Thin Content: What It Is and What to Do About It
Pierre Far, a Webmaster Trends Analyst for Google, announced last week that an update to the Panda algorithm has begun rolling out. For those that aren't aware, the Panda algorithm is Google's way of penalizing spammy sites and moving high-quality content upwards in search engine results.
As many experts have pointed out, this newest update likely increases Google's ability to recognize and potentially devalue "thin content." To avoid a huge drop in rank, all webmasters should evaluate their site and correct any thin content.
Thin Content Defined
Everybody knows low-quality content when they see it. Poorly written, shallowly researched, or factually incorrect content that provides little value to a reader is easy to spot and will not be highly regarded by Google. However, it must be pointed out that Google's algorithms are not publicly available. This means that, as much as SEOs claim to know, nobody outside of Google truly knows exactly how Panda determines content to be thin. Luckily, we can point to several sources that give us a pretty good idea of what will get penalized.
According to Google's quality rating guidelines, there are several signifiers of thin content that go beyond grammatical mistakes and inaccurate facts. They include:
- Duplicate content, either within your site or copied from another
- Rewording articles from other sites
- Overly wordy or repetitive writing
- Dwelling too much on overly obvious facts
- Over-abundance of valueless images, ads or other elements that distract from the writing
According to Google's Webmaster Tools, some of the most common examples of thin content include:
- Auto-generated content such as "spun" articles
- Affiliate pages with little or no original content
- Doorway pages
- Scraped content
"Doorways" typically involve many different pages, each of which are optimized for a different keyword and all of which direct the user to a main page. This is a trap that many local businesses fall into. For example, a roofing company in California could create a bunch of different sites optimized for keywords such as "San Diego roofers," "Los Angeles roofers," and "Indio roofers." These types of pages typically have short, low-quality articles stuffed with keywords that end up just directing the reader to the business's "order" page. Or worse, all the doorway pages are an exact copy of each other except for the city names. All of this is thin content.
Scraped content, on the other hand, often involves sites that republish articles, videos or images from other sites without adding any additional content, organization or value. Even if the content is changed slightly, it could still be considered thin.
Finding Thin Content on Your Site
If you're a webmaster who is newly inheriting a site, or if you've received a manual action from Google for having thin content, you're going to want to evaluate your entire site and pinpoint which pages could be considered low-quality. If you know that you have any type of content from the list above (auto-generated articles, doorway pages, etc.) those are the first issues to address. Beyond that, take a look at:
- Content Length - Any given page, especially blog posts, should generally be at least 300 words. It's tough to provide value to a reader with very short articles or product descriptions. It should be remembered, however, that scraped content can be both long and thin.
- Backlinks - If you have pages that just don't get any links, it could be because the content is thin.
- Bounce Rates - Users typically don't dwell on thin content for very long. If people visit a page then immediately leave, it could be because they're not getting any value from the content.
- Duplicate Content - Every URL on your site should have unique content. If you suspect that any content has been copied from some other site, you can always use a tool such as Copyscape to check.
How To Fix Thin Content
Ok, so you've determined that several pages on your site have thin content (or Google's Panda algorithm has penalized you for it) - now what? Well, you basically have five options:
- Delete the Content - This option works well because it's quick and easy. However, you might end up deleting keywords that were helping you rank. So, you should only delete pages if you're sure it won't hurt your rankings. At the same time, any duplicate or heavily scraped content should be done away with.
- Add to Existing Content - Surround your thin content with new, valuable content. If you have short, stock product descriptions for example, invest some time in beefing them up.
- Rewrite Entirely - This option allows you to start over completely, which comes with huge advantages. You can target the exact keywords you want while ensuring that your content is valuable. This might be too time-consuming for most people, which is why many webmasters seek article writing services.
- Noindex - If you have pages with thin content that just absolutely need to stay how they are for user experience, consider blocking Google from crawling it.
- Merge Pages - If you have a whole bunch of thin content pages, ask yourself if they could be merged together to create fewer pages with more valuable content.
Again, fixing thin content can take a lot of work, which is why many webmasters hire outside help. It's worth it though - Panda isn't going anywhere, and it's only going to get more sophisticated in the future. Sites that work to have original and valuable content will always win out.