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Content Marketing 201: The KISS Principle vs. Word Count

There’s a common complaint among content creators. It’s that a client wants both a large word count and a low reading difficulty score on their content. The ‘problem’ being that the easy way to get a large word count is to use filler words. Filler words inflate word counts, but they also make sentences longer. Longer sentence are more complex. More complex sentences mean fewer people will read them, because it takes too much effort.

Why Long is Good
Google uses the length of text on a website for two things. First, it dislikes “thin content,” meaning pages that don’t have much on them. Text length counts toward ‘thickness’ of content. Second, it likes “user engagement.” Users engage more with websites that have more on them. That includes the text they read. Both ways, more text tends to be better for SEO. There are many more important factors. But taken alone, more is better.

Why Simple is Good
According to the co-founder of Contently, 50% of Americans read at an 8th-grade level or below. If you want to reach 75% of Americans, your goal should be a grade level of 5.5 or lower. The grade level of a given piece of content depends on two things. The first is the number of syllables per word. The second is the number of words per sentence. The length of the overall piece of writing isn’t used. That means even a huge blog post can end up with a small grade level. All you need are short words in short sentences. That means using no filler words…or does it?

The Simple is Long Hack
Look at these two sections of text.

  1. The primary function of SEO is to help your website rank further up on the SERPs (search engine results pages), which results in more organic traffic landing on your page, which in theory results in more people converting (whether that means purchasing your product, signing your petition, or whatever.)
  2. SEO helps a site reach a good rank on Google. When people search on Google, they see the good ranks first. They click on the good ranks more often. That means more people click through to see your site. The more people see your site, the more converts you get. A convert can be a new sale. A convert can be a new sign-up. A convert can be almost anything! But you can’t get converts without visits. SEO creates visits by putting your page in the good ranks.

The grade level of the first section is 22.3. That’s above PhD level. The co-founder of Contently claims only 1% of Americans would read that. The grade level of the second section is 2.4. 85% of Americans would read that. The first section is 50 words long. The second section is 89 words long. That’s 80% longer, and 84% more accessible. (Ideally…but see our next post for a bit of a counterpoint!)

That might seem like a cheat. But the idea that long or complex is better is false. It comes mostly from experts. Experts in a field use complex words because they have a complex understanding. Most people don’t. Most people have very simple understandings of anything outside their field. If you want Mister Average to understand, focus on simplicity. If you focus on simplicity, you will find that length comes naturally.

(This article came out to a 5.0 on the reading grade level, not including this endnote.)

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