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.
Should You Remove Thin Content?
Even if your site wasn’t hit with a thin content penalty, low-quality copy may be robbing you of valuable 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.
So, What is Thin Content Exactly?
Before we jump in, let’s get on the same page with a thin content definition. Admittedly, it’s difficult to define because it’s such a broad term. Essentially, thin content offers little or no value to users. Here are a few types of thin content pages:
- Copy that lacks depth or usefulness
- Repetitive or duplicate content issues
- Pages riddled with ads
- 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.
While you don’t need to write 4,000 word article about everything, make sure your readers don’t need to return to the SERPs 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.
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 product pages? If urls have little to no quality content they definitely count as thin content.
Periodically review your 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
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.
Increased bounce rate
Whether your content doesn’t satisfy searchers’ needs or you blast them with ads, they’ll click the back button.
Ultimately, Google will learn that your page doesn’t provide users with a good experience. If that happens across most of your pages, don’t be surprised if you see a massive decline in rankings and organic traffic.
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.
Thin content = bad. Got it. But what can you do about it?
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 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.
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. If you can’t find a similar page, then 301 the url to the blog homepage.
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’ll show Google that you’re a subject matter expert if you cover multiple overlapping topics from several unique angles.
Here’s a rundown of the most actionable things to consider when you improve content:
- 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
Need more ideas? Check out this blog post for more ways to ramp up dull 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 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 strategy.
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, do some serious keyword research and map out your 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!