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Which Is Better for SEO?

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Which Is Better for SEO?

Long-form content isn’t necessarily better for SEO than short-form content. As with many things in SEO, it depends.

Sometimes, long-form content is overkill and a waste of resources. Other times, it’s necessary to stand the best chance of ranking.

In this guide, you’ll learn a simple way to figure out how much to write on a topic-by-topic basis.

But first, let’s get our definitions straight:

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What is short-form content?

Short-form content is roughly anything under 1,000 words. This is how we choose to define it, but definitions vary. You may only consider something under 500 words to be short-form content, and that’s fine.

What is long-form content?

Long-form content is roughly anything over 1,000 words. Again, this is how we choose to define it. You may disagree and only see something as long-form content if it’s over 2,000 words. It’s up to you.

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Should I write short-form or long-form content?

If you’re asking this question in the context of SEO, then what you’re probably asking is, “Do I need to write thousands of words to rank for this keyword? Or can I write something shorter?”

Fair question. But you shouldn’t decide this by setting an arbitrary word count.

Instead, ask yourself, “How much do I need to write to satisfy searchers?”

Here’s a straightforward way to answer that question in five steps:

1. Look at what’s ranking

Pull up the search results for your target keyword. You can do this in a couple of ways.

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If you’re an Ahrefs user, use Keywords Explorer and scroll down to the SERP overview:

SERP overview for "ecommerce seo"

If you’re not an Ahrefs user, search on Google in an incognito tab and use Ahrefs’ SEO Toolbar to view results for your target location.

Google search results for "ecommerce seo"

2. Pick a content format

Your content is unlikely to rank unless it aligns with what searchers want, regardless of how much you write. This is why it’s usually best to choose a content format that is already ranking.

Here are a few popular content formats to look out for:

  • Guides
  • Listicles
  • How-tos
  • Tutorials
  • Reviews
  • Definitions
  • Vs.” posts

For example, if we look at the blog posts ranking for “ecommerce seo,” they’re pretty much all guides…

SERP overview for "ecommerce seo"

… so it’s clear that we should also write a guide.

If we look at the posts ranking for “keyword cannibalization,” we see a mix of definitions and how-tos:

SERP overview for "keyword cannibalization"

This is known as a mixed intent keyword.

With mixed intent keywords, it’s up to you which format to create. Just keep in mind that some content formats will give you a better opportunity to promote your business than others.

For example, since you’re able to find keyword cannibalization issues using our tool, it makes more sense to write a how-to than a definition post.

3. Create a search-focused outline

A search-focused outline is a barebones plan for your content that takes inspiration from similar top-ranking content. The logic here is that similar top-ranking content is clearly satisfying searchers, so analyzing it can help you understand what they want.

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The best starting point for a search-focused outline is a content gap analysis.

Let’s say we want to create a guide targeting the keyword “pour over coffee.”

If we take the top-ranking guides and plug their URLs into Ahrefs’ Content Gap tool, we see all the keywords that one or more of those pages rank for in the top 10. By eyeballing these keywords, we can start to pluck out subtopics that we can include in our outline:

List of keywords in Content Gap results
Initial outline for "pour-over coffee" article

If you need more inspiration for your outline, visit the pages themselves and eyeball their subheadings. This will also help you better understand how to structure your content and may unveil subtopics you missed.

For example, if we open two top-ranking guides for “pour over coffee” and use Ahrefs’ SEO Toolbar to view the subheadings, we see they both talk about equipment:

List of subtopics
List of subtopics

This is likely an important thing to include.

We can also see that both guides start with a definition. This makes total sense and is probably the best starting point for any guide to pour-over coffee.

Here’s what our final search-focused outline may look like for this topic:

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Revised outline for "pour-over coffee" article

4. Start writing

It’s finally time to put pen to paper and transform your outline into “content.”

This is where you get to unleash your creativity and share your knowledge with the world. Just remember not to stray too far from your outline, as it’s there to ensure you cover what is needed to satisfy searchers.

Don’t worry about word count or length at this stage. Just focus on getting your thoughts down.

Here are a few useful tips if you’re struggling:

  1. Freewrite – This is where you write and don’t stop. No backspacing to correct spelling mistakes. No rewriting sentences. Just write. You’ll probably find that your content flows better if you can master this.
  2. Use the Pomodoro technique – This is where you write for 25 minutes before taking a five-minute break. Repeat this process as many times as necessary to get your content done. (Here’s a free Pomodoro timer.) 
  3. Use a distraction-free writing tool Bear is my favorite, but there are a few similar apps.

