Thin content is defined by Google as content that has ‘little or no value‘ for the user. That is all good and is definitely a useful starting point and central ethos for those creating content or a website. However, if you break it down a little further it provides questions that you should be asking yourself and processes that you should go through in order to prevent being penalised by Google for thin content or more specifically Google’s Panda Update.
Does the user find relevant information?
What is the purpose of this content? Is it to provide free information for the user, to sell something or to articulate your service offering? How effectively is this achieved? The main aim for your content is to provide this value, whatever it may be. Let’s take this page as an example. It is part of our SEO glossary which is designed to provide easy to digest information on SEO terminology. As such, we have researched many of the commonly asked questions in regards to thin content and looked to answer them on this page. Clear purpose and hopefully clear answers!
Does it offer relevant facts?
We realise that some articles may be opinionated and therefore not always based on hard facts. However, if there are facts that you can call upon these will not only add value for the user but also demonstrate to Google that the content has been well researched. It stands to reasons that if other websites (maybe the focus of the subject) include these facts and are well trusted by Google that they can then put two and two together. Be careful though not to copy too many facts and therefore run the risk of spun or scraped content.
It’s not all about length
Over the years there has been much debate as to whether the length of an article is a demonstrable metric of quality. Whilst Google keeps their cards close to their chest in regards to the exact metrics used, if we are focussed on value for the user surely the perfect length of an article is however long it needs to be in order to provide the user with the information that they require. In addition to the paragraph above about relevant facts we would not be surprised if Google cross reference similar types of content to compare length. If you write 200 words on a complex subject where other trusted websites are writing on average 1,500 words this may be a sign that your content is thin. On the flip side, if your content is substantially longer than others of the same subject it may point towards you filling the page with content that is not necessarily providing any additional value for the user.
Use your analytics
User and usage data is a growing factor in SEO campaigns. Utilising this data to improve the user flow and identify content that perhaps does not have the engagement levels can be crucial in self analysing your content. Yes, this engagement may even incorporate the design of the page and therefore not something that would be considered part of a traditional SEO strategy but this is just another reason why SEO has to incorporate all facets of a digital campaign.
Stephen Kenwright wrote an interesting article on Search Engine Watch in regards to bounce rates and thin content. With a very linear or 2D view of a bounce rate you might sit there mouth agape when you find that a page has a high bounce rate. However, there may be reasons behind this. It is generally understood that engagement via social media is often only a single serving before the user returns to the attraction of the news feed. This can therefore be an explanation. The article discusses how a high bounce rate may well be a sign that you have fulfilled the purpose of a user’s visit, yet if they return to the search results and click on another this may be correlated with the fact that you haven’t fulfilled this purpose. Rand Fishkin of Moz describes this returning to the results pages for more information as the pogo sticking effect. Ideally, you want to do everything in your power to decrease this pogo sticking effect and also attract the user to other areas of your site so that you user and usage data is more preferable.
Analyse engagement signals
You can use engagement signals as a sign of the quality of your content. Social sharing on articles and web content is increasingly common and can be very useful in understanding how valuable your visitors consider your content to be. If they are sharing pages on their social networks then it is a sign that your content is good. In addition, if you content is earning links from other trusted websites then this is a further sign that your content is valuable. In contrast, if content is receiving high levels of traffic but low levels of social sharing, comments or other people linking to the content then this may be a sign that your content is thin.
Avoiding thin content is not just about dodging Google’s angry Panda. You can use this threat as a spur to create the very best content possible which in turn will only serve to help drive your website forward. As Google’s algorithm continues to grow in complexity, high quality content will be rewarded with better search rankings and therefore more traffic. Furthermore, high quality content adds more value to the user therefore increasing your site’s ability to move a user through the sales process.