not just the one in the title.
If you check your Google Search Engine Console, you’ll see that most pages do accrue traffic for various queries, not just the one you were targeting with the main title. With longer articles, you can deliberately increase that amount of traffic.
And how about revenue
Longer content also contributes to your revenue per page. The longer your visitor is on the page, scrolling and reading through the text, the more ads they’ll see.
Since longer content brings in more traffic as well as more revenue, doesn’t it make sense that the number of words (as an indication of content length) is more important than the number of pages?
In my opinion, not necessarily.
Why I prefer to focus on the number of pages
Although you can make a compelling argument for assessing the number of words on a site, in my experience, it’s the number of articles/posts/pages that counts.
While time-on-page matters for Google, I don’t think it matters that much.
This is just me trying to reverse-engineer Google in my mind – nothing but intuition – but it makes more sense to me that Google understands that not every question necessitates a long answer.
Some questions are simple. While we can try and lure the reader to stay on the page for a bit longer, they won’t necessarily do that. And that would be ok for rankings.
Google is probably looking for the following when trying to assess how well a page answered the question –
- Did the user go back to the search results and click on another result (also known as the Pogo Stick effect).
- How long the user spent on that page – compared to how long people spend on competing pages.
If the question is relatively simple, such as “how many falcon 9 rockets were launched in 2020”, then there’s no reason for the reader to spend 7 minutes on a page. This is even more so when it comes to queries that address everyday practical questions.
In many cases, a simple short answer can be digested in 1-2 minutes and that’s ok. You might get your user to skim through a few more paragraphs, but they’re unlikely to read 5,000 words on the topic.
Page title matters
Again, this is mostly my intuition (based on publishing more than 10,000 posts in the last couple of years, so maybe it does count for something).
I appreciate the importance of grabbing additional queries by adding more longtail headings to a post. We try to do the same with our articles.
However, in my experience, it’s much easier to capture these queries by actually dedicating a post to the question.
It’s a balancing act
While I think the number of posts is more important than just how many words these posts contain, the bottom line for me is usually user experience.
I’m more concerned with the quality of the post, and how well it addresses the query than with the number of words.
However, assuming all posts are of reasonable quality and meet that quality criterion, I think the number of posts wins. Hands down.
Everything else being equal, a site with 200 posts of 1,000 words each will make more money than a site with 100 posts of 2,000 words each.
Limiting the risk
Paying extra money to get to the high word counts is often too risky for my business model.
I still publish relatively long content, but only if both of the following conditions are met –
- I’m trying to go after a very lucrative query, and
- I think longer content would actually give a competitive edge to the post.
And I do that knowing that it’s a gamble.
Each and every post is a gamble. A short or a long one. My strategy is to roll the dice multiple times and keep the investment per roll low.
Paying for 4,000 words per post? That’s too high of a gamble. On average, it doesn’t pay as well as paying for multiple short posts. At least not for me.
Your mileage may vary
I sometimes feel like putting this as the byline for this blog.
I’m sure many web publishers use long content strategies that work very well for them. For me, I’m a “spray and pray” kind of publisher, and I need to keep spraying small drops for my strategy to work.
I’d love to hear more from others. If you know of any case study that compared long vs. short content on a website and has some numbers to dig into, I’d love to see that. Or if you just want to share from your own experience and intuition, that would be great too.
I just encountered a situation where one of my 8 year old highly ranked sites was just severely dominated in the serps by a 12 month old site that had posted 1,500 short articles during that period. They took every one of my #1 rankings. Accordingly, I am now also a believer in volume of posts over volume of words …
That’s interesting, Patrick. Were their articles helpful and well-written? Or was that just a question of targeting each longtail query with a thin-content page with the right title?
Not at all well-written. 75% of their articles were 10% original content and 90% links to other people’s content with brief summaries in-between. Crappy, but completely effective. They are also Pinterest pinning 25 times per day … and appear to have formed an interlinking network with their friends. According to Semrush, the have gone from 0 to 3 million page views/month in under one year. That is what 5 posts per day will do. Amazing!
I will respond to your newsletter email with the url in case you want to look more closely. I have broken down their website into its lowest common denominator and am making adjustments to my own sites accordingly.
What’s the typical word count for your posts? Do 80% of your posts have less than 1,500 words?
Yes, I would say at least 80% of our posts are under 1,500 words. It’s typically in the 1200 region.
Great post as always, Anne. I really appreciate you sharing. I’ve come to the same conclusions although I’m not where you are yet of course. 🙂
But on my new site (same approach as you and Jon Dykstra basically, learning to grow and scale essentially similarly i hope) it’s 1,000-1,200 words typically. In a few cases around ~800 as well.
On my original sites where I still write my own content i really used to go all the way – 3,000 to 4K words or so at times. But I’ve come to accept it’s too much sometimes (can be counterproductive in fact) and will be focusing a more conservative length + more posts instead.
Also I’ll try using developing more dedicated posts for topics/questions/keywords I used to use as subtopics instead. I was already thinking i should have been doing so, so thanks for validating it’s probably better.
Hope you’re enjoying your new home in the USA!
Great to see you here, Marty! Thanks for sharing about your post length. Interesting to see that you’ve come to similar conclusions (I know how analytical you are). And yes, finding that point where a query is deserving of its own post is tricky! It can be hard to tell which query justifies a post of its own in terms of traffic volume.