When it comes to webpage length and SEO, we all want the same as Goldilocks: A page that’s not too long, not too short, but juuuust right.
With that kind of confidence, we’d all live happily ever after, right?
Maybe, but a problem stands in our way: Page ranking lacks the clear cause and effect of fairy tales. Sure, we know Google’s algorithm penalizes “thin” content and favors time spent on the page, but the rest of the mix seems as opaque as a cold bowl of porridge—including the role word count plays.
We took a different angle to find the answer, focusing on health care.
What we found—and how we found it
Our quest started with MarketMuse, a consultancy using artificial intelligence and machine learning to boost client content and content strategy.
We asked the firm to look at popular webpages for hospitals featured on U.S. News & World Report’s latest Honor Roll. For each hospital, we wanted average word counts for the most popular pages overall. We also wanted averages for the most-viewed pages for two common specialties—cancer and cardiology.
After estimating page views—businesses typically keep exact data secured within their Google Analytics—MarketMuse calculated the averages:
- Top 250 overall pages: 790 words, ranging from 544 (Stanford Health Care) to 1,486 (Cedars-Sinai)
- Top 100 cancer pages: 717 words, ranging from 466 (UCSF Health) to 1,111 (Cleveland Clinic)
- Top 100 cardiology pages: 696 words, ranging from 288 (Stanford Health Care) to 1,204 (Johns Hopkins Medicine)
|Average Word Count: Top 250 Pages||
Average Word Count: Top 100 Pages, By Specialty
Johns Hopkins Medicine
Massachusetts General Hospital
|814||Johns Hopkins Medicine||865||1204|
|698||Massachusetts General Hospital||658||545|
|Michigan Medicine||856||Mayo Clinic||824||655|
|New York-Presbyterian||586||Michigan Medicine||543||327|
Stanford Health Care
|UCLA Health||529||Stanford Health Care||493||288|
|Overall average||790||UCSF Health||783||547|
Making the data work for you
So should you drop everything and move all your pages as close to the averages as possible?
Well, no. Bear in mind that top pages ranged from 10-word landing pages to 6,000-word chat transcripts. It depends on the content, the format and the audience. The findings simply provide a jumping-off point. Long webpages can work, and so can short ones.
Take a look at your existing site to see how you can adapt the findings to your needs. Do you have pages that are alarmingly long or way too short? A few things to remember as you look at pages that need a trim or a little bulking up:
- Scrolling. Make good use of “above the fold” space, but remember that people will scroll—even on mobile. Just keep them engaged and avoid visual roadblocks.
- Fundamentals. Employ good design and user experience. Follow web writing best practices to keep content scannable and digestible. Work on other SEO areas, too.
- Message. Focus on unique content that your audience will value. What do you offer that they need? What questions do they have that you can answer? What makes you special?
- Content. Don’t cover too many topics on a given page, and don’t pad. Sure, Google started penalizing cursory content after its Panda update. And yes, there’s consensus on a 300-word count minimum for SEO, for most pages. But flabby and unfocused content doesn’t help, either. Every word should count.
- Metrics. See how length affects the performance of your pages. You may want to build some out or trim some back.
See where your pages place on search engine results, and study Google Analytics. We only had page views to work with. You’ll gain greater insight from shares, time on page and bounce/retention rates. With all this data, you should be able to craft web pages at just the right length to draw readers in and keep them.
The original version of this story appeared here.