The correlation between long form content and ranking algorithms
It’s an age-old question in the content marketing world – does long form content influence organic search ranking?
The answer is no… but also yes. While there is no proven direct link between the length of content and a high ranking in search results, certain factors indicate that we can’t definitively say that there is no correlation at all.
To understand the relationship between long form content and ranking algorithms, we need to explore one of Google’s primary ranking algorithms and how it works.
RankBrain and how it ‘thinks’
RankBrain is a ranking algorithm that was introduced by Google in 2015 as part of its overall ranking algorithm, Hummingbird. Unlike other algorithms, this one in particular uses artificial intelligence and machine learning, so it will become more advanced and ‘intelligent’ as time goes on.
It is designed to think like a human so that results displayed for users accurately address the heart of their search query. Essentially, RankBrain was created to interpret and understand search intent. This means that it will return results for search queries based on what the person actually wants to find out, as opposed to just matching words to the results.
Before RankBrain, algorithms had become sophisticated enough to include things like plurals and synonyms in results, as they were able to determine that even though the words didn’t exactly match, they were still relevant to the query. RankBrain goes one step beyond this to actually learn and understand the meaning behind the words and phrases.
Combined with other algorithms, Google will return search results that are not only accurate to the user intent but also of a high quality.
Humans too prefer content of high quality. A well researched, highly informative and useful article will be preferred by your audience. RankBrain understands that this is what users want to see, and will push that content to the top.
So, what does this mean for long form content?
Back to the original question, then! Does long form content equal a better ranking?
A long word length is often the byproduct of creating good content because it can take many words to explain complex topics or provide really useful information. Therefore, if content is long form because it is of a high quality then yes, it will affect the ranking.
However, long form content that has not been produced well and does not provide high value to readers will likely not be rewarded as well in search results.
Therefore, we cannot say that length equals a better ranking because it depends entirely on the quality of the content and whether it provides a satisfactory answer for the search query.
Rand Fishkin, founder and former CEO of Moz, supports the argument that long form content doesn’t necessarily indicate good content – from both a human audience and algorithm perspective.
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’s important to remember that RankBrain is one out of over 200 ranking algorithms in Google, so while it’s important to take into account how it interprets queries, you need to satisfy the other criteria as well.
The moral of the story is: make your content as long or as short as it needs to be. Don’t add extra words if it’s not necessary, and don’t cut corners writing an article if it requires more words to improve the quality of it and provide more helpful information to the reader.