(SEO This Week) - Ever since the launch of the first definitive on-page optimization tool, Cora, there has been a measurable correlation between the pages that are ranking for a keyword and the word count of those pages.
This correlation has led to many tests to determine if there was an optimal word count Google was looking for. Including looking at long and short-form content, as well as what percentage of content has to be unique in order for a page to be considered "unique content" in the eyes of the search engine at the time.
As a matter of fact, it was the very first test that the SEO Intelligence Agency published back in the stone ages.
Today, as a result of that testing and experience in real-world rankings, 1100 - 1300 words seem to be a sweet spot for article-length when ordering content.
But what if the topic of your content only really needs 300 - 500 words to answer the search query, does adding fluff to increase word count to match that of your competition actually hurt your rankings?
Google's John Mueller says that, yes, it potentially does.
"What I would not do is just add kind of like fluff to these pages and just like, I don't know, copy of Wikipedia article about the product category and put that on every page. It should really be something that adds value to to the user. So if they go there they see, well, the generic information is on lots of different sites but this website here has some additional information which helps me as someone who might be interested in this product. So really kind of unique and valuable information, adding that is a great idea. Just filling extra text on a page I would not do that."https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZ_wSeQqPZk&t=3476s
The question here is, what is the definition of "fluff", obviously, John's example is pretty poor, though I know there are people doing exactly what he described.
However, I think the key to what he's telling us in that quote is that "generic information is on lots of different sites", i.e. affiliates using the same product descriptions and adding that to your reviews may actually hurt you if you did it for the purposes of just increasing word count.
This claim also assumes that Google understands the meaning and context of words, which has been proven false. The algorithms are getting better, no doubt, but they do have work to do in that regard.
So, do we need to forgo quality in favor of quantity in order to match the word count of your competition?
It has been my experience that you do not.
You'll find that some content favors long-form content because the topic is just that in-depth.
You'll also find that some content favors short and to-the-point content.
Both of those types are fully capable of competing in the search engines when optimized properly.
What do you do with this information?
Hire writers that don't sell "SEO content", you want writers that will do well-researched content ignoring SEO considerations beyond a content outline.
Tell them that you are targeting the 1100 - 1500 word range, however, to let the outline and answering the query really drive the word count.
After you get that back optimize the content for SEO and users and you'll often find that you'll delete way more than you'll add to the content once you're done.
I've been using my content optimization method for a couple of years now and it still continues to pay great dividends.
But how do we test this?
Well, what we're really talking about is keyword density.
I know, I know, Google has said the algorithm is not using keyword density as a ranking factor. However, time and time again tests are proving that they are. They have even proved that keyword stuffing is still be counted positively in the search results.
Fluff, actually can reduce your keyword density and hurt your chances of ranking the page.
It's in this way, that John was correct in telling webmasters not to add it to their pages.