Is thin content killing your rankings? First, you have to understand what it is, how to identify it, and how to un-thin it.
With thousands of 2-pence-a-word ‘copywriters’ out there and companies rushing out content without strategy or focus, thin content is everywhere – and its hammering SEO.
What is ‘thin’ content? Instinctively you probably have a good idea: superficial, brief, light on detail, etc. That’s generally true, but Google’s definition might surprise you.
Even long-form content can fall into the category. A blog post or web page of 1,500 words or more can still be considered thin.
What matters to Google is content quality, how well it satisfies search intent, and to what extent it adds value to what’s already sitting in its index.
The war on low-value content
Google launched Panda in 2011, a new algorithm programmed to hunt and punish the low-quality content thought to be fouling-up the web. It rattled the SEO industry and signalled the search giant’s war on sub-par content.
Sub-par in Panda’s terms means pages filled with adverts or photos, spun or scraped copy, and low-quality syndicated content. But it also refers to:
- Repetitive articles, lite on detail or stuffed with keywords
- Multiple doorway pages pointing to the same core domain but with minimal differences in content
- Page copy that’s rife with bad grammar and spelling mistakes
How do you tell if content is thin?
When Google identifies thin content, someone looks at it and issues a warning if the site isn’t in compliance with its guidelines. But you don’t have to wait for a red flag from the search engine. There are a number of tools you can use to audit your content.
- Web crawler Screaming Frog will list your low-quality pages and show you any text elements on your site that are duplicated.
- Copyscape will help you find any content on your site that’s been copied from another source, or any of your original content that’s been scraped by another website or blog.
- Using Google Analytics to show you your least popular pages and highest bounce rates can be another good way to find thin content.
Does it really hurt rankings?
According to danielfoley.co.uk the answer sadly is yes – thin content is a real and pressing SEO issue. Panda is now one of Google’s main algorithms, and it will hit thin content with poor rankings.
Backlinks continue to be a substantial ranking factor, and pages and posts without them could signal to Google that people think they are low-value. Thin content won’t attract backlinks and as a result, won’t rank as highly.
Google also looks at the bounce rates for a page or post. If the percentage of users that quickly leave a page after viewing it is high, Google may downgrade the page – or the full site – as a result.
Can it be fixed?
To avoid any Panda penalty, your best bet is to create original, well-researched content that meets a customer’s or influencer’s search intent. All the content on your website should be of high quality and built to meet the information needs of target readers.
Having said that, some thin content may just need some top-up to get it out of the sin bin. For anything in that middle ground, there are three things you can try.
- Make it longer
Back in 2015, Moz looked at the backlinks and shares for a million articles and found that 85 per cent of online articles were under a thousand words. As you’d expect, the sub-1k pieces had the least engagement. Pages above 1k words had significantly more shares and backlinks.
- Keep photos and copy in balance
As a general guideline, Google isn’t keen on photo-heavy pages. That makes it harder for businesses that rely on great product photography to drive sales. To create interest and keep Panda off their back, those businesses should include intro and descriptive copy along with great images.
- Use doorway pages with caution
If your company has locations in London, Leeds, and Luton and the pages built for each office have essentially the same content – consider those pages thin. It’s better to write something original for each one. Making content specific to local markets will make Google happier; it also looks better to local prospects looking for a company with strong roots in the area.
With content marketing continuing to grow every year, thin content isn’t going away any time soon. Be mindful of the ranking risks, but also look at it as an opportunity. Quality sites with quality content are what Google wants. Deliver that, and you’ve removed a significant barrier to SEO success.