SEO

SEO Mythbusters: “Do You Need Lots Of Content?”

On a call with a client recently, I got asked a question that highlighted how poorly many “Top 10/20/30 Tips To SEO” guides are done. The question was entirely logical, but if we as SEO bloggers (i.e. teachers) were doing a little more thinking and a little less rehashing, I’d have never had a client confused about this. The client asked:

“There are two SEO principles that are conflicting for me, and I don’t know which one to follow.

On the one hand, I’m told that I need a lot of content, because Google likes content. On the other hand, I’m told that I need to concentrate my PageRank by using good information architecture.

The problem is that the more content I have, the more links I need to put on my pages so that it’s all accessible to search engines. And that dilutes the PageRank flowing in any direction.

What do I do?”

Answer: Cut the crap. Err, I mean content.

When people say that you need content on your site, there are two reasons for that.

1) So that you can show the search engines you’re relevant, by including keywords on the page.

2) To attract links.

There’s also a circular, nonsensical reason given:

3) Having more content makes you rank better. (Sometimes simplistically phrased as “Googlebot loves fresh content.” That’s a bit different though, as I’ll explain in a minute.)

It’s that last reason that is particularly insidious, and repeated so frequently and so often without explanations that it makes me noxious.

If you have sufficient PageRank and you regularly publish new content – yes, Googlebot will return frequently to your site to crawl your articles, which will then be indexed. But if you just have plenty of content – even if you publish 5 new unique, original articles a day – Google doesn’t care. No one hears your tree falling…

After you’ve crossed the threshold of reason 1 with your content – eg providing enough text for Google to understand what your page is about – what you need is links.

Now, in certain specific circumstances, more content can make you rank “better.”

  • If you add more content to an existing page that already has more than a bare minimum of content, to attract longtail search traffic, you will rank better in the sense of getting more visitors. You won’t see a difference in the rankings for your shorttail keywords.
  • If your page is light on content (eg under 50 words), it might make a slight difference if you bulk things up a bit. You’re improving the user experience, generally, when you clarify things. And we know Google’s algorithms aim to reward good user experience.
  • If you publish a fresh content on a given topic on which Google considers that the  ‘query deserves freshness,’  (via Dave’s coverage of QDF) you might get a boost initially, which fades over time.

But adding content in and of itself does NOTHING BENEFICIAL for your rankings. Go ahead and split test it if you don’t believe me. If anything, as in the case of my client, your extra content may even be hurting your rankings because you water down your navigation with links to every new page you create.

Gab Goldenberg also writes his own search marketing blog for serious SEOs, as well as providing personalized seo consultations for entrepreneurs and SMBs that need more traffic.

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45 thoughts on “SEO Mythbusters: “Do You Need Lots Of Content?”

  1. Content might be used to improve site’s internal architecture, if it used wisely for interlinking articles. For example, adding more content with related keywords that link to important pages focusing on short tail.
    Sure, same might be achieved (and needs to be mixed with) by linkbuilding, But why not using it on the site as well?

    1. And how are you going to get that additional content crawled to begin with, so that it has any value whatsoever to pass to your main short tail pages?

      Following this reasoning, you should expand a site to a million pages, because you can then have 999,990 pages funnelling value to your 10 money pages.

      1. Surely, links are needed for that.
        However, I can get some links to long -tail keyword pages (which are different, maybe more specific but useful content) that I could not get to main “money making” pages. The key is value of the content.
        My reasoning is that it is easier to get multiple pages rank for different keywords (long tail ones) than put whole content into one page. It is better (for me) to have ranks for long-tail keywords as well than to rely on links from other sites that rank on them well.
        This works for me well. Maybe not for other people/niches/etc.
        It has nothing to do with bloating the site, no useless content should be added.

      2. Gab : I did attracted links with product listings. Sometimes, listings are what converts.
        However, it depends on site. I fully understand that cases exist where links are more required the content.
        This post is good, however, I will try out what works in each case separately.

  2. I am not sure I agree totally with this. The size of a website can be a signal of authority. All other things being equal, a website with 10 pages is unlikely to be as authoritative as the competitor site with 100 pages). I suspect this plays a very small part in the algorithm, but I would be surprised if it was totally ignored. But more than the total number of pages would be the growth of the site (why blogs are great). All other things being equal, the growing site is more likely to be current and have the latest information. Then there is the matter of the long-tail keywords; the more pages, the more long tail keywords a site is likely to rank for. No two situations are the same, but as a general principle, I would go for a growing site with regularly added content whenever possible.

