Posted on October 19, 2018
What is thin content? This is something you may have already heard about, and it’s an issue you want to fix on your website. Let me explain what it is and why it’s something you need to address.
You must have heard the phrase ‘Content is king.’ Although that is entirely true, Cyrus Shepard from Moz adds that:
“User is Queen and she rules the Universe”.
Search engines and your website users have one need in common. They both need good-quality words. You cannot gain the trust of your online audience, nor rank for any keyword, unless you write informative and useful content.
In order to do this, you should always think of your users’ needs. Can you guess what their Search Intent is?
If you write your web content thinking of what they need to understand, you can hardly write “thin content“.
The dangers of thin content
I started working as an SEO Specialist in the early 2010s. Those were the days of keyword stuffing, of invisible keywords repeated hundreds of times, written in white on a white background, so that users wouldn’t see them. It was the so-called “search engine” text.
At that time, websites with thin content with little or no added value could rank highly quite quickly for competitive keyword queries in search engines.
Was it easier to rank a site?
Definitely, yes! You just submitted your clients’ websites to a number of directories with an automated process. Agencies were jealous of their lists of directories and wouldn’t show them.
Was it better for us, the prospective website users?
No! The content on those sites was generally really thin. It was made by keywords and not much more. Websites copied useless pages from each other and they still managed to rank even higher than the original content creators.
This, among other spammy SEO tactics, prompted Google to release its first Panda algorithm update in February 2011.
The Panda update had one simple goal – to stop low-quality websites from ranking high in the search results. The update was built upon penalizing sloppy content practices, including duplicate content and poor quality copywriting that failed to provide a relevant solution to a user’s intended search query.
This update has been the first of a series of ‘earthquakes’ for website owners. It hit sites hard, affecting up to 12% of search results (a number that came directly from Google). Panda targeted thin content, content farms, sites with high ad-to-content ratios, and a number of other quality issues.
Read more: What is a Google Penalty and how to avoid it
Does your site have any thin content?
You can discover this (for free) by running a Content Audit :
- You can use a site operator command (just type on Google site:[yourdomain]; for example site:pinkseo.marketing and enter). You’ll get a quick overview of how many results you can find. Does this number surprise you? Is it much more than the number of pages and posts you know you have? Then, you might have duplicates. Is it smaller than you expected? You might have some crawlability issues. In both cases, it’s worth investigating further.
- Check Google Search Console. How many pages can be indexed?
- Which title tags and URL structures are being used?
If you’d like to understand some of the results you obtained that don’t match your expectations, I’d be happy to assist you with a full Site Audit that will clearly show you any cases of duplicate, thin content, etc.
How to fix your thin content
The first solution is to write amazing content on those pages.
If you use the Yoast SEO Plugin (which you can even use on your e-commerce store, if you have it as a Woocommerce, the e-commerce platform for WordPress) you can see the number of words your page contains. This will tell you if you have any keyword stuffing issues that should be addressed. Check our guide to the Yoast checklist for content optimisation. By following our checklist, you can create an informative and optimised piece of content easily, even if you’re a beginner.
If the causes of thin content are technical, here’s how to address them:
- Thin content on product pages. We do know that sometimes it can seem impossible to write an elaborate text about every single product in your online shop. As always, let your users be your guide. What do you think that they would like to know about your product? Which are some frequent questions they ask you about? Write all these pieces of information in the product description. Make your users happy – it’s the best content strategy! Try and optimise your pages for what your users will want to know. To increase your content on the page, use user-generated content, like reviews and FAQs! Think of what you would do if you were a user of your own website. Would you buy if there were just an image and a BUY button next to the price?
- Category Pages. If you have an e-commerce website with many products, writing extensive content about each product can be really hard. So focus on ensuring that the most important pages have a good description. If many of your products are similar, optimize the category page instead of the product page or use rel=canonical to prevent duplicate content issues.
- Print Pages. If the website provides print-friendly pages, this can create duplicate content due to the creation of print-friendly URLs. Make sure you block the print URLs with robots.txt or a robots meta tag.
- Comment Pagination. WordPress can allow comment pagination, which means a new URL will be created for each new comment on the same article. Never allow comment pagination, or make sure there’s a canonical tag in place that directs to the URL of the main article.
- Mobile Website. Now, luckily this is (mostly) a thing of the past, due to (almost) everyone having a responsive design. But if your website still has the old habit of using a subdomain for mobile users (m.example.com), this can create duplicate content issues. Use a rel=canonical tag to point back to the desktop version.
Don’t forget that expanding on those thin content pages is a great opportunity to create an updated content strategy based on up-to-date keyword research.
Finally, make sure you run these content audits regularly (yearly, at the very least). The first time will be the toughest, as you will probably have much more work to do. But after the first time, it will be maintenance. Think about it – how can we get business from a site we don’t love and keep well-looked after?
Please, do not hesitate to contact me for any request for SEO technical fixes, explanation, or assistance with on-page optimisation!
See the video version of this article: