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August 9, 2012

What Are Low-Quality Pages and How Do You Fix Them?

In some of my recent reviews of websites that have recently lost Google traffic, I’ve found a common thread: lots of low-quality content pages. But the interesting thing is that this wasn’t the sort of low-quality content created by some scammy SEO in an attempt to boost search engine rankings. This was low-quality content that was naturally created with no thought of the search engines.

What could be the matter with that?

Before the days of Google’s Panda filters, most likely, nothing. But when Google let their Panda out of the zoo, some pages on some websites that were previously ignored, started to cause rankings and traffic problems for the overall website.

What might low-quality content pages contain?

For the most part, the type of low-quality content pages I’m talking about here simply don’t contain much information at all. They may only have a few words or sentences outside of the global template of the page. Or they may contain information, but it’s very similar to what’s on other pages of the website. Most of the time these low-quality pages been dynamically generated by whatever content management system (CMS) the site is using. This is especially true of blog sites using WordPress or other blog software, as well as forum sites.

Let’s look at some specific types of low-quality content:

* Profile Pages:

Empty – Many forums, blogs or other community sites encourage people to become members. In order to do so, they have to provide information that is used to create a profile page of that person. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these, but some of them may be created with nothing more than a user name and a bunch of empty fields. So you can end up with hundreds, if not thousands, of nearly empty pages.

– Profiles have also been a target for spammers because some of them allow you to add links. Even those that don’t specifically allow links can sometimes be hacked to include a link by a smarter-than-average web spammer.

Recommended Fix:
There are a few ways to deal with this. You could make profile pages invisible to anyone (including search
engines) who isn’t registered and logged in. Or you could add the noindex Meta tag to all profile pages. If you prefer to have your profile pages indexed, you might try to require more information than just a name so that there’s less chance of the profile seeming empty. And if you allow links, be sure they are automatically tagged with the nofollow attribute. You may also keep all profiles invisible until they go through a manual human review.

* Empty Directory or Search Results Pages:

Websites that have a directory of sorts will often have a number of different categories. This is a great idea when there are enough items, people, or places that deserve to have their own category. But sometimes a website will get too granular in its categories and only have one (or sometimes zero) results contained within them.

It’s easy to see how this creates a poor user experience, and thus a low-quality content page.

* Tag Pages:

While adding tags to classify blog posts can make for a helpful way to browse a blog, creating an unlimited number of tags and tagging every post with a bunch of them creates tons of low-quality content tag pages. If a tag is so specific that only one post is tagged with it, the tag page itself will list only that one post. And if that post is tagged with other unique tags, a whole bunch of very similar stand-alone tag pages will be created that all just link to this one post. Which means they’ve defeated the purpose of tagging as a means of categorizing posts.

Recommended Fix: Don’t use tags to stuff keywords on your pages (à la The Huffington Post). Instead, use them for their intended purpose by creating a limited number of them that correspond to their own unique category. This will provide an alternate way of browsing your blog, as well as more opportunities for Google to find and spider your pages.

If it’s too late to start over with your tags and you’ve already got a crazy array of meaningless tags, then add the rel=nofollow to the tag links themselves, and add the “noindex, follow” Meta tag to the resulting tag pages themselves. This way you won’t have all those duplicate pages indexed, but the search engines can still follow the links contained within them.

Posts That Simply Link to Something Else:

You see something interesting on another site that you want to tell your readers about, so you dash off a quick blog post that says, “Here’s an interesting article about whatever” and provide a link. Even worse is if you link to these “empty posts” from elsewhere on your site in the guise of providing actual information if they click the link. This only annoys your readers because they have to click yet again to get to what they really want to see.

Recommended Fix: A better place for quick recommendations would be to post it on your social media channels and/or link directly to the real content from elsewhere in your site where it makes sense to do so.

As you can see, whether or not you intended to have low-quality content pages on your website, you may have some anyway. Whether we agree with the way Google is handling this sort of content or not, the fact is, many sites have been negatively affected by it. Therefore you’d be smart to recheck your own site every so often for low-quality content and go through each of the recommended fixes to remove it ASAP!

Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, an SEO Consulting company in the Boston, MA area
since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen. If you learned from this article, be sure to invite your colleagues to sign up for the High Rankings Advisor SEO Newsletter so they can receive similar articles in the future!