Whichever app you use, I don’t recommend using one that shows the word count as you type. It’s too distracting and may cause you to slip into thinking, “Hey, this is getting long” or “Hey, this seems too short.”

This is the kind of thinking you want to avoid. You just want to write as much as you need and no more. Don’t even look at the word count.

5. Trim the fluff

Regardless of whether your content ends up being short-form or long-form, your first draft will always be way too long. It’ll have run-on sentences, points that nobody cares about, and overly long paragraphs.

That may seem bad, but it’s exactly what a first draft should look like. You’ll find it much easier to trim and refine your ideas once they’re down on paper than to obsess over them as you go.

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Here’s how to do that in three steps:

The first step is self-editing. This is where you go through your first draft and cut any unnecessary fluff. You should also rewrite any meandering sentences and make sure things are as concise as possible. Tools like Hemingway and Grammarly can help with this.

Longer paragraph next to a more concise version

The second step is to get a friend or colleague to provide feedback. This can be a tricky one, as most people won’t want to hurt your feelings. I recommend explicitly asking them for feedback on things you can cut or shorten. This should make their feedback more focused and reduce their anxiety about offending you.

The third and final step is a round of self-edits based on your friend’s or colleague’s feedback.

Whatever your word count is now, that’s how long your content needs to be. Maybe it’s long-form; maybe it’s short-form. It doesn’t matter. What matters is you’ve written what is required to meet searchers’ expectations.

Is it really this simple?

Kind of—although there are a few other factors to keep in mind that may influence your decision.

You shouldn’t repeat yourself

Let’s say you’re researching subtopics for a content piece and find one that you’ve already covered on your site.

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For example, our beginner’s guide to link building primarily targets the keyword “link building.” If we plug two top-ranking guides for this keyword into Ahrefs’ Content Gap tool, we see that searchers want to know about link building strategies and techniques:

List of keywords in Content Gap results

But here’s the thing: We’ve already published dedicated guides about most of these strategies:

For that reason, we decided not to regurgitate everything in this guide and make it unnecessarily long. Instead, we chose to keep things brief and link to our guides on each tactic in case the reader wants to learn more.

Excerpt of blog post showing list of links

Then in each “sub-post” about an individual tactic, we added a link back to our link building guide.

Excerpt of blog post showing link to guide

This is known as a topic cluster or content hub, and there are a few reasons why it can be beneficial to SEO.

You can write multiple posts targeting multiple intents

Let’s take a keyword like “guest blogging.”

If you look at the SERP, it’s a mix of definitions and guides:

SERP overview for "guest blogging"

The definitions are generally short-form, and the guides are long-form.

Although you could pick one format to create here, you might also want to consider creating multiple posts in different formats to try to win multiple rankings. In this case, that would mean creating a short-form definition-type post and a long-form guide.

Yoast did this successfully for the keyword, “canonical URL”:

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Google search result for "canonical url" showing Yoast's article first

You may want to approach competitive keywords differently

Let’s say that you’re targeting a super competitive keyword like “SEO.” We see a mix of definitions and guides in the SERP, but pretty much all of them have backlinks from thousands of websites:

SERP overview for "seo"

Most of these pages are old, have accumulated their backlinks over many years, and continue to earn backlinks thanks to the vicious cycle of SEO:

SEO cycle: People search & read #1 result, then link to that result on own site, then these new links cause #1 page to stay on top

Bottom line: If you want to rank for this keyword, you’re going to need a ton of backlinks.

In this case, you’ll probably struggle to do that by following the crowd with a search-focused piece of content. You’ll stand a better chance of attracting the links you need by publishing something interesting or innovative (and ideally then doing outreach for links).

Note that this doesn’t mean you need to publish long-form content. Long-form guides can be link magnets, but so can short-form pieces.

For example, take Aleyda’s LearningSEO.io:

Roadmap with links to free resources

The original version of this (pictured above) was published in February 2021 with just 114 words on the page. Yet it’s managed to attract links from over 560 referring domains in only nine months:

Graph showing increasing number of referring domains over 9 months

My guess is that Aleyda isn’t trying to rank for anything here (especially not “SEO”) and simply created this to give back to the community. But the point remains: If you want links, it’s not about short-form vs. long-form. It’s about creating something that resonates with people and putting it in front of them.

