A few weeks ago, I tweeted that word count doesn’t (always) matter.
It turned out to be pretty controversial.
Why? Because it’s standard practice to include word count research when you’re planning new ideas. You look at the SERP results for your keyword, find the average word count for each piece, then add a bit on top. Ya know, to “beat them.”
But “beating them” goes waaaay beyond word count.
Think about it: Does adding 500 words of fluff solely for the purpose of reaching X number of words) actually make your content better than the competition?
Not at all.
Beating the competition actually happens when you:
- Have something unique to say that top-ranking posts don’t;
- Deliver advice in a different format;
- Suit a searcher’s intent better.
We can see this more clearly with recipes.
How many times have you gone through a recipe blog post, only to see a 500-word intro about how the recipe came from their great grandmother who invented it when travelling Asia with their friend?
We don’t need (nor want) to know that.
It’s just there for the recipe blogger to “rank better because they’re reaching a certain word count.”
Here’s what happens when you see that: You exit in frustration, and find another that gets straight to the point.
You don’t want people to do that with your content. Exiting a page immediately after you’ve clicked it leads to a low dwell time. This proves to Google that your content doesn’t satisfy user intent for the keyword you found it through, so they should rank you lower.
So essentially, you can rank lower by religiously commiting to a word count.
With every piece of content you create, it’s your job to cut the BS and get straight to the point; answering questions your audience actually have (and not giving a 500-word backstory to hit a vanity word count number.)
Answer your searcher’s questions and cut the fluff in your content. If that’s 5,000 words, great. But if it’s only 1,000, that’s great too.
Find user intent, write for that person, answer their questions, and cut the fluff. Be happy with whatever those words total.
The only case for word count targets
What good would a blog post about content marketing be without a caveat?
Here goes: Word count only matters when you’re pricing for a writing job.
As a freelance writer, I get briefs from each of my clients. Each one usually includes a word count: the target number of words I should be aiming for when I’m writing.
I think it’s a good thing to have word counts when you’re a freelancer–but only when it comes to arranging rates.
Tom Whatley, who manages a freelance team for Grizzle, explains:
“It’s funny, as an agency this is the principle we run with on internal content. But our briefs to freelance writers always includes a rough target word count. It acts as a canvas for them to play with, but also sets expectations on rates.
Almost every time a piece is delivered writers will say “I went under/over target word count”. And every time it’s still a comprehensive piece.”
You don’t wanna agree to a project that you think is 1,000 words, which actually turns out to be 4,000+. You’re underselling yourself (and probably losing out on loads of $$$.)
So, yes: word counts do matter when you’re a freelance writer. You and your client need to be on the same page, and make sure you’re charging properly.
But writing any other piece of content?
Word count doesn’t matter.