What is Thin Content? Why it Hurts SEO (and How to Fix it)
Mar 11, 2019|Read time: 10 min.
- Google wants to show users the most valuable content and evaluates content across your entire domain.
- Thin content is not viewed as valuable, and hurts your SEO performance.
- Removing thin content from a website can increase SEO results. For example, eliminating 85% of one site’s URLs increased organic sessions by 425% in 8 months.
- Thin content can be fixed by removing, improving or consolidating pages.
The early 2000s were the wild west of Google search. Before the days of Panda algorithm updates and quality rater guidelines thin content was the norm. Back then, low-quality websites could easily leap to the top of search result pages with useless keyword-stuffed pages.
Fortunately for users, Google took action.
The Google Panda algorithm, and eventually Phantom, were launched to push down low-quality content in search engines. As a result, many sites lost tons of traffic and SEOs lived in fear of the next Panda update for years. But it’s important to note that Google’s algorithm doesn’t target single pages. Instead, it evaluates content across your entire domain.
Why should you care?
Because Google wants to show users valuable content. So in order to be rewarded by the Google gods, you must publish useful, relevant, original content that satisfies users’ needs. If your content strategy prioritized volume over value, then you’ll need to do much more than fix a few pages.
Learn more about how to do a web content audit, or contact Terakeet for help.
What is thin content?
Thin content is broadly defined as website content that provides very little value to users.
Here are a few types of thin content pages:
- Copy that lacks depth or usefulness
- Repetitive or duplicate content
- Scraped or syndicated content
- Sparse category, tag or author pages
- Doorway pages or affiliate pages
Sound familiar? Let’s look at those examples more closely.
Lack of depth or usefulness
Does most of your content target a keyword? Do those pages and posts satisfy the search intent of the term and cover the topic completely? Search engines might perceive your content as thin if you barely skim the surface of an important subject, especially if it could impact a reader’s health or finances. (You’d better read this if you’re in charge of SEO for financial services companies)
While you don’t need to write 4,000 word article about everything, make sure your readers don’t need to return to the search engine results (SERP) for more info.
Duplicate content issues
The term “duplicate content” is often used in the context of identical pages, but most cases are a bit more nuanced.
Let’s look at duplicate pages through the lens of thin content SEO.
If your blog has dozens of posts that all target the same keyword, those pages are probably very similar. While they may not be carbon copies, search engines are smart enough to understand that they’re essentially the same.
Make sure each page targets unique keywords.
Inundated with ads
Let’s be honest, your copy should earn you money. However, if your pages have more ads and CTAs than helpful information then you may be at risk of triggering Google’s thin content penalty. That’s especially true if ads appear above the fold, cover content or require user actions to dismiss them.
Keep interstitials to a minimum and make sure they’re secondary to your content.
Sparse category pages
Does your website have tons of author pages with only one article? Perhaps you accumulated years of blog tags that you only used a few times, or maybe your site has hundreds of empty ecommerce product pages? If urls have little to no quality content they definitely count as thin content.
Periodically review your ecommerce category pages. It’s better to have a few high-level categories filled with content than hundreds of rarely used tags.
If you can’t remove old author pages, you should at least noindex them.
Doorway pages are low-quality websites or pages specifically designed to rank for keywords. Why are they bad? Because they often redirect users to less useful content or affiliate sites. In some cases, several different web pages may actually redirect users to the same domain.
Here’s the bottom line: Valueless pages make a terrible user experience. But how much damage can thin content really do?
Answer: A Lot.
How thin content hurts your SEO
When you understand what search engine optimization is, and why Google prioritizes certain ranking factors, you’ll know how detrimental thin content can be to your organic traffic aspirations.
You won’t get backlinks
Backlinks may not be as powerful as they were in the past, but they’re still one of the top three ranking signals. And if you hope to earn them, you’ve got to give people a reason to link to you.
Think about it: you wrote compelling meta tags, including a catchy title and enticing meta description. Someone sees it in the SERPs and thinks, “Wow, that’s exactly what I need for my article!” So they click…and find nothing of value.
That user may never return to your site, and they definitely won’t link to it.
There’s a common SEO misconception that if you publish tons of content that all targets the same keyword you will rank higher in search result pages. In fact, the opposite is true. If you rehash the same topic repeatedly you’ll dilute trust, confuse Google and sacrifice traffic.
Increased bounce rate
Although a high bounce rate won’t hurt your SEO, it’s still worth mentioning because it will hurt conversions and cost you money. One way to decrease bounce rate is to create better content that provides real value.
Thin content = bad. Got it. But what can you do about it?
Should you remove thin content?
SEOs constantly ask Google, “is it ok to remove low quality content?” Google usually responds with a recommendation to improve content rather than remove it. But that’s far easier said than done, so most brands choose to do nothing.
