Word Count in SEO: Is Longer Better?

I frequently read on the r/seo subreddit and participate in some discussions when I get the chance.

This week, I stumbled upon an interesting post where a user questioned whether having more items in a roundup or listicle-type content would yield better SEO results.

In his example, the user inquired about the effectiveness of “10 best toilet seats” compared to “5 best toilet seats.” In other words, does creating a comprehensive article with more options improve SEO?

I responded with some advice for the user. To my surprise, John Mueller, Google’s Search Relations team lead, replied to my comment and expressed his support: “I like this take.”

screenshot from a subreddit discussion

Below, you’ll find the full context of the post and my original answer, which I will delve into further in this article.

The Reddit user u/Most_Basic_Takes posed the question: “Is there an SEO-based rationale for having more numbers in a roundup (e.g., 10 best toilet seats > 5 best toilet seats)?” His post details read:

Is there a reason for adding more product amount to a round up?

For example – If I’m writing about the ‘best toilet seat’ and there’s articles with 11 best and 12 best does that mean you’d write ’12 best’ or ’13 best’ to one up everyone?

From a helpful perspective it seems like this is the opposite of helpful content since it’s paradox of choice and/or decision fatigue.

Moreover the quality of content seems hard to accomplish if you’re just madly dumping an arbitrary amount of products onto a page. My thought is to create objective criteria and then put only the most relevant 3-5 options that meet the said criteria based on testing and personal experience.


And my response was:

Google always says we should focus on people-first content that is MOST helpful. But how “helpful” something is varies per user. Some will surely find your 3-5 option article more helpful while others prefer the one with more options–or let’s say more “comprehensive.”

There is NO one-size-fits-all rule for this. You can follow your initial thought and may not even disrupt the existing ranking. There are a lot of factors why, including the fact that those sites already on the top are already more “authoritative” than yours.

So while creating helpful content is indeed ideal and highly recommended, that alone doesn’t guarantee a top position on SERP.

Now, what can you do?

1. Do focus on the value for the user—what’s in it for them? Create something truly valuable for them, regardless of article length.

2. Go see the existing top 5 results for the keyword in question. See what information gaps you can possibly fill and incorporate them in your version if you believe it can benefit your readers.

3. You publish and let time do its magic. (Gaining links naturally)

4. Share your article in relevant online sites where applicable and possible. (Gaining links proactively)

I also believe in the idea and purpose behind people-first, NOT search-engine first content. But the truth is it’s easier said than done. Item 3 above could take years especially if you don’t do 4—and especially if your site is relatively new.

Unless you’re competing for not-so-competitive search terms.

You can see the full discussion here.

Basically, the user wants to know whether or not adding more options in a listicle is the way to go as far as SEO is concerned. He raised a valid point when he noted that presenting too many choices might be counterproductive if the primary goal of the content is to be “helpful.”

However, the perceived helpfulness of content is subjective and hinges on the specific needs of the user. As I pointed out, some readers may prefer concise versions that streamline decision-making, while others may lean towards longer and comprehensive articles offering plenty of choices or items of information.

Let me expand my original answer with a more generalized context.

Whether you’re writing a listicle or a traditional blog post, consider these steps to determine the length of your content and increase your chances of ranking higher on Google.

Focus on the value for the user

Are you making your content longer simply because you think that’s what Google wants?

Sorry to break it to you, but Google has NO preferred word count. Both short and extensive articles have the potential to rank well on Search, provided that Google finds them useful for an audience (though helpfulness or overall quality is just one of the many factors that influence rankings).

This value-focused approach prompted me to take a bold step—unpublishing 89 posts on our blog and restarting our content marketing strategy at Online Officer. You can read more about my decision in my article on the importance of helpful content in SEO.

So, when creating content, prioritize what’s best for your target audience, regardless of word count. Write additional details where needed, and remove the fluff and sections that don’t serve the user’s interests.

But how do you determine what’s “best” for a specific audience?

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for that.

Conduct a thorough research and draw on your experience.

You also need to analyze the SERP for the keywords in question, which brings me to my next point.

Fill the gaps

Open your browser and type in the keywords you’re targeting. Click on the top 5 results and figure out why those pages have secured their top positions.

What kind of information do they offer? Most importantly, what could be missing that you believe users are keen to read about?

Your goal is not to beat the word count of your competitors. Instead, capitalize on the details that those pieces of content are missing, which may be beneficial to the readers.

Identify areas where you can provide additional value and transform that opportunity into publishing an article for which users would be grateful.

In other words, know exactly what your users want and give it to them.

Wait for natural links

Assuming you’ve published a well-written, reliable article that would attract a significant volume of traffic, backlinks to your content should accumulate naturally over time.

Why? Because people online tend to link to or share content that they find genuinely useful.

However, depending on your current rankings and the level of trust Google places in your website overall, it might take months or even years before you see results for that specific post.

If your site is relatively new and you’re aiming to rank for competitive keywords, acquiring top-quality links naturally within a year is nearly impossible because generating traffic is challenging to begin with.

And without traffic, no one will discover your content and get the opportunity to share or link to them. 

In that scenario, your best course of action is to proactively build links.

Build backlinks yourself

This is crucial for new websites that deal with high competition.

For many, it’s also the aspect of an off-page SEO strategy that is the most difficult to pull off.

Start by simply sharing your content on social media and online communities where your target audience is gathering.

When I started doing SEO in 2017, I did this by tapping into active and relevant groups on Reddit—a strategy that I continue to implement today.

The key here lies in sharing content only where and when appropriate. Don’t be a spammy member whose primary form of engagement is nothing but self promotion.

Going on experience, you should leverage the power of direct posting on a subreddit, as this type of backlink can be highly effective in causing a temporary spike in Google traffic to your post.

Reddit is just one of your many options. Consider platforms like LinkedIn and X (formerly Twitter) as well.

The wider the exposure of your content on these platforms, the better chance you have of building natural backlinks to your site.

(Learn more useful and actionable tips in our comprehensive SEO guide for business owners.)

In conclusion, bear in mind that while the helpfulness and overall quality of your content are significant factors, Google considers several others when ranking web pages.

Even with an exceptional article, securing a spot in the top 1-10 positions may not happen anytime soon, especially for newcomers entering a highly competitive and saturated niche.

However, by consistently publishing people-first content and implementing best SEO practices around them, you are more likely to achieve long-term success on Google and withstand the devastating impact of future helpful content updates.

Don’t overthink, and as I’ve said in my original comment, let time do its magic.


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