At WordStream we get asked a lot of questions about search engine marketing. These questions come from emails, blog comments and Webinar participants who want to know our take on tips and tricks for better SEO and PPC marketing . The questions range from the budding noob (just starting out) to advanced SEM practices. Occasionally, we select one to highlight that addresses some of the more common or intriguing issues that many struggle with to give a direct response on our blog.
Today's question comes from Dawn Barson at Think Creative Group . Dawn asks:
"How many pages and how much content do you need on your site to have a chance at ranking highly in Google? Will a small, 5 to 10 page website, with only a few paragraphs of text have any chance of ranking highly?"
So like answers to most questions in search marketing, my initial reaction is "that depends." Depends on what? Well, it depends on a few different things. Let's dive into the factors that apply to word count, SEO and good search engine rankings.
You Need Keywords to Rank
Okay, so before we discuss volume of content, document size or if there's an ideal word count that Google loves, let's go over the basics of ensuring your content gets served up to users in the search engines.
If your content is going to have any chance at showing up in the search results for a particular keyword/query, the terms the user is searching for must be present in the document. If your keywords  aren't used in the document, then talk of ideal word count is irrelevant.
Now assuming you have a portfolio of keywords you're targeting already for your website, there are certain contentual regions where those keywords need to live to be topically relevant to a user's search query, and inline with "what search engines like."
I've listed the primary areas where your keywords need to live for maximum relevance, and ordered them by importance (with 5 being most important, 1 being least).
- Level 5 importance: Keywords on page (in the body of the copy) and in the title tag 
- Level 4 importance: Inbound links pointing to document have keyword anchor text
- Level 3 importance: Keywords in high visibility zones of page, such as H tags (heading tags), image alt attributes and in-document jump links
- Level 2 importance: Internal links on your own site pointing to page have keywords in anchor text, including breadcrumbs and navigational links (if possible)
- Level 1 importance: Keywords in URL slug
So the strategy is to include your target keywords in any place you have the option of using them. It's also a best practice to use keywords in the file names of images, but that's more a ranking signal for image searches, which you can read more about here .
When it Comes to Keyword Word Count and Good Rankings, Size Matters
Now, when it comes to web content, the size of your document matters. But not in the way you might think. It's not a case of "I have more words than you do, therefore I rank higher." If it were, then it would be super easy to game the engines, as it was in the past. What's more the length of document isn't synonymous with quality of the document.
When it comes to document size, using more words means more ranking opportunities. My recommendation is to have a minimum word count of at least 500 words per page for documents you want to rank well in the search engines. I feel that gives you a good foundation for being able to integrate 5 to 10 keywords, while still keeping the content natural.
You see, the more content you write, the more chance you have of using variations of your target keywords. If you only write one or two paragraphs, you're limiting yourself on the range of keywords and keyword variations you can rank for. Point is, it makes no sense to only target a single keyword or search term per page. It's highly inefficient. It's better to publish a document that can rank on a range of related search terms.
People search in different ways using different combinations of words and questions and it’s impossible to predict or account for them all, so by having your content optimized for a range of related keywords you’re covering almost every base. This gives you have a much better chance of penetrating more search verticals and driving more traffic to your website. Find out what works for you to determine the optimal word count that gives you the most natural reading keyword variation without blatantly boring your readers with keyword analytics. Read more about content and keyword optimization .
So back to the original question - analyzing word count's impact on Google rankings
Okay, with all that background, Dawn wants to know if a small website, with only a few graphs of text on each pages has any chance of ranking highly in Google?
Now even though I'm recommending your word count be at least 500 words per page for good SEO, it doesn't mean you can't rank well for a specific, target keyword if your document only has say 50 words. I've seen plenty of instances where a page with only a handful of words outranks a document with 1500 words, and that's in super competitive verticals. Heck our own free keyword tool, which until recently had no more than 30 words on the page, ranked top five for the hyper competitive search query "keyword tool ." How is that possible?
- Strength of domain: Our domain is authoritative and trusted and pretty much anything we publish debuts on page one or two depending on the level of competitiveness.
- Volume of quality links: Even though it's less than a year old, The Free Keyword Tool has amassed thousands of links from authoritative domains.
- Anchor text: Many of the links pointing to the free keyword tool, have the anchor text "keyword tool," which sends a strong signal of topical relevance.
So it certainly is possible to rank very well in Google on competitive keywords  if your page only has a handful of words, if that document lives on a trusted, authoritative domain and is supported by quality inbound links.
However, it's always better to write more words than less. Even if your site is a high authority high trust ranking machine, it's still smarter to rank on a range of keywords rather than one or two. Writing more content gives you more opportunity to target multiple keywords while still sounding natural. I mean, nothing's going to stop you from trying to target a core keyword and 10 variations of that keyword in only a paragraph or two, but it's going to look pretty darn spammy and akin to keyword stuffing, which is a big no-no for both SEO and user experience.
So when it comes to content, Dawn, bigger is always better.