Final thoughts

Focus on satisfying searchers, not hitting some arbitrary word count.

If you’re working with freelancers and need to give them a ballpark figure because you’re paying by the word, let your search-focused outline guide you. If there’s not much ground to cover, tell them to keep it short and sweet. If there’s a lot to cover, give them a rough limit and have them tell you if the content needs to be longer. Giving a bit of flexibility is key here.

Got questions? Disagree? Ping me on Twitter.

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Google On Hyphens In Domain Names

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What Google says about using hyphens in domain names

Google’s John Mueller answered a question on Reddit about why people don’t use hyphens with domains and if there was something to be concerned about that they were missing.

Domain Names With Hyphens For SEO

I’ve been working online for 25 years and I remember when using hyphens in domains was something that affiliates did for SEO when Google was still influenced by keywords in the domain, URL, and basically keywords anywhere on the webpage. It wasn’t something that everyone did, it was mainly something that was popular with some affiliate marketers.

Another reason for choosing domain names with keywords in them was that site visitors tended to convert at a higher rate because the keywords essentially prequalified the site visitor. I know from experience how useful two-keyword domains (and one word domain names) are for conversions, as long as they didn’t have hyphens in them.

A consideration that caused hyphenated domain names to fall out of favor is that they have an untrustworthy appearance and that can work against conversion rates because trustworthiness is an important factor for conversions.

Lastly, hyphenated domain names look tacky. Why go with tacky when a brandable domain is easier for building trust and conversions?

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Domain Name Question Asked On Reddit

This is the question asked on Reddit:

“Why don’t people use a lot of domains with hyphens? Is there something concerning about it? I understand when you tell it out loud people make miss hyphen in search.”

And this is Mueller’s response:

“It used to be that domain names with a lot of hyphens were considered (by users? or by SEOs assuming users would? it’s been a while) to be less serious – since they could imply that you weren’t able to get the domain name with fewer hyphens. Nowadays there are a lot of top-level-domains so it’s less of a thing.

My main recommendation is to pick something for the long run (assuming that’s what you’re aiming for), and not to be overly keyword focused (because life is too short to box yourself into a corner – make good things, course-correct over time, don’t let a domain-name limit what you do online). The web is full of awkward, keyword-focused short-lived low-effort takes made for SEO — make something truly awesome that people will ask for by name. If that takes a hyphen in the name – go for it.”

Pick A Domain Name That Can Grow

Mueller is right about picking a domain name that won’t lock your site into one topic. When a site grows in popularity the natural growth path is to expand the range of topics the site coves. But that’s hard to do when the domain is locked into one rigid keyword phrase. That’s one of the downsides of picking a “Best + keyword + reviews” domain, too. Those domains can’t grow bigger and look tacky, too.

That’s why I’ve always recommended brandable domains that are memorable and encourage trust in some way.

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Read the post on Reddit:

Are domains with hyphens bad?

Read Mueller’s response here.

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Benny Marty

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Reddit Post Ranks On Google In 5 Minutes

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Google apparently ranks Reddit posts within minutes

Google’s Danny Sullivan disputed the assertions made in a Reddit discussion that Google is showing a preference for Reddit in the search results. But a Redditor’s example proves that it’s possible for a Reddit post to rank in the top ten of the search results within minutes and to actually improve rankings to position #2 a week later.

Discussion About Google Showing Preference To Reddit

A Redditor (gronetwork) complained that Google is sending so many visitors to Reddit that the server is struggling with the load and shared an example that proved that it can only take minutes for a Reddit post to rank in the top ten.

That post was part of a 79 post Reddit thread where many in the r/SEO subreddit were complaining about Google allegedly giving too much preference to Reddit over legit sites.

The person who did the test (gronetwork) wrote:

“…The website is already cracking (server down, double posts, comments not showing) because there are too many visitors.

…It only takes few minutes (you can test it) for a post on Reddit to appear in the top ten results of Google with keywords related to the post’s title… (while I have to wait months for an article on my site to be referenced). Do the math, the whole world is going to spam here. The loop is completed.”