    1. I addressed the growth issue as an exception under query deserves freshness. Otherwise, what value is there in growth? Suppose your site is about fly-eating spiders of the upper Amazon river. Is there really value in creating 50 more pages? 100 more pages? Does that make you more of an authority? Or just long winded and repetitive?

      If you want to prove this, split test a dozen sites, half with 100 pages, and half with 10, on a madeup keyword. Give them identical links, and then document what ranks higher. I’ll gladly retract myself if you can prove that size matters.

      “As a general principle, I would go for a growing site with regularly added content whenever possible.”
      My problem is that such a general principle is given in the absence of any details/context, which confuses the general public.

    2. I agree with you David. And I think it’s usually worth breaking a subject down into sub-divisions to make sure you get all the traffic you can. For example, if you have a site about luxury car hire, most people won’t just enter ‘luxury car hire’ into a search. They will enter ‘hire luxury car’, ‘hire sports car’, ‘hire classic car’ and so on. You would be far better off breaking that general term into its natural divisions than you would trying to get it all on one page. A site like this could end up with around a hundred pages if you looked into all the possibilities.

  3. I have to agree with David here a bit. It is without a doubt I believe the size of a page matters in the algo at any level when it comes to giving authority to a site.

    For years we’ve heard the famous quote, “content is king.” It seems in this piece you are basically saying, MAYBE, at this point links are more important than the actual content which many probably think it has swung that way in the past 2-3 years, and maybe it has.

    I think for sound SEO, both are equally important but from what I have seen, more weight is put on links than content. Now, as far as creating GOOD content, I would always advise anyone to do so, and continuously if possible also, that can never hurt, only help.

  4. This is a subject where I think a lot of people get hung up. I agree with David, and I don’t feel that you need to create content for content’s sake. What you need to provide is value & quality in your content, which is what search engines are all about anyway. If you’re providing quality in the content that’s on your website, then you’re creating a good experience, which leads to links, rankings, traffic, etc etc etc…

    Focus on your users first, and then worry about quality not quantity!

    1. See the thing is that everyone here is operating within a mindset of content = blog posts.

      Content can also be product detail pages, product categories, miscellaneous spec sheets, instruction manuals etc. With the possible exception of instruction manuals, none of those is likely to get links.

      This is more proof that we’re often giving advice without enough context.

  5. I really like and whole-heartedly agree with the emphasis on context, Gab.

    Really, this idea that “more content is always good/better” is sort of like my saying “more PPC traffic is good/better”. It can be good, if it’s effective, business-driving traffic that offers a cost-efficient CPA. Or it can be budget-breaking. It depends.

    Really there are three points of note here for my money:
    1. Past a minimum threshold adding more content likely has a marginal impact at best to ranking on a SINGLE, core targeted term.
    2. More content will only mean more long tail traffic if your site has sufficient link equity and is crawlable (but if your site does have sufficient link equity and is crawlable, you will get more long tail traffic from more/longer copy)
    3. The value of additional long tail traffic is ROI dependent

    I think 1 and 2 are pretty uncontroversial, really, but three seems to be consistently overlooked. SEO traffic IS NOT FREE. Developing relationships, building links (manually, through directories, link baiting), and creating link-worthy content can be VERY expensive (particularly if you are in a niche worth being in) for a business. As you build out more and more content – unless you’re just auto-generating new pages – you need to be: generating more raw link equity to pass around, carefully monitoring and managing your information architecture as new pages come live, and in many cases you need to be investing in copy writing resources for the new content.

    If you are effectively researching keywords and targeting higher value terms first, you’re faced with diminishing returns for each and every page you create that isn’t aimed at generating links. There are definitely businesses – particularly SMBs – who would be better served ranking for a tight, core list of phrases and moving on to other things (paid search, CRO, Email, whatever).

    Anyway I would agree with Gab that “more content” is not always “better”.

    1. You’ve expanded on my argument in a very articulate, logical way here Tom. The bottom line is what it means for the business. And often, SEOs forget about the business’ bottom line!

  6. It should not be surprising that the message is getting mixed as so many people in our industry keep spewing out content that doesn’t make sense.

    I think this was a pretty good article. I especially liked “No one hears your tree falling ….”

