Back in 2011 Google launched its Panda algorithm, sending shockwaves across the SEO industry and kick-starting the search giant’s war on ‘thin’ or sub-par content.

Let’s take a look at exactly what constitutes thin content in Google’s view, how to identify it, and how to fix it.

First, what is thin content?

Google defines thin content as that having ‘little or no added value’.

Seems straightforward enough, but those five words are loaded with ambiguity. Thin doesn’t refer to the number of words. A web page or blog post can be 1,800 words or more and still be considered thin.

What matters to Google is the quality of the content, how it adds value, and how well it satisfies search intent.

What type of content are we talking about?

  • ‘Lite’ articles without depth or stuffed with keywords
  • Copy with spelling errors and poor grammar
  • Pages filled with adverts or photos
  • Scraped content or spun content
  • Low-quality syndicated content
  • Doorway pages that drive traffic to the same destination but with only subtle differences in content

Does this sort of content really hurt rankings?

It does. Panda is one of Google’s core ranking algorithms and the penalty for thin content will push you down the SERPs.

Backlinks are still the number #1 ranking factor and pages and posts with useful content will generate more links. A lack of backlinks may indicate that people think your content is thin, and it won’t rank as highly.

Google will also factor in bounce rates – the percentage of users that click away from a website after viewing one page.

How do you know if your content is thin?

One way is to let Google tell you. When it detects thin content, someone at Google reviews the page and issues a warning if the site doesn’t comply with its guidelines.

Another way is to audit your content using free or paid tools.

  • Google Analytics will provide website traffic data that can help you work out your least popular pages and bounce rates.
  • Website crawler Screaming Frog can show you your low-quality content pages and any duplicated elements on your site.
  • Copyscape will help you find any content scraped by a third-party website or content on your own site that’s been plagiarised.

How to fix thin content

Extend the word count

While there are no hard and fast rules around thin cntent and word lengths, it’s safe to say longer is generally better. Moz and BuzzSumo analysed the links and shares of 1 million articles back in 2015 and found 85 percent of online articles were less than 1000 words, and most of those sub-1k pieces pulled only a few external links or shares. Articles of 1,000 words or more received notably more shares and backlinks, with research-backed articles and opinion-based journalism pieces doing especially well.

Use intro text

If you are a creative business, restaurant or food retailer then photography is going to be important to your site. But Google frowns on photo heavy pages. To create interest and satisfy Panda, Make sure you use introductory and descriptive text with images to tell users more about your story, services and successes.

Avoid doorway pages

If your company has offices in Brighton, Birmingham, and Bath and you’ve simply created pages for each location with the same content – that’s officially thin. Making each page unique is better. Tailoring content to local markets and interests makes for more personal copy and is more likely to engage a prospective client.

How do you avoid thin content in the first place?

To avoid the Panda penalty, simply produce original, well-researched, insightful and unique content that satisfies a target user’s search intent. Everything you produce for your website should be of high quality and designed to meet the information needs of target readers.

If you’ve always been on board with this approach then thin content shouldn’t be an issue. But, don’t be complacent. Every business should be mindful of the SEO risks around thin content and take steps to avoid them.

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