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June 27, 2014

How to Avoid Google Thin Content Penalties

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Photo Credit: Carlos Luna via flickr

There are many times when being thin is desirable: When you’re trying on bathing suits, for example, or when you’re trying to squeeze into a wedding dress.

But when it comes to content, thin is most definitely not in.

Thin content is also known as low-quality content, and it’s the bane of smart SEOs and marketers. The web remains chock full of examples of thin content, despite the fact that Google began devaluing it long ago, after the search site realized people were gaming the system by slapping together low-quality posts with hot keywords, backlinks and duplicate content in search of cheap traffic.

In fact, your site may even have some thin content, whether you meant it to be that way or not. No web site is perfect, and it’s not uncommon for lower-quality posts or pages to be hiding amongst your higher-quality stuff. The problem is thin content can hurt you in search rankings. Google Webmaster Tools sniff it out like a bomb-seeking dog, and your site could be punished for having this undesirable content.

With that in mind, here’s a primer on how to identify thin content and what to do with it once you’ve found it.

So What Is Thin Content?

Thin content is, in the simplest terms, a page with no real value besides building traffic. It contains no great insights into the industry, no good information about your product, and nothing that you couldn’t find on another, similar site.

When Google searches for thin content, it’s looking for:

  • Duplicate content
  • Pages with lots of affiliate links
  • Doorway pages
  • Automatically generated content
  • Article syndication
  • Lots and lots of images on one page

Identifying Thin Content

If you have pages with any of those five qualities, that’s a signal that you need to take action. But sometimes thin content isn’t as easy to suss out, depending on how many pages you have on your site.

Google actually suggests that you ask friends or family to look at your pages, giving them a fresh eye, and report back whether or not they are helpful. For instance, if you have services in 16 different counties and you’ve made a special page for each of them but you only change one word on each page, an outsider might suggest you remedy that problem.

Google Webmaster Tools will send you notifications if there’s a thin content problem. However, it’s better to be proactive. You can also consider using one of these thin content-flagging tools:

  • Google Analytics: Use the exit rate to sort on the “Review All Pages” section, and look at pages with a 75 percent bounce rate or higher. Take a look at the content on those pages, which clearly aren’t keeping people’s attention.
  • Screaming Frog: Use the URL scrape tool and then sort the exported URLs by word count. If you have a lot of pages with fewer than 250 words, you have a problem.
  • Open Site Explorer: Look at the backlinks on your site and where they’re coming from. Also note the social media statistics to see if your pages are resonating with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other users.

You’ve Found the Thin Content. Now What?

Once you have identified the thin content, it’s time to play a little game called plump up or get out. The objective – to either eliminate the problematic page or add to it in order to turn it into a high-quality resource page. No matter what you decide, this process will take time, but ultimately it will help both your search ranking and your sales.

Consider yourself an editor in this process. A good editor knows that sometimes the best solution is to cut something, even if you’ve spent lots of time on it. If a page has no discernible value, and you don’t think it could be improved by adding more detail, more words or better links, then best to let it go.

However, if you see potential in the page, and you’re willing to put in the time to improve it, then by all means give it a shot.

Here are some ideas on how to plump up your thin content:

1. Send it to Rewrite

Poorly written or thin copy can be improved with a major rewrite. You may need to call in a freelance copywriter for this task, but it will be well worth the money. Decide beforehand what keywords you are targeting, and aim for at least 300 words per page. Keep away from sales-y talk and instead go into greater detail about your product, your services, or what makes you unique.

2. Merge Your Pages

Do you really need a page for every single city where you provide plumbing services? Probably not. Consider merging your pages so that you have one page with decent content, rather than seven with thin content.

3. Consider Interactive Content

Interactive content is not the answer to every thin content problem, but it can be a great way to engage readers and improve metrics on a page, which will lead Google to back off. Some examples of interactive content include:

  • Surveys
  • The ability to “favorite” something on the page
  • Embedded Google Maps
  • Quizzes
  • Interactive FAQs

4. Decrease the Internal Links

If you have a page with loads of internal links, but you still think the content on it is useful and doesn’t require rewriting, try eliminating some of those links.

5. Beef Up Regionalized Pages

Do something to differentiate your duplicate content pages such as going into greater detail about the area you are targeting. This will eliminate the problem of pages being exact copies of one another, and it should also help with SEO.

Avoiding Thin Content in the Future

It’s great to get your site cleaned up and all the thin content taken care of, but you also should be looking to the future. Once you’ve taken the above steps, make sure you revisit your site’s content regularly to ensure you’re not continuing to add thin content to the site. Remember: Every piece of content on your site should serve a purpose, otherwise it’s just filler.


Adrienne Erin writes twice weekly for SiteProNews about online marketing strategies that help businesses like Longmont United Hospital succeed. Follow @adrienneerin on Twitter to see more of her work or get in touch.