  7. I have to agree with Pablo here. While it is safe to say that links hold more weight there is always the question about how to get links to your site. Unless you are a huge corporation with a following you are going to need quality, linkable content.

    And to second David, a page with 100 pages of quality content will likely rank better and draw in more links than one with 10.

    1. Content ≠ blog posts or articles.

      And if you figure 100 pages are better than 10, then I’d love to see the proof. Honestly, I’d write a post here congratulating you for running the a/b split test properly and highlighting your results, as well as eating my own words. Until then, no one’s going to pay attention if your site has another 10000 pages..

      1. Sure they will. With 10k pages you’d be gettin some mad long tail traffic, which would pretty much MAKE people pay attention. ;) And yes, I do think that a fair amount of those pages would still get indexed even without tons of linkbuilding. Once the long tail pours in, you’ll get the eyeballs and links (assuming the content is helpful, of course).

      2. That’s doubtful because you’d need enough PageRank to get all that indexed, plus you’d need a reason for people to care and/or link. I think you’re again assuming content = blog posts or articles, which isn’t necessarily the case.

        But hey, run the split test and prove me wrong :).

  8. I also do agree with David.

    What’s written in your posts are really important. Posts with good quality content is something that readers would really want to read and if the readers are impressed, they will surely be coming back for more of your posts.

    It doesn’t matter if you have a short brief content, what matters is what’s indside your post.

    This is a good posts because it gives us ideas about contents.

    Thanks for sharing this with us Gab.

  9. I totally agree with Gab and Tom Demers. There is one aspect though where expanding content may help rankings (provided of course that it is meaningful and valuable content) and that is in the sense that if visitors have interesting content and, as a result, stay on the site longer, then these visitor metrics (average length of visit) are likely to help rankings since they are confirmation that the keyword search delivered a relevant and valuable result and this surely must be in Google’s algo.

  10. Gab,

    I think your article is way over simplified. It does bring up the primary point regarding the notion of “content for it’s own sake” being a waste of time and resources. However, Like others have pointed out, content is vital in some instances.

    Every major web site on any major subject, and that comes up atop the organic rankings is chock full of content. With hundreds or even thousands of pages. These site’s don’t have any problem with dilution. To claim that as a reason to not write content is where the over-simplification of this article comes in.

    The critical factors are quality and uniqueness of that content and extremely well thought-out architecture.

    As far as PageRank dilution, that goes to the fact that PageRank is now a non-factor in the greater scheme of things. Whether a site comes up high enough in the SERPs for X number of keyword phrases on a given subject is what matters. There are many sites that have a PR of 5, 4 or even 3 that come up higher in the SERPs than sites with higher PR.

    1. Alan, without meaning to be curt, you’re repeating what others said above. So I’ll repeat my answer – not all content is linkworthy. As to PageRank, my argument above is about architecture and indexing, not so much as a ranking factor (beyond the minimum indexing threshold).

  11. Gab, remember that “Creating New Pages, Creates New Page Rank”…
    Every single Page which is in Google index gets some virtual ~0,15… of Page Rank.

    Check out SEOmoz.org: “The Professional’s Guide to PageRank Optimization”.

    1. That’s a fairly good argument, Cezar. That said, though, that new PageRank obviously isn’t enough for the page to be indexed on its own.
      As to getting that marginal PageRank flowing to your other pages, there are better uses of your time, imho.

  12. Clearly you haven’t been in the business long enough to have seen what happens to a site that doesn’t add fresh content. I agree the fresh content boost is temporary and is more about “news”.

    Does anyone understand how adding more pages also means you have more internal pages pointing at other pages on the site. Each new page is a new oppotunity for incoming links and that definitely does help rankings. Links do not have to be on another site to pass juice!

    More content is an old as the hills technique that still works. On top of that IBL text is a crapshoot unless you are buying links (never a good idea for SEO) so the only place you have control over link text is on you own site. More pages gives you more opportunities to do internal links to like pages. Like… is no one teaching the basics anymore? Like that’s content 101!

  13. If you focus on having a solid site structure, and you publish content that makes sense within your keyword universe — any content can help you rank and the more the better.

    And as Terry mentioned having all that content gives you a lot more to play with.

    The key is implementation.

