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.

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 nicely your content is arranged. Google cares whether your page can actually help someone.

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

1. Pages Are Way Too Short (No Demonstration of Authority)

“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/challenges? 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 was 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 also 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.

The Best Way To Avoid Google’s Thin Content Penalty

While huge blocks of continuous text aren’t ideal, there are ways of including thorough information without it being overwhelming.

The first method is one I use frequently with sites I work on, which is to provide a punchy summary first, then a call to action, and then spend the rest of the page going into more detail.

  • The efficient intro works to build quick rapport and make it clear you can help the reader.
  • The call to action is there early on so if that’s all they needed to take an action they aren’t distracted by any more verbiage.
  • If they do want more information, all they have to do is keep reading.

Another trick to creating longer content without wracking your brain is to come up with a few of the biggest questions someone searching for your page’s topic would have about that topic. Each of these can be a subheading on the page, a small section of its own.

It’s fairly easy to talk on a subtopic for 200-400 words minimum, and if you have a few subheadings you’ll quickly reach the 1000+ word page length. Not to mention that when Google sees that you’re answering questions it will further build authority.

  • Including common search queries as subheadings broadens the reach of your page because it can now potentially rank for queries worded specifically those ways rather than something more directly limited to the page’s title.
  • If your competition doesn’t answer these questions and you do, it goes a long way toward building the trust and comfort needed from the reader to then take a buying action.

You can also think of specific uses of your product or service and list those as subheadings, and then spend a few paragraphs under each one explaining how and why a person would use the product that way.

Like above, this broadens your reach. But it’s also persuasive because it gives readers more value. Now buying your product or service isn’t simply to gain the one thing they might have been thinking of when they came; it’s now clear to them there could be multiple use cases. (More bang for the buck.)