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What is Thin Content and How Do You Avoid It?

Content creation is the bedrock of a successful SEO strategy. But creating content just for the sake of creating content does nothing to help you.

In fact, it’ll end up hurting you.

People are constantly inundated with content on social media, websites, blogs, news outlets, and more. To put it bluntly, most people are sick and tired of the noise. If a piece of content fails to provide value, they’ll just click away.

And here's the thing: search engines know this.

Google especially has become incredibly sophisticated at finding the most relevant, helpful content and moving it to the top of the search result page. Unhelpful content, or "thin” content, gets moved to the bottom -- or off the page entirely. 

So how do you know if you have thin content on your site that’s dragging your search engine performance down? This blog will help you identify, isolate, and remove it -- keeping your site healthy and helpful.

What is thin content?

The definition of thin content is simple: content that has little or no added value.

To put it in SEO terms, if you're creating a webpage just to rank for a particular search term without a thought to the value you're providing to the user, you're probably creating thin content.

Since the release of Google Panda in 2011, Google has become increasingly better at identifying thin content and penalizing the sites that publish them. This impacts not just the thin content pages themselves, but all content across the site.

In other words, the rotten apple does indeed spoil the bunch.

So what does thin content look like, practically speaking? Here are some types of thin content you’ll probably recognize:

  • Keyword stuffing, or Including a keyword on a page an unusual number of times to try and get Google to rank the page (this used to be a common practice but it no longer works)
  • Doorway pages, or pages that direct incoming users to another page
  • Low-quality affiliate pages that provide no value to the user.
  • Duplicate content, whether it’s copied from an internal or external page 
  • Automatically generated content that would make no sense to a human reader
  • Any pages with bad spelling and grammar

The common theme here is lack of value. Each piece of content on your site should help the user by giving them information or answering a key question.

If not, you need to either fix that page or remove it. 

How to identify thin content on your website

The best way to avoid thin content is to not create it in the first place.

But you probably haven’t personally posted every single piece of content on your website. Maybe the previous person in your role created the content. Maybe you outsourced or delegated some of it.

In either case, it’s probably a good idea to double check and make sure your site is clean.

First, go into the Google Search Console and see if Google has taken any manual actions against your site. These pages are active threats to your site, so you’ll definitely want to find these first.

Once you’ve identified the active threats, move on to potential threats. A simple site audit can help reveal any pages that match the description given in the previous section. This should be enough for you to catch the obvious offenders:

  • Short pages (less than 300 words)
  • Duplicate content
  • Pages with lots of outbound links but little on-page value
  • Any page with content where you cannot verify the source (i.e. you know who wrote the content and when)

 But sometimes, the offenders are not so obvious. For these, you can use the Screaming Frog spider to crawl your site and identify thin content (click here to find out more about this).

After you’ve taken these three steps, you should have a clear idea of where your all thin content is. Then comes the more involved part: fixing it.

How to fix thin content

Fixing thin content ranges from rewriting the entire page to smaller, more technical tweaks.

First and foremost, every page on your website should provide value to your users. Let this be your North Star as you go through the fixing process.

Valuable content, simply defined, answers a real-life customer question or provides users with new, helpful information. If you aren't providing value, you've probably posted thin content.

I often see companies make this mistake on their product pages. They’ll put the bare minimum of information on these pages, mostly feature lists or product specs. They don’t address the most important question: what problems are my customers trying to solve?

These pages are often too short, and serve as a doorway to a “contact us” page. That’s two thin content red flags right there.

One super practical way to determine whether something is valuable is to look at your search term competitors. While you certainly don’t want to copy anyone, looking at your competitors can give you an idea of the kind of content you need to create in order to be successful. 

Here are some specific, technical ways that you can fix thin content:

  • Word count. Content with a low word count can be flagged as thin content. But low word count is more than a Google red-flag. It likely means that the content you’re creating doesn’t provide enough substance to be of value to your audience. Writing longer webpages will certainly move your pages in the right direction.
  • Duplicate content issues. If you have pages that try to rank for similar keywords, make sure you consolidate them and ensure they each feature original content. Beyond thin content, this will also keep you from pitting webpages against each other, hurting your overall search ranking performance.
  • Original content. Every website on your page should be unique. Don’t copy from other pages or other websites. While smart repurposing is a core part of any successful content marketing strategy, repurposing means taking a piece of content and rewriting it for another purpose -- not just “copy and paste.”
  • Category pages. If you have a blog, these pages are often automatically generated and left on the back burner. But they’re webpages all the same, and you need to make sure they’re optimized for the appropriate search terms to avoid thin content penalties.

These small changes can go a long way toward rebuilding your reputation, audience trust, and search engine rankings.

How to repurpose without creating thin content

I hinted at content repurposing in the previous section, but it’s important enough to go into more depth here.

Content repurposing should be a key component of any marketing strategy. Not only does it save you time in generating all of the necessary assets your business needs, but it also gives you more mileage out of each individual content piece.

However, if you are repurposing content from one of your webpages and moving it to another (for example, using a blog post to build one of your pillar pages), you could easily run into duplicate content issues if you’re not careful.

So what’s the solution? Use your existing content as a start point, not an end point.

Content repurposing isn't a simple copy-and-paste job. Make sure to rewrite every sentence. Cut out parts that don’t make sense in the new context. Expound upon areas where you think this audience will want and need that different perspective.

You don’t want to publish the same piece of content twice. This is important when it comes to user experience, but it also applies to SEO.

By taking steps to create unique and fresh content even when repurposing, you can make sure to avoid thin content penalties.

And if you’re ever in doubt, just run the copy through a plagiarism checker.

Conclusion

If you want your site to rank higher on search engines, make sure that none of your assets are holding you back. That includes identifying, isolating, and removing thin content.

As to move forward, remember: your website's job is to provide value to your users. Without valuable content, you won't get very far.

So take the time to understand what your customers are interested in, and keep writing about those topics. Over time, you'll start to see the growth you want.

Timothy Wier
Marketing Manager
Former Company
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Timothy Wier
Marketing Manager
Former company
About Author
I'm a content marketer with experience working with tech startups, nonprofits, agribusinesses, and more. My portfolio runs the gambit, including blogs, eBooks, pillar pages, websites, video scripts, social media posts, emails, digital & print ad copy, and press releases. Particularly, my passion is helping businesses leverage content not just to build brand authority, but to actually drive tangible success: leads and revenue.
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