Establishing Content Depth and Page Length
Search engines find out what your web pages are about by reading them. They read everything they can find on your site — the text on your pages, the text in your HTML code, the names of your files and directories, and the anchor text in all your links (which is the text someone clicks to follow the link). They also read the anchor text of any inbound links to your site from other people’s websites to find out what those sites have written about you. Using all this textual information along with a few other factors like links and Engagement Objects , search engines determine what your site is about, what search terms your web pages are relevant for, and how much of a trusted authority you are on your topics — and then rank you accordingly. Because of this focus on written words, a successfully optimized website must have a lot of content. A home page with a single graphic and no textual content can’t rank well with the search engines, no matter how cool it looks. On the other hand, a page with a lot of words but no cohesive theme also won’t rank well, and for the same reason: The search engines can’t figure out what the page is about. The right balance is to have enough content and to have it focused on a theme. Then the search engines can index your site and know exactly what it’s about. In this chapter, you find out how to develop content ideas, how to integrate various types of content for a blended approach, and all about the rules for optimizing images and video. You also discover the importance of formatting text so that it’s readable and how you can allow user input to build a stronger site. Finally, you find out how to create user engagement by writing effective calls to action.
Building Enough Content to Rank Well
How much content do you need in terms of words per page and pages per subject? Before we tell you our SEO best practices, we want to stress that the answer greatly depends on what is normal for your industry and keywords. When you research your competitors’ sites that rank well for your keywords, some of the things you want to find out are how many indexed pages they have and how many words are on the pages that outrank yours. Analyzing these figures among your competitors gives you an indication of what level of content is currently succeeding in the search engines for your keywords.
This helps you know how many pages and words you need to play in their league. Now for the best practices. Depending on the type of web page it is, the general length recommendation varies. First, for research pages (where a visitor’s goal would be to get information), we recommend that you have a minimum of 500 words of text content per page. That’s a general rule, based on our experience across multiple niches, for research‐type pages. If all the top‐ranking pages for your keywords have more than 1,000 words each, you may want to consider 1,100 words on your page in order to compete.
(Remember that the search engines’ algorithms include many factors, and amount of content is only one of them.)
But if your research hasn’t indicated that you need an unusually high number of words for your industry, 500 words gives the search engines enough content to work with and gives users a satisfying amount of information, as well. It’s about one page of typed copy using a 12‐point font and single line spacing. In fact, the page that you’re reading right now has a little more than 500 words on it, so you can get an idea of what that amount of content looks like. Also, the number of words you need on a page has been steadily increasing over the years. When we first started recommending adding content back in 1997, we set our minimum at merely 75 words per page. Today, the number of words on top‐ranked pages in competitive markets is actually closer to 1,000. This variance is why analyzing your competitors is so crucial. Other types of web pages don’t need quite as many words. Blog posts, for example, can range in length based on their purpose, but a best‐practice guideline would be at least 200 words per post. E‐commerce or shopping pages, which tend to have lots of product pictures, have a recommended minimum of 300 words of content. Just be sure that some of it, at least, is original. If all you include are manufacturer‐provided descriptions, what will distinguish your product page from all the other retail sites selling the same product with the same text? Not only will your page not rank, but also you could suffer a search engine penalty for having “thin content,” something that Google’s Panda algorithm update is particularly sensitive to.
As a general rule, you need at least five pages to support each theme, meaning at least five supporting pages for every theme landing page on your website. (A landing page is your primary page of information on a particular topic or subtopic, so it’s the page where you want users to land when they search for those keywords and click your listing.)
Keep in mind that the required minimum number of pages varies depending on what your competitors have. The search engines want to return the most relevant results to a user’s search query, and they want their users to be satisfied. It makes sense that the search engines would rank most highly the sites that seem to be the experts, or authorities, in the subject the user is interested in. For instance, if you’re trying to rank for the keyword phrase [Ford Mustang], you’re going up against sites that have dozens of related pages about Ford Mustangs including facts, forums, customer reviews, multimedia, and so on.
That kind of competitive environment would require you to have a lot more than five pages of content on Ford Mustangs to be considered as much of an authority as the other sites are. You’d need to really beef up your site to make it into the top 10 to 20 search results. If you’ve already worked on categorizing your website into subject themes, elsewhere, you should have a good idea of what “holes” you need to fill in your website. As you go through this chapter, keep in mind your list of landing‐page topics and what you need in terms of new content either on those pages or on supporting pages.