Comprehensive Content Gets Better Search Results

Some say increasingly short attention spans mean concise content is the way to go. On the other hand Moz has found that longer content tends to do better in the search results. 
Is Google really giving more SEO weight to comprehensive content, the kind of content that answers all or most of a searcher’s questions in one place? The search engine is famously opaque but it looks like the number of words and the length of documents do correlate with better SERPs rankings. Let’s explore and see what’s what.
short tree, tall tree

What does the best long content look like?

You could write thousands of words, but if they’re crappy words they won’t fulfil people’s search intentions or expectations. The first tenets of quality content, long or short, are user engagement and satisfaction. Which means giving people enough of what they need to stick around, and making it worth sticking around for.
If everyone and his cat has already covered a subject in fine detail, all in much the same way, creating comparatively diverse and unique content is the way to go. Then there’s the element that Moz calls ‘comprehensiveness’. Moz pins down comprehensiveness as a blend of depth, trustworthiness and value. They reckon Google has been focusing on exactly that for a year or more, especially when related to informational, research-led queries like product and brand comparisons, and broad implicit or explicit questions that naturally dictate complex, involved answers.
So can you make your content more comprehensive?

How to make your content more ‘comprehensive’

First, examine the core question the content is supposed to answer. You’ll probably find there’s more than one question inherent in every search query, often multiple questions, a blend of implicit and explicit. You could tackle one of them, the most obvious, and leave visitors to click away to find the rest. Or you could cover the lot in one go and keep people on your page for longer. The simple fact that a visitor stays on the page for longer shows Google that people appreciate the content, which in turn positively affects your visibility for the search query or queries you’ve focused on.
Second, include information that other people can’t get hold of. You might have done your own research and have a fresh perspective. You might have polled your client base or prospects. You might be an expert in the field, a guru with more depth and texture of insight to offer than anyone else. You might even collate other people’s research to present something more meaningful, more statistically valid. It can even mean delivering more than just the cold facts. You’re allowed to have opinions online, although few people dare express them, and having one is a brilliant way to stand out from the everyday crowd.

Is comprehensive content ever a bad thing?

If a query can be answered perfectly well in one sentence or paragraph, there’s no merit in making it any longer than it needs to be to do a good job. Comprehensive content doesn’t mean wittering on and on when a short answer would suffice. It means answering queries fully, taking into account everything a person might reasonably need to know when raising the query.

How to get people to read longer content?

There’s an obvious tension here between the short attention spans some experts say we’ve developed and the need for comprehensive information. In my experience people’s attention spans are no shorter than they were in the old days of direct marketing, before the digital revolution. But if you believe tiny, weeny attention spans are an issue, there are plenty of creative ways to make long content easy for people to digest and search engines to classify.

  • Summarise – tell people at the top of the page what you’ll be talking about, in what order, so they can easily navigate to the information they most want
  • Provide in-page links for people to follow to find the exact information they need
  • Put the most important stuff above the fold, less important below it
  • Use graphics and video to tell the story (but always provide a written transcript for Google’s sake and for those who use text readers)
  • Use headers and subheads to divide it up so people can scan through easily and find exactly what they want quickly
  • Embolden important points to catch the visitor’s eye
  • Bring bullets and lists into play to highlight vital information
  • Use plenty of imagery to enhance visual appeal
  • Lay information out in a logical way, with the most important and relevant questions prioritised
  • Pull out vital points into boxes
  • Use colour to denote different types of information

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