Way back in 2011, Google Introduced the Panda Algorithm which rewarded websites with high-quality content and punished those sites with poor quality content and glorified content farms – something which had become a problem in 2010. The update led to a lot of work for SEOs to help websites recover from the update, but also stopped Black Hat SEO tactics from being rewarded.
One thing that Google Panda looks for is thin content. While some websites deserved to be punished for thin content, there are actually other innocent reasons why other websites end up with thin content on pages.
What is Thin Content?
Thin content is content with little or no value to a website and users. Pages that fall into this classification include those with duplicate content, auto-generated content, scraped content, affiliate content and doorway pages. Google believes these techniques don’t provide users with unique or valuable content and are in violation of their Webmaster Guidelines.
While a lot of website owners and admins don’t use spammy tactics, various factors lead to their pages coming under the thin content category. This is because the page doesn’t answer user queries, the content on the page is irrelevant, too short or has no correlation to the page title and meta description. In these cases, your pages need more and/or better content.
Let’s explore the deceptive tactics that are classified as thin content which Google looks for in-depth.
1. Auto-generated Content
This is content usually created by a machine which offers limited value. One such example is taking a story from a website in a foreign language and running it through Google Translate when adding it to your site.
Content created by AIs that are considered high value doesn’t fall into thin content, but you still need a human editor to review this content before posting it online.
2. Affiliate Content
Affiliate websites that offer high-value and useful advice aren’t punished by Google. However, if the site is filled with affiliate links with useless or irrelevant information for the end user will be punished by Google.
If you’re handling affiliate links, there are certain things you must do:
- Ensure your website is more than just an affiliate site – it must have another purpose. Affiliate pages should only be a tiny percentage of your website.
- Add fresh content for your affiliate audience that will give you access to more niches.
- You should consider whether there’s a reason why a user should land on your website first before going to the actual product or service site. There must always be a reason why users should come to you first rather than going direct.
- Your affiliate links should match your target audience. This avoids any mixed messaging signals.
- Don’t include scraped, duplicate affiliate content on your site. Regularly update and refresh content when required to add better value for users.
3. Scraped Content
If you often add content from external sites or sources, search engines will penalise you for thin content. This often done by:
- Copying and pasting content created by other people.
- Adding external content to your site that adds no value.
- Adding minor tweaks and changes to content copied from another site.
- Using automation to repurpose content that exists on another site to display it on your site as unique.
- Embedding various content types such as videos and images that bring little to no value.
4. Doorway Pages
Doorway pages are used to spam SERPs with thin content that targets specific search terms or a group of terms with the purpose of sending traffic to another site. This is poor user experience because it adds unwanted steps for users to get where they want to go.
What is considered Valuable Content?
If you’ve copied content from another site, generated content using software or creating web pages with little or no content, you will come under Google Panda’s firing line. While not every website is trying to be deceptive, there’s a reason why Google doesn’t rank your page – it adds nothing new or valuable for users.
By adding unique, fresh, relevant and original content to your website that adds value for users and fulfils search intent, the better the chance your pages will rank for its target search terms.
Google Panda Updates
Since its release in 2011, Google Panda has had updates to ensure it keeps on top of what is valuable content for users. Google Panda updates can sometimes target single pages, topics, themes or whole websites.
The Panda algorithm also judges content based on certain quality criteria and questions the Google Quality Raters will ask when they manually review content. This includes:
- Does the content show expertise, authority, and trust (E-A-T)?
- Are the “You Money or Your Life” (YMYL) pages presenting and providing what users need? (Think about pages linked to transaction, financial information, private information collection etc.)
- Is there a depth of content? Do the service, category and product pages cover the main topic? Is there supplementary information? Can the user discover more information around the topic?
- Is the content accessible for users? Is it easily found in the site structure? Does the page have fast loading times? Is the content optimised for mobile devices?
This is what you need to think about when creating content for your site. Don’t be afraid to get second opinions as by collaborating, you can create fresh and quality content.
Technical Issues that cause Thin Content
Not all thin content manipulates search results and can originate from a few technical SEO issues that not all site owners would pick up on.
Internal Search Results Pages
If you’ve got a search function on your website, this will generate pages that have thin content. This is normal, but you don’t want Google to index these pages.
You can stop Google indexing these pages in SERPs by adding a disallow line for these pages in robot.txt files.
Shopping Cart Pages
Shopping cart pages aren’t created to give users content, they’re there to help users manage and complete orders. Search engines count these pages as having thin content as a result, but you can avoid being punished for it. Simply stop Google indexing shopping cart pages by no-indexing them in your robot.txt file.
Duplicate pages are a standard when managing websites, especially if you’ve got websites for different geographical locations. While duplicate content isn’t the same as thin content, it can overlap from time to time.
This can be fixed by marking the page you want to rank in SERPs with canonical tags, use 301 redirects if you want to send users to a different URL and use hreflang tags for international languages/places.
Tools that Identify Thin Content
There are great tools available for marketers to use that make it easy to identify thin content – if you’ve got a large site, you don’t want to be trawling through pages manually.
Google Search Console
The latest version of Google Search Console gives users more data about how pages on your site are indexed and also provides reasons why some pages aren’t being indexed. One reason a page won’t be indexed is because it has thin content on it.
Copyscape is a tool that crawls the web to identify any content that has been copied from your domain and posted on another site. It can also identify when content has been copied onto your site from an external site.
Screaming Frog is a site crawler that can identify pages that have thin content on them. Once crawled, you can sort pages by their word count, allowing you to identify pages with thin content. If you connect your crawl to Google Analytics and see pages with a lot of content but not getting any organic traffic. This could be Google identifying the page as having thin content.
How to Fix Thin Content
By using the tools suggested above and regularly reviewing your site, you can keep track of the amount of thin content currently on your site. Review old content on your site to ensure it has up-to-date information about products and services that you offer.
The best way to avoid thin content in general is to create quality content that your audience wants. You can do this by monitoring current trends online and across social media and seeing what content ranks highest for terms you are targeting. You can even ask your audience explicitly for the type of content they want and deliver it to them after their feedback.
You can also work with a team of SEO experts who have access to all the tools available to ensure thin content is eliminated from your site, and you’re never punished for it. If you need help with content on your site, get in touch with Ricemedia today.