Thin Content And SEO: A Brief History
Two major components of excellent SEO-driven content are relevance and authority. Your site will earn considerable traffic from providing relevant content that is genuinely helpful to your target audience.
It wasn’t until 2011 with Google’s Panda algorithm update that high-quality, high-relevant content became a major ranking factor. This update directly challenged the spammy, low-quality and untrustworthy content in an effort to better match search results with search intent. Prior to Panda, it was somewhat easy to rank with low-quality content, even with blogs as short as 200 words! Panda’s purpose was to keep pages without valuable information from ranking (or at least, not as easily). Not only did it become harder to rank short-form content, but having lots of thin content on your site could actually hurt your rankings as well. To avoid potential ranking losses, it’s become standard practice to either cull thin pages from your site or to implement content updates.
To better understand the decision between deleting or updating pages, it’s best you start with learning what thin content is. This is the first step in addressing thin content issues on your site.
What Is Thin Content Exactly?
Thin content is short-form content that doesn’t go in-depth or cover a topic enough to satisfy search intent. Thin content does not provide value to the reader and is therefore ranked poorly by search engines.
What Makes Content “Thin”?
Google sees thin content as the lowest form of content with the most negligible value. From content stuffed with irrelevant keywords to possibly being stolen from a source, thin content portrays attributes that transgress Google’s Webmaster guidelines. Some of the qualities that Google tags are thin content include:
- AI Misadventures: Automatically generated content typically turns up as incoherent strings of sentences that make little to no sense. As this content is made up of sentences or text that an AI mashes up from other sources without being reviewed by a human, it lacks the proper context and meaning. Such content includes automated captions, transcriptions, translations, and other forms of automatically generated content.
- Misleading Affiliates: When affiliate sites fail to clearly state their affiliate nature by deliberating hiding their relationship with the product’s supplier, Google tags such content as thin. The situation is made worse in cases where there is no originality in the affiliate site when content such as the product description is copied and pasted verbatim. Such content is deceptive and not valuable for the reader, attracting Google’s thin content penalty.
- Redundant Content: The primary defining factor for search engines to label content as “thin” is its uselessness to readers. Content such as fluff that fills word count, irrelevant or outdated statistics, and information that is not related to the central theme of the topic is unrelated to the user as it does not help address the issue they are trying to resolve. Search engines can also tag your content as thin if your pages fail to provide useful in-depth information on topics, or you do not update it regularly and let it become stale.
- Doorway Pages: According to Google, doorway pages are sites or pages created to rank for specific, similar search queries. These pages are identical and have little helpful content as their purpose is to direct traffic to another page which may also not be relevant to the reader. This attempt to rank high by using similar pages to refer people to a page can get marked as thin content since they do not have value to the people.
- Your Ad Game Is Overkill: Trying to generate as much revenue from your pages is not a bad idea, but it can be damaging when it comes at the expense of your content’s relevance to your audience. When you stuff your pages with many ads that overwhelm your helpful content, you risk triggering search engines to mark your pages as thin content. Avoid making ads the primary theme of your pages and keep your content’s value as the main subject to your audience.
- Busted Backlinks: Such backlinks are incoming links to pages on your website that return “Error 404” pages. Even when you have relevant content on these pages, people who try to access them via broken backlinks cannot access the valuable information and see error pages. Ensure that you check these pages to restore the broken links or replace them with links that redirect people to relevant pages.
- Keyword Delusion *ahem* I Mean Dilution: Overloading your pages with content targeted at one keyword unfavourably impacts your rankings. When you keep repeating the same content geared at one keyword, you dilute the keyword, confusing search engines’ web crawlers with identical content. With such duplicate content and no added value, your content becomes superfluous.
Identifying Thin Content
Before solving it, knowing the problem and how much it affects your website comes first.
Take note of key metrics such as conversions, impressions, and bounce rate.
You can export these metrics into a spreadsheet and add columns marking the target keywords and the verdict. The target keyword column is essential to gauge the possibility of thin content.
From the data you have extracted and collated, watch out for thin content flags line the following:
- Posts with abnormally little word count.
- Several posts targeting one keyword.
- Posts with little to no impressions.
- Content targeting irrelevant keywords.
Once you notice any of these flags, take time to look more thoroughly at the posts before you take actions to fix them.
How Google Identifies Thin Content
Google uses two methods to identify thin content on pages. Its Panda algorithm first identifies pages with high expertise, authoritativeness, and trust and drops pages with none of these qualities from search rankings. The other method is by taking manual actions, which involves a webspam team that spots and takes down spammy websites from result pages. Manual actions are quite rare, especially if you’re doing white hat SEO.
How To Recover From A Google Thin Content Penalty
Although it may feel like you’re entering the abyss, facing a manual penalty is not the end of the world. Because a thin content penalty from Google means that it sees your content as having no value to users, it removes your website from search result pages. That is, your prospective audience cannot see your website when searching for related content, and you have next to no visibility.
The first step in recovering from a thin content penalty is reviewing the content listed in the “Manual Actions” report in your Google Search Console account. You can also keep track of this report page to know whenever you are hit with a thin content penalty.
Fixing the penalty varies in the case of thin content; however, general methods include:
- Removing the thin content.
- Writing website content that expands on thin content while delivering real value
After you’ve implemented these fixes, make sure you file a reconsideration request with Google. Then, Google’s reviewing team can go through your website and if everything looks good, remove the penalty.