What is very difficult about search engine marketing is that facts are often combined with truth. And the truth is that a considerable number of pages with a word count between 400-800 words tend to rank. Does that mean that every single Web page should contain 400-800 words? No.
If a page can communicate a full thought or idea with less than 400 words, then I would not purposely try to add words just to hit a word count standard. Plenty of pages rank well that contain less than 400 words. In fact, many SEOs recommend that a page have at least 200 words. Where they came up with this number? I don’t know. I do know that a 200-word Web page usually contains enough content to communicate a full thought.
For example, let’s use a clothing ecommerce site’s product page. On a product page, end users want to see price, availability, sizes, material (what is the shirt made from – cotton, polyester, silk), colors, maybe even a few reviews. That is 100 words, easy. The site owner’s primary call to action is Add to Cart. So that call to action should be featured prominently on the page.
But what if site visitors are not ready to make a purchase? A smart webmaster will have related items available on the page. The related items are usually placed in the right column on a page, but I have seen them placed directly underneath the main product descriptions. These related items are also good for upselling in the event that a shopper does Add to Cart.
The related items are usually a combination of a thumbnail photo and a product name. That adds to the word count. Then add in the headings, breadcrumb links, text links at the bottom of the page, HTML title tags – and voila! A page that contains at least 200 words, is very focused (Add to Cart), and has a back-up plan if shoppers are not ready to take the main call to action.
On the flip side, if a site owner needs to communicate an idea in more than 800 words, I would not necessarily try to shorten the page’s content or split it up into multiple pages if the page is performing well. In terms of search engine optimization, a page that contains over 800 words might not be focused enough. A good SEO specialist can fix that by breaking up the text into more “scannable” units with keyword-rich headlines separating the units.
If you find that a 800+ word Web page is not performing well, even though it is fully optimized? Maybe it might be a good idea to divide the content into multiple pages. Remember, usability is very important. If you find that your target audience prefers the longer pages, then give it to them. If you find that your target audience prefers multiple, shorter pages, then give it to them. But do not obsess over word count. It’s a general guideline, not a Holy Grail of search engine optimization.