Cast your mind back to 2010 – One Direction formed, David Cameron became Prime Minister and it was relatively easy to ‘cheat’ SEO. All three were terrible things but as an SEO, I’m going to focus on the last.
Back then, what is known as black hat SEO tactics made it quite easy to rank websites using masses of poor-quality content stuffed with keywords. This was bad news for many reasons – not only was it unethical, but it didn’t provide users with content they were searching for or wanted.
In their ongoing battle to combat these underhand tactics, Google introduced the Panda Algorithm in 2011. Panda caused something of a stir, and a lot of headaches for SEO’s but it did do a lot to stamp out poor quality techniques and make the internet a better place. Hooray!
Panda has had several updates since but still does the essential task of rewarding websites containing high-quality content – and punishing the bad guys. Sniffing through websites, Panda looks for ‘thin content’ which ultimately, could end up with your traffic taking a nosedive.
Google also has a manual way to punish deceptive and poor-quality websites – a thin content penalty means your website will be removed from search results. Fixing it involves rectifying the contentious content and then appealing to Google.
What Is Thin Content?
Thin content is best described as content with little or no value for users. Content which has no value doesn’t provide users with a good experience, the information they’re looking for, or answer a query.
Spammy junk examples:
- Machine-generated content doesn’t include high-quality AI content (although it’s still advisable a human checks AI content before publishing). A good example of this is taking a foreign article and running it through Google translate, then using it as is.
- Scraped content is adding content to your own website from external sources. This could be a direct copy and paste job, slightly changing the content or even adding content which has no relevance to your website.
- Doorway pages and websites are created to specifically rank for certain search queries without providing the information the user is looking for, giving them a negative user experience. Users will often be sent to intermediate pages or even different sites.
- Affiliate sites are websites created for the sole purpose of affiliate linking. If a site or page only contains affiliate links, what value is there for the user? Legitimate affiliate sites provide plenty of high-value content in relation to the number of affiliate links displayed.
All the above is quite often done deliberately and the creator of the content has something else in mind, other than providing a good experience for people using the internet. Luckily, most website owners wouldn’t use any of these techniques but may accidentally tread into thin content territory.
If a page doesn’t properly answer a user query, is irrelevant to the rest of the website, or has little to no content, this could be classified as thin content. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons pages like this exist. One example is e-commerce stores listing products with no product description.
Thin Content Penalty
Now, because Google gives everyone the chance to improve their behaviour, they introduced the thin content penalty back in 2013. Manually applied by Google, if you’re unlucky enough to receive a penalty, it will appear in Google Webmaster Tools and look like this:
As mentioned, a manual thin content penalty can cause serious issues because rather than just reducing rankings or being unhelpful, your website can be removed from search results entirely. If you’re a legitimate business with a product or service to sell, this is an issue for obvious reasons.
Making Your Content…Thick..?
The best way to avoid either the Panda algorithm penalty or a manual thin content penalty is amazingly simple…create great content!
Thick, juicy, rich, relevant content is what Google wants to see and is what end-users need to have a good experience with your brand, product, or service.
If you aren’t a professional content marketer or SEO, then here are a few basic tips to ensure your web content ranks well and doesn’t get you in trouble.
- Don’t copy content from other websites. This is plain naughty, especially if you are trying to pass the content off as your own.
- Make sure your website looks trustworthy, with proper branding, contact details and information about your company.
- Don’t add content for the sake of it. Only add pages or articles if you think they provide your customer with valuable information.
- Add more content to empty pages. Beef content up that has few words. You don’t need to write 2000 but ensure there is at least 300 words on a page. Even product descriptions.
- Avoid similar titles on individual pages or blogs to show each page provides unique content.
- Add different types of media to your pages to illustrate a point – videos, photos, graphics can all be combined with text to give a rich experience.
- Ensure your content accurately reflects your page title and meta description.
- Put time and effort into creating your content. The biggest thin content giveaway is it simply looks like no thought has been put into it.
- Make sure you have carried out keyword research and have a plan in place. Adding random keywords everywhere isn’t going to help you.
- Finally, just remember that most good content answers a question or solves an issue. Think of your ideal customer, what they might ask or search for and how best you can answer them better than any of your competitors.
Sound easy creating great content which avoids penalties, ranks well, and converts? Exactly! Great content takes time, effort, and care – we can help you with our content marketing service.