SEO Tips: Avoiding The Thin Content Penalty

I thought content was king? You mean I can be penalized for the content on my site?

Yes, but not to the degree that you should bite your nails every time you’re about to hit the ‘publish’ button. Remember when I blogged about content thresholds? The biggest thing that kills websites halfheartedly following this advice is creating a number of new pages, but in order to do so quickly, using the same content over and over. Or not using much content at all.

Yeah, it’s true that on some landing/sales pages you don’t want to talk your visitor’s ears off.

But if you go too visual and focus too hard on calls to action, there just won’t be enough information there to seem authoritative. Remember, Google is looking at your pages as a machine, and it’s a straight code and copy read. It doesn’t care how pretty your call to action is, or how slink your content is arranged. It cares whether your page can actually help someone.

Here are the two main sources of “thin content” penalties.

1. Pages Are Way Too Short

Introduction. A couple benefits. Buy now.

Sound familiar?

Google doesn’t like this because it isn’t serving the user or answering their questions. That’s a problem even if you can avoid a Google penalty, because you’re not necessarily the first or only site a shopper is going to look at.

What if your competitor is way more descriptive and helpful? What if their competing service page does a much better job of making it clear they understand the shopper’s wants/needs/struggles? What if it fills them with confidence that they’re in good hands? Then your rankings don’t really matter.

Yes, in a vacuum having 10 pages versus having 2 pages is a good thing. But they need to be 10 well thought-out pages. Some pages can be short, but make sure the overall ratio of pages doesn’t fall too heavily in the less than 300 words category.

An authority on a topic can speak at length about it. If you seldom get into any detail, you won’t look like an authority.

Think about the questions your visitors have that drove them to your site in the first place.

How can you answer them and show them you have solutions? Why are you the right choice? What are little known facts that a shopper for that product or service should know? Does that change how they see the product or whether they need to buy something else?

2. Information Is Repeated / Pages Are Too Similar

An old SEO trick is to create multiple pages for a given service you offer, but make each version of the page centered on a certain city you want to rank in.

This can work, but you have to be careful.

The trouble with creating your second or fifth page for lollipops, for instance, is that they probably all make the same points. If your intro is basically the same, and you’re listing the same features and flavors, it won’t be clear to Google which of those pages is the “main” one or how any of them really help the user.

Search engines largely ignore duplicated content, so ask yourself what’s left on a given page if all the content that is a repetition of somewhere else is excluded. If you have a long 1000 word page, 100 or so words of repeated information isn’t a big deal. But if your page is only 250 words long and half of it is stuff that also appears on other pages, the page is going to look low-quality. In this case, having 5 pages about that lollipop is actually weaker than having just one with a decent amount of content.

This part of why having a blog can help build authority.

You might have a main product/service page, and then talk about related subjects in various blog posts that refer to that product. To take the lollipop example, say you had the main lollipop page as a sales page. Then you had some blog posts like:

  • How local lollipops are made
  • How your secret ingredients are healthier and tastier than other lollipops
  • Why lollipops make great gift ideas
  • Other desserts that pair well with lollipops

Regular blog updates offer ongoing ways for you to establish your knowledge and authority on topics related to your industry. And what’s better, blogging gives you another SEO benefit: fresh content. Google rewards websites that stay current rather than becoming stale, rolling for years on the same exact content.

Note that this doesn’t mean you should arbitrarily change your content around every month or two simply to have “fresh” material. All changes and additions should be deliberate and meaningful.

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