  14. Uhm… wow… what can I say. There are some VERY odd comments in this thread…

    Gabs, I am pretty sure you know where I stand… more content does not equal better and I’ve managed some campaigns in some fairly strong query spaces that building links to existing content was a far more effective strategy than simply adding crap loads of new pages (and yea, not all sites/query spaces are content centric….ie; blogs). It’s about knowing the query space and it’s always quality over quantity for me…

    Now, that being said, Terry does bring up good points as far as giving one more chances to show the prominence of interior pages and targeted (internal) link texts. It ‘can’ improve crawl rates but so can external links and hey… one can also change existing pages from time to time to help that as well (as noted in the historical ranking factors patents)

    Now for a few of the oddities in the comments;

    “if visitors have interesting content and, as a result, stay on the site longer, then these visitor metrics (average length of visit) are likely to help rankings since they are confirmation that the keyword search delivered a relevant and valuable result and this surely must be in Google’s algo.”

    Uhm… WTF? This is silliness and as Gabs noted, these are known as ‘implicit user feedback’ in the IR world and they’re known to be problematic when trying to understand intent/satisfaction – they are known to be ‘noisy’ and spammable – So let’s not go there quite yet…

    Moving along… the next oddity…

    “As far as PageRank dilution, that goes to the fact that PageRank is now a non-factor in the greater scheme of things. Whether a site comes up high enough in the SERPs for X number of keyword phrases on a given subject is what matters. There are many sites that have a PR of 5, 4 or even 3 that come up higher in the SERPs than sites with higher PR.”

    Once again.. WTF?? Since when did PR become a non-factor? Once more, seemingly smart SEOs are confusing TBPR with actual PageRank calculations… which are by no means a non-factor. Hell, most SEOs don’t even know what Personalized PageRank is nor other iterations/evolutions for PageRank over the years… to start creating myths such as ‘PageRank being dead/useless’ must make the engineers at Google laugh their asses off at us… sigh… Combine that with silliness like the above mentioned delusion of implicit user feedback and it is odd sometimes to think about WTF SEOs are actually doing out there (no wonder I can clean house in my client’s query spaces…hehe)

    Anyway, there is no hard and fast rule IMO in that each query space will be different… And in many of them the assertion that more content means more rankings/greater ROI, is false. It really is situational…

    Fun post Gabs and lots of healthy discussion which is always a good thing …

  15. Frig, I hate agencies/consultants who keep telling their clients that they need to build more content, because doing so will increase their rankings.

    Fast forward 6 months, and the ‘if you build it they will come’ philosophy not having worked out the way it was pitched to the client, someone finally comes up with the idea to generate links (at an exponentially increased retainer of course).

    Great writeup.

  16. Great, I’m more confused now after reading the article and comments than I was before!

    Let me summarise it for you. You have 2 choices today: 1) Write a new blog article or new webpage for your website 2) or don’t.

    On the days you choose “yes”, are the days you are adding more data into Googles index. That is a good thing. So do it.

  17. I never come out of my hole to comment, but you used the keyword “dilute” in SEO.
    This article actually is wrong and deals with a huge issue (adding new content) that so called SEO specialist feel they must educate the world on.

    Ever heard of wikipedia???

    If by adding new content to your site “dilutes” your ability to gain more traffic then you lost control in your optimization. Meaning you need to completely rethink how your site is navigating, optimized and how you can gain control by linking together old and new relevant content. A good example of the ultimate way to educate people and engines is wikipedia.

    When we talk of educating engines we forget that people built the engines, so the engines think like people. Meaning engines follow content like people do. The only difference is along the way the engines keep score. Google for one keeps score in several categories, which is the kewl part of Google, I consider it the cross-examiner of content.

    By adding new pages / new content and linking them correctly is only one cog in the machine that will help you in raising a specific page PR. You still need to drive traffic from external sources. If when doing this you find a huge difference in PR between relevant old content pages, then yes you may have a “diluted” problem meaning you lost control of your navigation linking.

    I’ve been on the web since day one, and I’m a big fan of SEO specialist. There are only a handful of specialist that I would say truly understand even the basics. And the basics is your foundation before you think about adding new content.

    I guess the reason I’m commenting is so that you will rethink what you wrote. It took me years to understand why does so many sites have diluted results with tons of the same content. Thats when the word “diluted” actually hit me and I think about it constantly when building a sites foundation.

