Back in 2011, following a string of complaints regarding poor search results, Google introduced its Panda algorithm imposing penalties on websites with ‘thin’ or ‘shallow’ content. Pre-Panda, many websites were filled with low-quality pages stuffed with keywords and unnatural backlinks in a bid to increase traffic to the site (Google). However, three years and numerous updates later, we are now faced with an even more aggressive version of the Panda - Panda 4.1 - which not only penalises websites with thin content, but also those with duplicate content and content which is of little or no perceived value to the end user.
Although this is nothing new, having high quality, exclusive and valuable content is of growing pertinence and should be a high priority for all marketers and website managers moving into 2015.
What is thin content?
When it comes to content, thin is not desirable. Although no websites are perfect, and it’s likely that many will have one page of thin content; thin content equals low rankings within SERPs, and as such, it should be avoided. So, what constitutes thin content? To put it simply, pages which contain duplicate/copied content, offer no end-user value and offer little insight into your business and/or industry would be considered ‘thin’. When determining ‘thin’ content, Google will consider the number of pages which feature duplicate content, the number of images present on each page and whether the website as a whole is involved in black-hat SEO tactics such as keyword stuffing and cloaking (Search Engine Land).
As a result of the industry in which they operate, a number of websites are more likely to be penalised by Google and the Panda 4.1 algorithm update than others. For example, those offering information readily available elsewhere on the web, such as PR distribution websites and, this may come as a surprise, ecommerce websites will feel the brunt of this update. Ecommerce websites that have come under fire recently include those which utilise manufacturer written product descriptions. To avoid penalisation these sites need to create their own unique and original content, despite acting as resellers.
With all this talk, it’s likely you are questioning whether the content on your site would be considered thin and how to remedy the situation. Dependent on the size of your website, thin content can often be difficult to identify so here are some of our top tips:
Is my website content thin?
If you use Google’s Webmaster tools, begin by checking the ‘Manual Actions’ page as this is where any issues surrounding content will be flagged. If Google has ranked any pages as thin, the message displayed will read ‘thin content with little or no added value’ and from here, you can begin to take action (Google Support). With the changing nature of the web, being proactive is essential and a number of other tools can be utilised to uncover thin content.
In reviewing all pages in Google Analytics with higher than the norm bounce rates, although this will not explicitly state ‘thin content’, it will provide an indication of the pages which require immediate content attention. Google now values user experience highly and will reward websites that have low bounce rates with a higher position in SERPs - a great incentive to improve thin content. If your website is large, and you have access to Screaming Frog (a URL crawling tool), you may wish to run a report to identify how many pages of the website have less than 250 words and either improve or remove.
I’ve found thin content, how do I remedy the situation?
If you have identified thin content, there are a number of things to consider. Firstly, if the content reflects an important part of your business, i.e. the products or services, this should be rewritten or improved upon by adding more quality content. At this stage, it is important to consider the keywords your audience will be using to find your business and the content should incorporate such keywords structured according to SEO best practice (title tags, headers, URLs, metadata, etc). When this has been done, you should be confident that you have valuable content which will be ranked well on Google.
If it is decided the content is relevant but there is little more that could be added to it in order to ensure Google does not deem it as ‘thin’, there is the option to merge it with another relevant page, for example ‘Key People’ and ‘Contact Us’. At this stage, you may become blindsided and merge two pages which you feel are a perfect match, however it’s important to take a step back and review from a user’s perspective. Recruiting friends, relatives, colleagues, users or other outsiders to the business to identify whether they consider it to be a perfect merge is advisable - always seek a second opinion. It’s important to note, one page full of high quality, relevant content will be ranked higher within SERPs than ten pages with poor, irrelevant, thin content.
Furthermore, if a page is considered ‘thin’, you believe nothing of more value could be added and there are no available pages it could be merged with, the decision to remove this page may have to be made. A few low quality pages could potentially bring down the whole site’s quality score, therefore if content is offering little to no value removal is considered the best option.
As discussed, there are a number of websites penalised by Google as a result of duplicate content which is often, through no real fault of their own. However, if your website serves content on a daily basis, i.e. news websites or sells a whole host of products with manufacturer descriptions, it is worth requesting content which is written exclusively for your site to counter this search marketing issue.
When all improvements have been made to the website, a reconsideration request can be submitted to Google. This will take into consideration all changes made to the site with regards to quality and will notify you via Webmaster tools when the site has been reviewed.
Growing importance for quality content
If you have a good level of original content which is sufficient as per Google’s standards, then you’re on the right track. Focusing on the production of high quality content will bring much more than search engine benefits as high quality, useful information is likely to be reshared. To increase the reputation of our website, it’s important to consider ways of improving the user experience, both through the content provided and the website as a whole. Google is now placing more emphasis and rewarding websites with excellent user experiences; therefore the full user journey should be a key consideration moving forward.