The word count of digital content is highly debated. On the one hand, it’s recommended that a blog post should be at least 300 words to even have a chance to rank well in search engines.
On the other hand, many argue that long-form content performs best. Backlinko found that “the average word count of a Google first page result is 1,890 words” because it’s highly comprehensive.
I would argue that the length of a post sort of matters, but comprehensiveness and quality matter more. You need to make sure that every word matters.
If you wrote 1,890 words that didn’t answer a searcher’s question and it was difficult to read, then that post won’t rank as well.
In this post, we’ll look at how to achieve quality by writing comprehensive content.
What does comprehensive content look like?
Here’s the American Heritage Dictionary definition of “comprehensive”:
1. So large in scope or content as to include much: a comprehensive history of the revolution.
2. Marked by or showing extensive understanding: comprehensive knowledge
When we talk about brand content, the second definition is most relevant. When you can demonstrate knowledge of the industry, users will see you as a trustworthy, authoritative source. They’ll keep coming back to learn more.
Comprehensive content should:
- Present a new idea about your industry that only you can explain.
- Go in-depth on a sub-topic of a more general theme.
- Leave the reader feeling well-educated on the topic.
- Answer their search query.
“Comprehensive” content does not always mean long content
It’s about the user experience and overall quality.
To achieve a comprehensive post, word count should not be the ultimate goal. Thorough content is not equivalent to long content.
Not sure where the idea that “great content” = “really, really long content” came from, but we need to dispel that myth.
— Rand Fishkin (@randfish) March 30, 2016
It might end up being 3,000 words long, but that length will only be effective if you dive into the complexities of a topic or offer interactive elements such as photos, videos, quizzes, etc., that will keep people on a page longer.
Without those elements to break up text, or without implementing readable formatting (e.g., heading tags or bolded text), readers may feel overwhelmed. They’re likely to quickly exit the page, increasing your bounce rate and decreasing that content’s chance for a better rank.
How does comprehensive content affect SEO?
Just like all the topics in our Quality Content Series, creating a comprehensive post is another factor to increase the SEO value of your content. Research by Backlinko asserts that “publishing comprehensive, in-depth topical content may improve rankings.”
A comprehensive post is considered high-quality because it answers the searchers’ questions, keeps them from exiting the page, keeps them reading and boosts dwell time. It isn’t stuffed with keywords, but rather takes into consideration the guidelines of semantic search (see more on semantic search below).
How to achieve comprehensiveness
1. Develop your brand’s personas
Personas are the backbone of all your content marketing endeavors. These are the documents that capture information about each one of your ideal customers.
Research who your ideal customers are through:
- Market research
- Social media listening
- Talking to current customers
- Site analytics
- And much more!
During this process, capture all the questions that prospects and clients have. Use these questions to determine the best topic opportunities and write content that your brand can answer best.
If you already have your personas captured but are in need of a fresh perspective or new questions to answer, conduct a survey. This could be a survey sent out to newer customers that you haven’t yet talked to. Or it could be something as informal as a question that you promote on Quora or LinkedIn.
Make a list of all the questions you gather during persona development. Use these to formulate topics and populate your editorial calendar.
[Download a free editorial calendar to organize your ideas and topics]
2. Create content that’s hard to produce
When you populate your editorial calendar with comprehensive topics, treat these differently from a more traditional blog post.
Rand Fishkin at Moz explains that the most comprehensive content produced will be more complicated and time-consuming to create than what your competitors have published.
Even if it pains you to admit that your competitor has already written a thorough blog post on a popular topic in your industry, use this as an opportunity to analyze what the post doesn’t include. Look for subtopics missed, visual elements, formatting. Your content can fill in the gaps.
Rand explains that you should “assemble content in formats that others don’t/can’t/won’t use.” Here are a few pieces of content that would take extra time and expertise to create than a traditional blog post:
- Comprehensive guides: These take one theme and split it into subtopics with chapters or parts. It may have a title such as “The Ultimate Guide.” Topic clusters have become a popular format for guides (see #4 below).
- Digital formats that weave video and interactive elements: This includes “Snowfallen” styled stories, inspired by the original “Snow Fall” article in the New York Times that combines full-screen copy, video, charts and graphics.
- Free data and research: Whether your brand conducts your own study or outsources it, the report can be presented with graphs and visuals. This makes it easy to consume and will keep people on the page. Images will make the content more shareable, too.
