Has someone warned you that your website has thin content? Worried it’s holding you back?
When people talk about thin content, they’re usually thinking of its effect on search engine ranking – but you should also be mindful of how it impacts your clients or customers.
What is Thin Content?
Think of it like this.
You set out to the store, shopping list in hand, to get what you need for your upcoming house party. And you’ve got to do it fast, because the party’s tonight.
As luck would have it, you find everything on your list at the first store you try. You’re satisfied, and you’ll definitely return to that store the next time you’re planning a party.
But what if you struck out? What if you had to make one stop for drinks, another for cake, and a third across town for cups and plates?
Not only are you annoyed, but you probably won’t visit those stores for party supplies again – their selection is just too thin.
That’s also how people use Google’s search engine results page.
When someone makes a search query, they don’t want to have to tap in and out of three different webpages or open three browser tabs to find the answers they’re looking for. They want instant, accurate information the first time.
And since Google and other search engines want to make users happy (more users mean more advertising revenue), search engine algorithms work hard to deliver the most accurate, relevant search results that matches a user’s query.
To that end, a webpage that succeeds in the delivering relevant, quality information people want will be land a higher position in the search engine results; a page that delivers sparse, low-quality, irrelevant, unoriginal content will drop in ranking.
Thin content is content that provides little to no value to the people who find it. If search engine algorithms judge a page as having thin content (based both on the substance of the page itself and the way users interact with it) its ranking can plummet as a result.
Some people think the way to fix thin content is to add more words to a page; this can help in some cases, but there’s almost always more to it than that. The length of the copy on a page is only one of the factors that go into deciding whether a page is worth someone’s time. A pamphlet can be thin, but so can a novel.
Signs and Examples of Thin Content
So, how do you know if your content is thin?
If a domain contains numerous thin pages across the site, you might log into Google’s Search Console one day and find a manual penalty for thin content. That means your site has been judged as one that, “appears to contain a significant percentage of low-quality or shallow pages which do not provide users with much added value.”
Another thin content warning sign is a page that fails to get good user engagement. Once you’ve ruled out other factors that could turn people away – annoying pop-ups, slow page speed, outdated or plain bad site design – it’s time to point the finger at content.
Google also provides concrete examples of pages that often qualify as being thin content: affiliate pages, automatically-generated content, doorway pages, and unoriginal content. These aren’t prima facie thin content, but they can be.
- Affiliate pages are designed for the sole or primary purpose of getting people to visit (and purchase products/services from) another site, which earns kickbacks for the owner of the affiliate page. A common example is a list-style blog post that includes multiple links to product pages on Amazon. An affiliate page that offers little in the way of added value or information can be thin content.
- Auto-generated content is text churned out by an automated tool. When it’s only there to influence search rankings, this type of content falls under the definition of ‘thin’ regardless of length.
- Doorway pages exist mainly as a gateway to another page, providing minimal value and serving as an unnecessary threshold people must step over to find the information they’re looking for. These pages are often a relic of outdated SEO tactics, like the creation of numerous similar location-based pages that provide no unique insight or information.
- Unoriginal content is a wide category that encompasses all sorts of lazy tactics: pasting articles from other pages, pulling product descriptions from a manufacturer’s site, multiple pages with all or most of the same copy (like a fill-in-the-blanks) or borrowing images and infographics from other content creators. Unoriginal content isn’t always synonymous with plagiarism – a newly-written page that reiterates existing information without adding new or interesting insight can also fit the label.
Finally, a page can qualify as thin simply for lacking in content. Conventionally, any page containing fewer than 300 words runs the risk of being thin content, but that’s more a guideline than a golden rule (some pages, like a Contact Us page, have no reason to be wordy).
The bottom line is this: if the page is lacking in value, it could be thin content regardless of length. Short pages are often thin, but thin pages are not always short.
How to Fix Thin Content
Fixing thin content is not only about adding more words. It’s about improving your content to provide the value your users are looking for.
It does often require you to put more words on the page – after all, a lengthier page has more room to explore a topic in enough depth. But the substance of your content matters more than its length. Since the Panda update in 2011, Google’s search engine algorithm has become increasingly savvy about distinguishing valuable content from thin content, regardless of length.
The key to avoiding and fixing thin content is to understand what your audience wants, what search engine algorithms like to see, and how to cater to both in a way that contributes to achieving your goals.