What is “Thin Content” and Why Does it Matter for SEO?

Thin content is a very big issue for many site owners. As a professional Search Engine Optimization expert, I have had a lot of consultations with site owners while I was gathering the info I needed to provide estimates for prospective clients looking to hire my agency to handle the SEO for their website. No matter what industry the prospective client is in, or how the conversation going during the initial consultation, the major question all these site owners are asking is “Why does my site not rank well in search results?” More often than not, one of the major things preventing these sites from ranking highly is thin content.

What is thin content?

Thin content is a blanket term used by Google to describe pages with little or no unique value. In a nutshell, any page which does not provide value to a reader will fall under the umbrella of thin content. Google’s search algorithm, which decides where a site/page will rank in results) is designed so that when people search for a keyword or phrase, the results provided will be ones which it feels provides the most value to the person who is performing that search.

Affiliates and Doorway Pages

By far, the highest volume of thin content pages comes from affiliate websites. An affiliate website is designed primarily to send traffic to another website where they can purchase products, and the affiliate will get back a percentage of whatever purchases are made by users the affiliate has sent over. Most affiliate pages copy and paste info from the actual sellers product pages add value or unique content to the user. For these situations, Google would much rather show the actual seller and their competitors in search results over “thin” affiliate sites with nothing of value to offer other than being a “doorway” to another website.

Doorway Pages

Affiliate pages are not the only pages which google considers to be “doorway” pages. What does Google consider to be a doorway page? According to Google’s Quality Guidelines, doorway’s “are sites or pages created to rank highly for specific search queries.” While all sites should be designed so that the pages will rank highly for specific search queries (That is what SEO actually is), Doorway pages and sites abuse this concept.

Example of a site with doorway pages– A plummer who wants to advertise “sink repair” in Los Angeles. He creates a page with content optimized for “sink repair in Los Angeles” for his website. He then creates a series of pages using this page as a template, and replaces every mention of “Los Angeles” with the names of the various communities which make up the city, and now has separate pages for “sink repair in Brentwood,” “sink repair in Echo Park,” “sink repair in Hollywood,” and so on. He now has over 100 nearly identical pages essentially advertising a single service.

Google does not like sites which try to “game” the system in order to get higher rankings. Any reasonable person who looked at the above example would agree that what the hypothetical plumbing company did was a scheme designed to give higher ranking for a term without having any unique content on the various pages.

Scraped Content

Another example of thin content comes from sites which scrape their content. Scraped content is described by Google as “content taken (“scraped”) from other, more reputable sites.” If you have ever copied content from another site, whether it be a product page, service page, or a blog article, and then pasted it to your site, you have scraped their sites content. Scraped content is problematic in many ways. From an SEO perspective, content scraped from another site does not provide any real value and will not rank high in search results. From a legal standpoint, scraping content from another site is almost certainly a copyright violation which could lead to a lawsuit.

I have found out through experience that business owners and staff have a very hard time writing effective content about the products and services they offer. As a site owner, you need to have uniquely written content in order for your site to have the ability to consistently rank high in search results. If you or your staff cannot come up with unique content, hire a company that provides content creation services to write it for you.

Automatically Generated Content

Another source of thin content is automatically generated content. Googles definition of automatically generated content is “content that’s been generated programmatically.” Typically, this is content that is produced using software. Often, sites will use “spun articles” designed to have a high density of keywords but do not in fact make much sense when someone is reading it. It also includes content where someone uses a translation tool, like Google Translate, but does not edit the content afterwards leaving many awkward and possibly incorrect phrasing and syntax.

Not all content considered by google is actually generated by software. Some of it is actually created by people. One example would be content where someone copies an article from another source, and then replaces the original wording with synonyms like changing “turn it 180 degrees” to “rotate it 180 degrees” and other similar superficial changes to hide the fact the content is actually stolen. Another example would be where someone copies one paragraph from 4 sites and then assembles the paragraphs as a page for their site with no new content added.

Insufficient Content

While the types of content described above are violations of Googles webmaster guidelines, pages with insufficient content also will hurt a sites ability to rank highly in search results even though they are not violating any policies. I have seen sites where the primary service description pages for the business have less than 150 words of unique content. If you don’t have a good amount of unique content on a page, it will be hard for that page to be seen by Google as better than other pages by competitors and other sites with more unique text and useful content. There is no rule written in stone about how much content should be on each page, but most SEO experts agree that a minimum of 300 unique words per page is a good benchmark to use.

How Thin Content Impacts SEO

Thin content, in all its forms, is really bad for SEO. Google has stated publicly that the two biggest factors used by their algorithm to determine a pages rank in search results are content and links. If you have a page which is considered thin content you can expect that it will not rank highly. Even if you get ranked on the top of results for a short time, eventually Google will notice the thin content and the page will disappear to the back of results.

If you have many pages on your site which are considered to be thin content, you run the risk of having your entire site penalized by Googles algorithm, or they may assess a manual penalty action. If you use Google webmaster tools you will be able to tell if you have received a manual penalty, but you will never be able to tell if your pages are being disregarded or penalized by the algorithm unless you see a clear drop in traffic over time and can find no other cause.

You do not want to be penalized by Google. While you can fix your site to remove an algorithm penalty and apply for reconsideration if you are manually penalized, it will take weeks, months, or longer to fully recover. Always make sure that anything published on your site is composed of fresh, unique, and valuable content which will provide real value to someone who finds it. If you think your site might have thin content and are concerned about a penalty, or you have been penalized already, contact Voxdelta or another professional SEO agency that can help you fix your site or recover from google penalties.