Even if your site wasn’t hit with a Google thin content penalty, low-quality copy may affect your domain health as well as traffic and conversions. I’ll be honest, it won’t be easy to make these changes. But it is absolutely worth it.
Take a look at this traffic chart for one of our clients in a very competitive space. We removed 85% of the website’s URLs (yes, you read that correctly) and began to improve the rest.
Guess what happened?
Organic sessions increased by 425% in just eight months. And no, it wasn’t because they published a ton of new content. In fact, they only published five new posts during that period.
Impressive right? Stick with me and I’ll reveal our enterprise SEO strategy behind those results.
How to identify and fix thin content
Before you can tackle individual content issues, you need to diagnose the scope of the problem and create an action plan. When I evaluate content, I like to label urls as: improve, consolidate, remove or leave. Those classifications are much more useful than binary “yes” or “no” labels.
The first step is to run a full site crawl using a tool such as DeepCrawl or Screaming Frog.
Pull in relevant SEO metrics from Google Analytics and Google Search Console, including impressions, organic sessions, bounce rate, word count and conversions. Then import that data into Google Sheets, and add columns for “target keyword” as well as “action”.
It’s critical to note the target keyword because that’s the basis for how you should evaluate most of your content. After all, how can you cover a topic thoroughly if you don’t know what others are publishing about it?
Here’s a thin content analysis tool I made:
If you can’t determine a target keyword by the page title or even the content, you can use Search Console to find the best one. Paste in a url and then click on the “queries” tab. Next, show data for “impressions” and “position”. Now sort by “impressions” from high to low. Choose the most relevant term with the highest impressions as your target keyword. Take note of your position, however, because impressions drop off considerably if you aren’t ranking on page one.
Ok, now let’s find some thin content and fix it! Ask yourself the following questions while you analyze your data:
- Do multiple posts target the same keyword?
- Are some posts off-brand or targeting irrelevant keywords?
- Do any posts have an unusually low word-count?
- Are some posts getting little to no traffic or impressions?
- Do some category pages have little to no content?
If you answered “yes’ to any of those, you may be dealing with thin content. But don’t start your chainsaws just yet. It’s important to take your time and prune wisely and carefully so you don’t do more harm than good.
Next, I’ll review each of the four actions to help you classify your content and fix specific issues the right way.
Remove content that you can’t fix
You may recall that we deleted 85% of the urls from a client’s site and saw significant improvement over time. So what exactly did we prune away?
- Posts that targeted off-brand or irrelevant keywords
- Content that had no target keyword and was not conversion-focused
- Outdated posts, such as trend stories and old company news
- Underused and off-topic categories, tags or author pages with only a few posts
Don’t just hand a list of urls to your developer for removal. You’ll also need to provide him with appropriate 301 redirects for those urls, especially if the page has a some backlinks. Since redirects can cause problems if done improperly, it’s important to speak with an experienced SEO company before making major changes.
Improve content that has value
It’s always better to salvage content than to send it to Davy Jones’ Locker, especially if it maps to a particular stage of your buyers’ journey. Further, you can use topic clusters to rank for long-tail keywords and show Google that you’re a subject matter expert.
Here’s a rundown of the most actionable things you can do to fix thin content and improve your website SEO:
- Identify a relevant keyword to refocus the post
- Satisfy the search intent of that term
- Cover the topic as completely as necessary
- Add relevant stats or links to supporting content
- Remove unnecessary ads and CTAs
- Fix broken links
- Optimize the url, heading tags and page title for your keyword
- Add visual content such as video, images or interactive tools
Want to develop a killer blog strategy that vacuums up organic traffic? Check out these articles:
Consolidate duplicate content
You may have found several useful pages that aren’t exactly duplicate content, but they all partially address one topic. Similar content cannibalizes your keywords and prevents you from ranking high in the Google SERPs.
For example, imagine that I wrote multiple posts for Terakeet about thin content:
- What is Thin Content?
- 4 Examples of Thin Content
- Why Thin Content is Bad for SEO
- How to Fix Thin Content
Those really should all be one comprehensive post, so I’d need to consolidate them like this…
Since the search intent for “thin content” is definitional, I would mark that post as “improve”, and then merge the other three fragmented posts into one strong piece of content. As you guessed, consolidation combines the first two actions: remove and improve. So you’ll need to execute those steps for anything marked as consolidate in your analysis.
Once you’ve improved, consolidated, or removed low-quality content, you might be wondering what to do next.
HINT: Update your content marketing game plan.
If you keep doing things the old way, you’ll end up right back where you started. So before you publish any new high-quality content, learn how to do keyword research and map out your new SEO strategy.
If you know your keywords ahead of time, you’ll be able to write plenty of unique content that your readers – and Google – will love!