Creating content for the sake of creating content won’t help your SEO. In fact, it could end up hurting you.
People are constantly consuming content across various channels — social media, websites, blogs, news outlets, and more. There’s a lot of noise out there, and the last thing anyone wants is more noise.
So if your content fails to provide value, they’ll just click away.
And here’s the thing: search engines know this.
Google has become incredibly sophisticated at finding the most relevant, helpful content and moving it to the top of the search result page. Unhelpful content, or “thin” content, gets moved to the bottom — or off the page entirely.
So how do you know whether you have thin content on your website? And, more importantly, what can you do to fix it?
This post will walk through all the steps you need to keep your site healthy and helpful.
What is thin content?
The definition of thin content is simple: content that has little or no added value.
To put it in SEO terms, if you’re creating a webpage just to rank for a particular search term without a thought to the value you’re providing to the user, you’re probably creating thin content.
Since the release of Google Panda in 2011, Google has become increasingly better at identifying thin content and penalizing the sites that publish them. This impacts not just the thin content pages themselves, but all content across the site.
In other words, the rotten apple does indeed spoil the bunch.
So what does thin content look like, practically speaking?
Here are some of the most recognizable types of thin content:
- Keyword stuffing
- Doorway pages
- Duplicate content
- Automatically generated content
- Bad spelling and grammar
We’ll walk through each of these in detail.
In the past, inserting a keyword 100 times onto a webpage was a great way to get Google’s attention and potentially rank for that term (regardless of whether it provided a good user experience). Luckily for everyone, that’s no longer the case.
In fact, if you do engage in keyword stuffing, Google is likely to penalize you.
Instead, weave your target keywords into your content naturally, only using them when it makes sense in context.
Doorway pages are designed to rank for a specific search term, and then direct users to another page with similar content. Not does this not align with how human users consume content, it ends up being counter-productive, as you have two pages competing for the same search term.
Google provides several examples of what could be flagged as doorway pages:
- Having multiple domain names or pages targeted at specific regions or cities that funnel users to one page
- Pages generated to funnel visitors into the actual usable or relevant portion of your site(s)
- Substantially similar pages that are closer to search results than a clearly defined, browseable hierarchy
To avoid creating doorway pages, put all the content a user is expecting to see on the page itself. You can obviously direct them to other places, but that’s to gather more information, not what they came there for in the first place.
The same content shouldn’t live on more than one webpage. Not only does it look like you’re plagiarizing (even if it’s against yourself), duplicate content functionally hurts your SEO performance.
Think about it. If you’ve got two pages that are optimized for the same keyword with the same content, they’re likely going to cannibalize each other, keeping the other achieving a high search ranking.
To avoid this problem, consolidate any webpages with similar content. If you’re going to repurpose content, be sure to make it substantively different from anything else on your website (more on that later).
Automatically Generated Content
Bots are great for lots of things. Writing content isn’t one of them.
If you post content on your website that would make no sense to a human reader, odds are that Google is going to penalize it.
So don’t take shortcuts. Make sure that every piece of content on your website is written by a human who can craft the content to align with what other humans think.
Poor Spelling & Grammar
In addition to being a sign of professionalism and attention to detail, poor spelling and grammar can also be a red flag.
The common theme here is lack of value. Each piece of content on your site should help the user by giving them information or answering a key question.
If not, you need to either fix that page or remove it.
How to identify thin content on your website
The best way to avoid thin content is to not create it in the first place.
But you probably haven’t personally posted every single piece of content on your website. Maybe the previous person in your role created the content. Maybe you outsourced or delegated some of it.
In either case, it’s probably a good idea to double check and make sure your site is clean:
- Go into the Google Search Console and see if Google has taken any manual actions against your site.
- Conduct a site audit to reveal pages that have less than 300 words, contain duplicate content, have excessive outbound links, or any page where you cannot verify the source of the content.
- Use the Screaming Frog spider to crawl your site and identify thin content (click here to find out more about this), just to make sure you didn’t miss anything.
After you’ve taken these three steps, you should have a clear idea of where your all thin content is.
Then comes the more involved part: fixing it.
How to fix thin content
Fixing thin content ranges from rewriting the entire page to smaller, more technical tweaks.
First and foremost, every page on your website should provide value to your users. Let this be your North Star as you go through the fixing process.
Valuable content, simply defined, answers a real-life customer question or provides users with new, helpful information.
I often see companies make this mistake on their product pages. They’ll put the bare minimum of information on these pages, mostly feature lists or product specs. They don’t address the most important question: what problems are my customers trying to solve?
These pages are often too short, and serve as a doorway to a “contact us” page. That’s two thin content red flags right there.
Here are some specific, technical ways that you can fix thin content:
- Increase the word count
- Consolidate duplicate content
- Generate more original content on key pages
- Invest in your category pages
- Reduce your outbound links
- Optimize for user experience
These small changes can go a long way toward rebuilding your reputation, audience trust, and search engine rankings.
Increase the Word Count
Content with a low word count can be flagged as thin content.
But low word count is more than a Google red-flag. It likely means that the content you’re creating doesn’t provide enough substance to be of value to your audience.
Writing longer webpages will certainly move them in the right direction.
Consolidate Duplicate Content
If you have pages that try to rank for similar keywords, make sure you consolidate them and ensure they each feature original content.
Beyond thin content, this will also keep you from pitting webpages against each other, hurting your overall search ranking performance.
Generate More Original Content on Key Pages
Every website on your page should be unique. Don’t copy from other pages or other websites.
While smart repurposing is a core part of any successful content marketing strategy, repurposing means taking a piece of content and rewriting it for another purpose — not just “copy and paste.”
Invest in Your Category Pages
If you have a blog, your category pages are often automatically generated and left on the back burner. But they’re webpages all the same, and you need to make sure they’re optimized for the appropriate search terms to avoid thin content penalties.
Reduce Your Outbound Links
Your content should include outbound links, if they provide additional value to the user. An example could be a link to additional details on a topic that aren’t covered in your piece of content.
Be mindful of how many links you include on a page; too many could have you flagged as a low-quality affiliate page.
Optimize for the User Experience
At the end of the day, one of the most important things you can do is put yourself in the user’s shoes.
What would be their first impression upon visiting your website? What are some of the likely ways they’ll react to your content? How can you ensure that they have a helpful experience from beginning to end?
How to repurpose without creating thin content
I hinted at content repurposing in the previous section, but it’s important enough to go into more depth here.
Content repurposing should be a key component of any marketing strategy. Not only does it save you time in generating all of the necessary assets your business needs, but it also gives you more mileage out of each individual content piece.
However, if you are repurposing content from one of your webpages and moving it to another (for example, using a blog post to build one of your pillar pages), you could easily run into duplicate content issues if you’re not careful.
So what’s the solution? Use your existing content as a start point, not an end point.
Content repurposing isn’t a simple copy-and-paste job:
- Make sure to rewrite every sentence
- Cut out parts that don’t make sense in the new context
- Expound upon areas where you think this audience will want and need that different perspective
You don’t want to publish the same piece of content twice. This is important when it comes to user experience, but it also applies to SEO.
By taking steps to create unique and fresh content even when repurposing, you can make sure to avoid thin content penalties.
And if you’re ever in doubt, just run the copy through a plagiarism checker.
If you want your site to rank higher on search engines, make sure that none of your assets are holding you back. That includes identifying, isolating, and removing thin content.
As to move forward, remember: your website’s job is to provide value to your users. Without valuable content, you won’t get very far.
So take the time to understand what your customers are interested in, and keep writing about those topics. Over time, you’ll start to see the growth you want.