    Yeah true if you just add content and keep adding content and you don’t map it out where people/engines can follow easily, then its just that content. Google for one picks up on this and says well you get no points for this, but your competitor with only a couple of pages linking to each other wins…

    But a good SEO specialist can reuse all that content, map it back together correctly and what do you know PR starts coming up… Is it because you added new content? no, its because you educated the engine on categorized/relevant content which is driving traffic as well… And much better than PR, does that give you more traffic? You bet, by adding new fresh content and educating other sites, you’ll drive traffic to the new pages, and surfers will click more links internally.

    Before long you’ll pass up that site with only a couple of pages… Many people think you need to just wait for these results… But the real truth is nothing will happen unless something starts to link in… externally and internally…. Which is the real mystery to most…

    This is why I say there are only a handful of so called SEO experts on the web. “Dilute” is a keyword and I’m glad you used it in this article, even though I disagree with you some what…

    So here’s a good place where I would change my content, LOL. Update it with correct information that adding new content is good so long as you have control of site that and it is not getting “diluted” by content that is lost with no relevant linking.

    Going back to my hole now to compete with you guys… LOL

    1. Well, that’s the whole problem with the ‘experts’ then isn’t it? Very little understanding of IR and the search world in general. Funny considering that it is ‘SEARCH ENGINE’ optimization… You’d think that they’d learn about and keep up with what is going on in the IR world wouldn’t ya? Sigh…. so hey, go read ALL the research at the bottom of this post, do some testing, then make your OWN decision…

      http://www.huomah.com/Search-Engines/Algorithm-Matters/The-final-word-on-bounce-rates-as-a-ranking-signal.html

      There is literally a TON of stuff there on implicit user feedback. We do know they use query analysis at Google, but that’s not really the same as the prob that is IUF…

      Point being, start reading more IR and less SEO… it will do you well in the end..

  18. Do all sites need a lot of content to rank well in search engines? It depends.

    IMHO, more content gives you a better chance at doing all of the above *assuming* that you are publishing some great articles. SEOBook & Outspoken media does a really good job of this where their blog posts are well thought out and are worthwhile enough to attract external links. Generating run-of-the-mill content won’t do that for you.

    Great content gives you the ability to:

    1) Target long-tail KWs
    2) Gives you more targets for inbound links
    3) Direct internal anchor text links to some really important pages
    4) Gives Google some fresh content to keep indexing your site and coming back more frequently

    Does this mean that sites with not much content perform poorly in SEs? No. I’ve seen sites that haven’t added any new content in the past couple of years still going strong for their target KWs. But then again these sites were able to generate some great inbound links through other means.

    There’s no hard & fast rule.

  19. I guess like so many others I will agree and disagree. Not all content is good. Simply adding new posts won’t guarantee rankings, heck, rankings don’t even guarantee traffic. ;)

    Gab, I’d horribly argue with you on the point of getting links to a product listing. I’m forever linking to products that I’m interested in on a personal level. Think Geek is one of my favourite spots on the Internet. I mean, who doesn’t want one of these? http://www.thinkgeek.com/tshirts-apparel/unisex/generic/5d6a/

    Got you there! The point here is that if you’re adding content you need to have reason, direction and a plan. Internal linking can be more valuable than external links – because you control it.

    To answer the question: “Do you need lots of content?” The answer is no. But then again with so many ranking factors, no one factor is needed (‘cept perhaps an online presence).

    I however prefer having more content to work with than less. But each to their own.

    1. You make a good argument and intelligent comment here, Robert. That said, I think you’re generalizing in a way that isn’t quite possible for most ecommerce stores. You linked to Think Geek because of a remarkable product … but what about when you have generic t shirts etc.?

      1. Gab, thanks for the reply. You make a good point about generic t shirts… but then again, is anyone really looking for a generic product online? Surely there is always something they are actually searching for… the cheapest, most unique, best quality… etc.

        I guess that by judging my all of the comments one thing is quite clear. No single approach works for all campaigns and that the approach should be tailor made for each campaign.

        But wasn’t that the point in the beginning?

  20. In all my testing – and I've done quite a bit on this – my sites that have more indexed content rank better than the ones that have less. All things being equal of course.

    And I think that's the point here. It's almost impossible to really know for (or at least be able to objectively test) if all things really are equal. Having said that, certainly for me, my sites that have a similar domain age, similar PageRank, similar number of backlinks – everything I know I can control – all rank higher if they have more indexed pages.

    A gross generalisation? Be interested to know.