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Web page word counts: reading vs linking

October 20, 2009 4 Comments

I thought it was interesting to compare two graphs as they seem to go in opposite directions:

There are obviously loads of caveats about comparing these datasets - read the articles yourself to see how they were put together. Note, in particular, that the X axes below are not the same.

SEOMOZ on what makes people link

They say that the more you write, the more likely you are to get a link to something:

I also recorded the length of the post to see if it had an effect on the average number of linking domains.  The length recorded was only that of the post and not the comments or other areas of the page to keep the data accurate.  I’ve read that most blog post should be kept to 500 words or less.  That information seems to be incorrect if you are going to post on SEOmoz and want it to be link worthy.  The chart below shows that posts with 1800 or more words have a much higher average of linking domains.

And showed this graph:

This data is for SEOMOZ articles

This data is for SEOMOZ articles

Nielsen on the number of words read

He showed that users do tend to spend more time on pages with more information. However, analysis showed that they spend only 4.4 seconds more on a page for each extra 100 words. At a reading speed of 250 words a minute, the typical user can read only 18 words in 4.4 seconds. So for every 100 words you add, only 18 are read on average.

He said this:

The following chart shows the maximum amount of text users could read during an average visit to pages with different word counts. This is a very rapidly declining curve. On an average visit, users read half the information only on those pages with 111 words or less.

In the full dataset, the average page view contained 593 words. So, on average, users will have time to read 28% of the words if they devote all of their time to reading. More realistically, users will read about 20% of the text on the average page.

His chart looked like this:

Word count vs  duration of average visits

Word count vs duration of average visits


I'm not suggesting these charts are in conflict.

But what I'd take away from this is that, if you're writing something useful, make it as long as is necessary.

Don't fall for the usual rule of making it 500 words or less. People who are interested WILL read (Nielsen's graph only went up to 1,200 words and dealt in averages - so includes people interested and not interested in the subject matter).

And the more interesting it is, the more likely people are to link to it, which is good for SEO.

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  • Ian Miller says:

    I agree, I don't think the two things are mutually exclusive, in fact possible support each other. A long post will have a higher proportion of "drop outs", people who skim read posts and think they wont bother with the detail. However, buy making posts longer the chances of giving out beneficial / linkable information actually increases, so of those that do get to the end, a much higher propotion of them chose to link.

    By using average reading time it masks those that do go all the way through vs those than drop out. The Nielsen graph would be much better showing total reading time against word count, then you'd see those that did find long content valuable.

    A 500 word posts might well be read through to the end by more people, but the chances of that providing link worthy content is (very often) reduced by the brevity.

  • Andy says:

    But remember, the longer your post, the easier it is to reach that all important OPKD (OnPageKeywordDensity) percentage



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