Tips For Avoiding Thin Content

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Google has been at great pains this year to redefine the concept of good quality content and good quality sites, with an emphasis on search results that boast substantial, informed and original content. One of the ways in which this has been achieved is by filtering out sites with ‘thin content’ – penalizing publishers of information that does not stand up to Google’s definition of quality. But, what is ‘thin content’ and can it be improved upon in order to reclaim lost positions and get back into the search engine’s good graces?

1.      Poor grammar and spelling errors

The first step on the road to eliminating thin content from your website is to know what you’re looking for. Poor grammar and frequent spelling mistakes send a clear message to Google that your site content is of poor editorial quality. Great quality content starts with getting the basics right and that means proof reading each and every page before it’s published.

If you’re the person writing your site’s content but aren’t confident in your spelling, punctuation or grammatical prowess, asking a co-worker, friend or relative to act as an editor for you. It’s often hard (even for professional writers) to spot mistakes in your own text as you’re so familiar with it so get them to highlight any mistakes they see. This should be enough to determine if your content needs a grammatical overhaul.

If each page shows more than two or three errors, you have a choice to make. Option one is to go back and correct each piece of content yourself, but risk making other mistakes. Option two is to outsource to a professional copywriter and either get them to tweak the existing copy or, write a whole new page of content. It may be best to save this decision until you’ve performed the rest of the thin content checklist as other issues may crop up which have a bearing on whether or not you choose to outsource.

2.      Too short

Publishing pages that are too short is a common mistake made by many web site owners, especially those who are chasing a better SEO performance. It’s common knowledge that the bigger the site and the more often you add new pages, the better your chances of securing a page one ranking. However, this means there is a lot of pressure to be creative and publish a lot of material about what may be a very narrow topic – if you sell light bulbs for example, you need to be extremely creative to write lengthy articles each day or even each week that are both relevant and topical. The workaround is to produce shorter pieces in the hope that volume of pages will make up for lack of words.

In this situation, you need to be firm about nixing pages that are less than 300 words. Google says that it will ignore pages with less than 200 words of body text but it’s important when trying to weed out any thin content that you go over and above minimum expectations and set a higher standard for your content. Even 300 words is short and if your keyword is particularly competitive, you’ll need to lengthen your own acceptable word count accordingly. To illustrate, publishing articles of just 300 words and hoping to compete on a keyword such as ‘wine’ with upwards of 40 million other pages competing for the same term just won’t cut it.

Again, if you find many pages falling short of the standard you’re coming to expect as you work through this checklist, it may be time to outsource to a professional. The other option is to spend time picking through the pages that are too short and then either extend each article into a more comprehensive read or, condense multiple related articles into a single feature. Keep in mind that it’s much better and more beneficial for your search engine marketing to have a handful of really good quality, detailed pages than many poor quality, brief pieces of content.

3.      Too long

Likewise, having pages that are too long can also be a negative. If you’ve written thousands of words, it’s probable that you’re saying the same thing over and over again. Stretching out a topic over as many words as possible in order to increase keyword density, add in anchor text and have a large word count can backfire just as easily as having pages that are too short.

Content published on your site is not there purely for Google – the whole point of having Google bring traffic to your site is to sell your product or services. Presenting a massive page of content that circles endlessly around a single topic undoes all of the hard work that went into getting the viewer in the first place. Ask yourself what a customer primed to buy, book or reserve your product or service, really needs to know. And then give them that information, once. There is a fine line between points two and three, making it important to judge each individual page on its own merits and then add or subtract content as appropriate.

4.      Too vague

If you publish content that does not inform or educate, it’s very difficult to convince Google that you are an authority on that particular topic, and worthy of their traffic. Thin content will rehash known facts, lack expertise and fail to offer any insight into the topic at hand.

Content that is too vague can often be traced back to the writer and the brief – was the author an expert in the field or simply someone paid a fee to write a page of content? One of the problems with the focus on content and the emphasis that search engines have placed on regular page updates and the success of online PR and article marketing is that many firms have been tempted to use low quality writing services because they were cheap.

If you’ve paid a few dollars for one of the many content writing services offered for very little money, you can be fairly certain you’re not getting an expert for that fee. Experts don’t generally offer up their knowledge for a few dollars. If that is all your budget runs too, a much more positive step towards getting rid of thin content is actually to save that money and take your writing back in house. You may not have professional writers on your staff but you will almost certainly have experts in your field on your payroll. After all, that is what they are paid to know how to do day after day. Tap into this hands on expertise and use their experiences to fill your content will real useful comments, opinions and insights.

About the Author

Rebecca is the managing director of search engine optimization agency Dakota Digital a full-service agency offering SEO, online PR, web copywriting, media relationship management, and social media strategy. Rebecca works directly with each client to increase online visibility, brand profile, and search engine rankings. She has headed a number of international campaigns for large brands.

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4 Comments

  1. As they say, content is king. But in order for it to be "king", it needs to be good! There is no point in creating a website with lots of pages if those pages have no value or aren't even 100% related.

  2. Tracy

    Hi Rebecca, Where does Google say "Google says that it will ignore pages with less than 200 words of body text"? Can you cite your source? Thanks!

  3. I am with Tracy on this one. I have never heard that from the Mouth of Google. And I am sure we can find pages with no test at all that rank well.

  4. While big G frowns on thin content, i.e pages with little information, last year Matt Cutts said thin content is Ok if it stimulates a big discussion in the comment section and it is widely shared.