- Free gated resources: eBooks, templates, training materials or any other highly desired content that people may even be willing to pay for takes a lot of time to produce. Gated resources require information like an email address and company name, making them a lead-generation tool as well.
- Transcripts of webinars and videos: As long as the content of the video is comprehensive, creating a transcript of the video will add an SEO element. Follow all the same guidelines for creating readable content by using header tags, bullet points, bold type, photos, etc.
Also, consider what materials people are more willing to pay for. If you make those types of resources and offer them for free, or in exchange for contact information, you’ll set the bar for your competitors in terms of the level of quality and time they must put in to create similar content.
[No time to create comprehensive content? Discover which of these options is best for your business to save time on content creation.]
3. Choose topics based on semantic search
The concept of semantic search is Google’s way of rewarding comprehensiveness. Semantic search allows Google to better understand a searcher’s intent of a query, rather than looking at individual keywords.
This has become a big topic in the SEO world in the last few years with voice search booming and users asking full, specific questions.
For example, if you search, “What is the capital of Australia?” Google won’t look for those exact keywords. Rather, it looks for content that answers that question. Google’s featured snippet boxes, like the one that displays the capital of Australia, uses semantic search to better answer searchers’ questions and offer a better user experience.
According to Mashable, semantic search means you’re no longer just putting keywords in the right places: “you have to figure out the actual meaning behind those keywords and create content around that specifically.”
If someone searches for a single keyword, Google processes other users’ past queries and what they clicked on. This info is used to determine what posts best answered the question. Google can then present the most relevant findings.
For example, if someone searches for “succulents,” they might be searching for a specific question about succulents, such as:
- What is a succulent?
- How is a succulent different from other plants?
- How long do succulents live?
- What are types of succulents?
- How do I take care of succulents?
To start writing for semantic search and achieving better comprehensiveness, keyword research is essential. Find a keyword relevant to your business that you want to rank for. Then list all the questions a user may have around that word. See how it’s done in this post from Search Engine Journal.
Then, it’s time to start creating content.
4. Focus on fewer topics in greater detail by creating topic clusters
Backlinko’s research discovered that “content rated as ‘topically relevant’ significantly outperformed content that didn’t cover a topic in-depth. Therefore, publishing focused content that covers a single topic may help with rankings.”
One strategy for achieving this is to create topic clusters.
Topic clusters are a hot item in content marketing right now. You choose the main topic and then plan subtopics that go into deeper detail, giving a comprehensive overview of the main topic.
Once complete, the main page, or the “pillar” page, links to all of the subtopic pages, and the subtopic pages all link to the pillar page with the same keyword. According to HubSpot’s guide on topic clusters, “this linking action signals to search engines that the pillar page is an authority on the topic, and over time, the page may rank higher for the topic it covers.”
It’s also a signal to Google that there’s a semantic relationship between those blogs. Your content may present the best, most comprehensive answer to searchers’ queries.
Topic clusters take a long time to plan and create. They also require a lot of expertise and research for a brand to become the authority on the topic. But it’s worth it in the long run; since they’re extremely thorough and detailed, users find them incredibly valuable.
5. Hard work
Google rewards hard work. Creating comprehensive content will take strategizing, time, work and patience to see the results pay off in the form of better rank.
Developing more comprehensive content means you won’t be able to produce as many posts. But you won’t be alone. Recent survey results collected by Convince and Convert prove that bloggers are putting more time into creating high-quality content while publishing less.
You don’t have to set a word count record with each piece of content. But you should take the time to conduct research to discover the questions you can answer, discover semantic keywords and plan time to write detailed, readable and thorough content.
This post is part of the Brandpoint Quality Content Series, which analyzes how Google assesses quality content and how you can get your pages to appear higher in search results.
Part 1: What is High-Quality Content?
Part 2: Google Search Quality Guidelines: What is E-A-T?
Part 3: Are High-Quality Links Important for SEO?
Part 4: How to Create Readable Content
Part 5: How to Create Comprehensive Content
Part 6: Duplicate vs. Original Content
Part 7: Latent Semantic Indexing and Long-tail Keywords
Part 8: How to Optimize Images and Visuals for SEO
Part 9: Content Freshness and Generating New Topics
Part 10: SEO Success Stories