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Reddit Post Ranked Within Minutes

Another Redditor asked if they had tested if it takes “a few minutes” to rank in the top ten and gronetwork answered that they had tested it with a post titled, Google SGE Review.

gronetwork posted:

“Yes, I have created for example a post named “Google SGE Review” previously. After less than 5 minutes it was ranked 8th for Google SGE Review (no quotes). Just after Washingtonpost.com, 6 authoritative SEO websites and Google.com’s overview page for SGE (Search Generative Experience). It is ranked third for SGE Review.”

It’s true, not only does that specific post (Google SGE Review) rank in the top 10, the post started out in position 8 and it actually improved ranking, currently listed beneath the number one result for the search query “SGE Review”.

Screenshot Of Reddit Post That Ranked Within Minutes

Anecdotes Versus Anecdotes

Okay, the above is just one anecdote. But it’s a heck of an anecdote because it proves that it’s possible for a Reddit post to rank within minutes and get stuck in the top of the search results over other possibly more authoritative websites.

hankschrader79 shared that Reddit posts outrank Toyota Tacoma forums for a phrase related to mods for that truck.

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Google’s Danny Sullivan responded to that post and the entire discussion to dispute that Reddit is not always prioritized over other forums.

Danny wrote:

“Reddit is not always prioritized over other forums. [super vhs to mac adapter] I did this week, it goes Apple Support Community, MacRumors Forum and further down, there’s Reddit. I also did [kumo cloud not working setup 5ghz] recently (it’s a nightmare) and it was the Netgear community, the SmartThings Community, GreenBuildingAdvisor before Reddit. Related to that was [disable 5g airport] which has Apple Support Community above Reddit. [how to open an 8 track tape] — really, it was the YouTube videos that helped me most, but it’s the Tapeheads community that comes before Reddit.

In your example for [toyota tacoma], I don’t even get Reddit in the top results. I get Toyota, Car & Driver, Wikipedia, Toyota again, three YouTube videos from different creators (not Toyota), Edmunds, a Top Stories unit. No Reddit, which doesn’t really support the notion of always wanting to drive traffic just to Reddit.

If I guess at the more specific query you might have done, maybe [overland mods for toyota tacoma], I get a YouTube video first, then Reddit, then Tacoma World at third — not near the bottom. So yes, Reddit is higher for that query — but it’s not first. It’s also not always first. And sometimes, it’s not even showing at all.”

hankschrader79 conceded that they were generalizing when they wrote that Google always prioritized Reddit. But they also insisted that that didn’t diminish what they said is a fact that Google’s “prioritization” forum content has benefitted Reddit more than actual forums.

Why Is The Reddit Post Ranked So High?

It’s possible that Google “tested” that Reddit post in position 8 within minutes and that user interaction signals indicated to Google’s algorithms that users prefer to see that Reddit post. If that’s the case then it’s not a matter of Google showing preference to Reddit post but rather it’s users that are showing the preference and the algorithm is responding to those preferences.

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Nevertheless, an argument can be made that user preferences for Reddit can be a manifestation of Familiarity Bias. Familiarity Bias is when people show a preference for things that are familiar to them. If a person is familiar with a brand because of all the advertising they were exposed to then they may show a bias for the brand products over unfamiliar brands.

Users who are familiar with Reddit may choose Reddit because they don’t know the other sites in the search results or because they have a bias that Google ranks spammy and optimized websites and feel safer reading Reddit.

Google may be picking up on those user interaction signals that indicate a preference and satisfaction with the Reddit results but those results may simply be biases and not an indication that Reddit is trustworthy and authoritative.

Is Reddit Benefiting From A Self-Reinforcing Feedback Loop?

It may very well be that Google’s decision to prioritize user generated content may have started a self-reinforcing pattern that draws users in to Reddit through the search results and because the answers seem plausible those users start to prefer Reddit results. When they’re exposed to more Reddit posts their familiarity bias kicks in and they start to show a preference for Reddit. So what could be happening is that the users and Google’s algorithm are creating a self-reinforcing feedback loop.

Is it possible that Google’s decision to show more user generated content has kicked off a cycle where more users are exposed to Reddit which then feeds back into Google’s algorithm which in turn increases Reddit visibility, regardless of lack of expertise and authoritativeness?

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Kues

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WordPress Releases A Performance Plugin For “Near-Instant Load Times”

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WordPress speculative loading plugin

WordPress released an official plugin that adds support for a cutting edge technology called speculative loading that can help boost site performance and improve the user experience for site visitors.

