When it comes to the topic of search engine optimization (SEO) there is general belief that the longer the article, the better.
However, this approach is very much at odds with how people use the Internet.
Think about your own approach when you are reading an online article. Do you read the long articles with avid attention or do you just read the first paragraph and skim read the rest? If your answer is that you read every single word then the statistics and evidence show that you are in the minority. But how should webmasters approach this issue?
In an article published in Slate, Farhad Manjoo shared some online statistics about webpages and reading habits. It seems that when it comes to the world wide web, people have extremely short attention spans. Nearly 40 percent of readers admitted that they didn’t read beyond the first sentence, and a further 5 percent didn’t bother to scroll down the screen to read the rest of article. That leaves 55 percent of readers who reads the article, right? Well actually, no. Approximately half of people would read the first paragraph or two but the number of people who actually read the article to the end was minuscule.
These statistics would suggest that, in order to optimize your online articles, the key approach is “succinct”. If you want to convey an idea or message to your readers then you better be able to do that in a few short sentences. In addition to this it was found that readers indicated a preference for short, punchy sentences. On the Internet, readers like plain English and straightforward language – which is something to keep in mind if you have ever used extra long sentences to shoe-horn in those long tail keywords.
The preference for plain speaking in articles may also be an indication of the global nature of the Internet. When you are speaking to a world wide audience you will communicate much better with simple words, and without the nuances and cultural references which may be lost on anyone whose native language is not the same as yours.
So how can you apply these findings to word counts in online articles?
Many SEO experts insist that the search engines give higher value to webpages with lots of written content, but long articles run the risk of alienating the readers you are working to attract. It seems that the two considerations contradict each other.
One of the best tips is to use a first paragraph which will act as a summary of what the article is about. If you can convey your message in just one paragraph then you may hook the readers who would normally hit the back button on their web browser without reading the entire article. You also want to break down the rest of your article into easily digested chunks so that if readers do chose to skim read it, then they can still pick out the bits of information which are the most relevant and interesting to them. To avoid breaking the flow of the sentences and losing your grip on the reader, put awkward keywords into tags, captions and headings. This will boost your SEO while keeping your reader’s experience a positive one.
There is another good reason for keeping sentences and paragraphs brief.
Think about how people browse the Internet these days – quite often it is on a tablet or a smartphone. If you believe that this is how your target audience will mostly view your article, keep the paragraphs short so that the reader is not overwhelmed by large chunks of text. If, however, your analytics show that your visitors are viewing your webpage on a laptop or computer then longer paragraphs may be more suitable.
If your site has excellent SEO but your thousands of readers never read your content then your website is ineffective. Where possible, keep your articles short and to the point.
Amy Rice writes about SEO, organic search and internet marketing, when not writing she enjoys visiting the cinema and swimming with her daughter.