Speculative Loading

Rendering means constructing the entire webpage so that it instantly displays (rendering). When your browser downloads the HTML, images, and other resources and puts it together into a webpage, that’s rendering. Prerendering is putting that webpage together (rendering it) in the background.

What this plugin does is to enable the browser to prerender the entire webpage that a user might navigate to next. The plugin does that by anticipating which webpage the user might navigate to based on where they are hovering.

Chrome lists a preference for only prerendering when there is an at least 80% probability of a user navigating to another webpage. The official Chrome support page for prerendering explains:

“Pages should only be prerendered when there is a high probability the page will be loaded by the user. This is why the Chrome address bar prerendering options only happen when there is such a high probability (greater than 80% of the time).

There is also a caveat in that same developer page that prerendering may not happen based on user settings, memory usage and other scenarios (more details below about how analytics handles prerendering).

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The Speculative Loading API solves a problem that previous solutions could not because in the past they were simply prefetching resources like JavaScript and CSS but not actually prerendering the entire webpage.

The official WordPress announcement explains it like this:

Introducing the Speculation Rules API
The Speculation Rules API is a new web API that solves the above problems. It allows defining rules to dynamically prefetch and/or prerender URLs of certain structure based on user interaction, in JSON syntax—or in other words, speculatively preload those URLs before the navigation. This API can be used, for example, to prerender any links on a page whenever the user hovers over them.”

The official WordPress page about this new functionality describes it:

“The Speculation Rules API is a new web API… It allows defining rules to dynamically prefetch and/or prerender URLs of certain structure based on user interaction, in JSON syntax—or in other words, speculatively preload those URLs before the navigation.

This API can be used, for example, to prerender any links on a page whenever the user hovers over them. Also, with the Speculation Rules API, “prerender” actually means to prerender the entire page, including running JavaScript. This can lead to near-instant load times once the user clicks on the link as the page would have most likely already been loaded in its entirety. However that is only one of the possible configurations.”

The new WordPress plugin adds support for the Speculation Rules API. The Mozilla developer pages, a great resource for HTML technical understanding describes it like this:

“The Speculation Rules API is designed to improve performance for future navigations. It targets document URLs rather than specific resource files, and so makes sense for multi-page applications (MPAs) rather than single-page applications (SPAs).

The Speculation Rules API provides an alternative to the widely-available <link rel=”prefetch”> feature and is designed to supersede the Chrome-only deprecated <link rel=”prerender”> feature. It provides many improvements over these technologies, along with a more expressive, configurable syntax for specifying which documents should be prefetched or prerendered.”

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See also: Are Websites Getting Faster? New Data Reveals Mixed Results

Performance Lab Plugin

The new plugin was developed by the official WordPress performance team which occasionally rolls out new plugins for users to test ahead of possible inclusion into the actual WordPress core. So it’s a good opportunity to be first to try out new performance technologies.

The new WordPress plugin is by default set to prerender “WordPress frontend URLs” which are pages, posts, and archive pages. How it works can be fine-tuned under the settings:

Settings > Reading > Speculative Loading

Browser Compatibility

The Speculative API is supported by Chrome 108 however the specific rules used by the new plugin require Chrome 121 or higher. Chrome 121 was released in early 2024.

Browsers that do not support will simply ignore the plugin and will have no effect on the user experience.

Check out the new Speculative Loading WordPress plugin developed by the official core WordPress performance team.

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How Analytics Handles Prerendering

A WordPress developer commented with a question asking how Analytics would handle prerendering and someone else answered that it’s up to the Analytics provider to detect a prerender and not count it as a page load or site visit.

Fortunately both Google Analytics and Google Publisher Tags (GPT) both are able to handle prerenders. The Chrome developers support page has a note about how analytics handles prerendering:

“Google Analytics handles prerender by delaying until activation by default as of September 2023, and Google Publisher Tag (GPT) made a similar change to delay triggering advertisements until activation as of November 2023.”

Possible Conflict With Ad Blocker Extensions

There are a couple things to be aware of about this plugin, aside from the fact that it’s an experimental feature that requires Chrome 121 or higher.

A comment by a WordPress plugin developer that this feature may not work with browsers that are using the uBlock Origin ad blocking browser extension.

Download the plugin:
Speculative Loading Plugin by the WordPress Performance Team

Read the announcement at WordPress
Speculative Loading in WordPress

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See also: WordPress, Wix & Squarespace Show Best CWV Rate Of Improvement

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