SEO is as much guesswork as it is hard science. When search engines like Google have an update, they don’t share any of the details of what goes into that update or what an SEO company has to do to account for it, and that leaves SEO companies and SEO researchers trying to figure it out through a series of guesses, testing, and so on.
This morning I was browsing through some news on my Twitter feed, and was reading about some controversies regarding “thin content” and whether it should be removed or rewritten in order to achieve a better search engine placement. What’s interesting though is that “thin content” doesn’t have a true definition. The phrase itself is subject to debate.
Thin Content is More Than Duplicate Content
Thin content is content that adds no value over other content. The number one most common type of thin content is duplicate content. Contrary to popular belief, duplicate content is not limited to content that may have been taken or reposted on other sites (though that is part of it). It’s also content that can be seen as duplicate on your own site. For example, if you use a boilerplate location page (a template where you cut and paste location names) or if you have a variety of identical pages for similar topics (for example, two identical piece of content on separate URLS on your site – like cutting and pasting part of an article you wrote as an answer on the FAQ page).
- These actions are extremely common, and rarely intentional. Examples of thin duplicate content that you may have on your site include:
- Identical product descriptions for similar products.
- Product descriptions reposted from the manufacturer.
- Custom search URLS that are all indexed but bring up the same results.
Many SEO companies and website designers may also repost content or buy articles in bulk to save money, but that will be considered duplicate content as well. In my experience, template location pages are probably the most common examples of duplicate content I run into, followed by product descriptions.
But remember, we’re talking about “thin” content, not just duplicate content, and that’s where things get a bit more complicated. Thin content is content that adds essentially nothing to the discussion, and I’ll be entirely honest with you – even as someone that has written content for 7 years, I would not be surprised if I am guilty of accidentally providing thin content myself. Content is an art form, and as the artist, the best I can do is bring creativity, logic, and depth to my writing in order to make my content “thicker” for the audience.
Unique content can still be thin content. Some examples of unique thin content include:
- Short blurbs that barely answer a question.
- Content structured and containing exactly the same information as a different page, but reworded.
- Overly simplified content – “Duh” content that is overly common sense and contains no originality or personality.
This is “filler” content. It’s content with no purpose, no value, and nothing that sets it apart from the 10,000,000 other identical pages already online. It’s often (although not always) short, it’s usually a direct rewrite of an article someone already found of Google, and it is rarely engaging. Filler content differentiates itself from non-filler content by not having any noticeable differences between the content on your page, and the content on someone else’s page, even though it’s not a duplicate.
((Note: You can have two articles about the same topic where one is filler and the other is not. For example, if you write a “5 Benefits of Massage” article, and you do so by rewriting a basic article you found on a major news website with no added value, it’s probably filler. If you write it from scratch from your own imagination and knowledge, it’s probably not – EVEN IF it contains the same information. Google’s algorithm does an amazing job at determining whether something was copied, or whether it was unique.))
What to Do About Thin Content
This is not to say that adding unique, interesting, creative content is easy – or even that you have to do it all the time. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen is people going back and deleting old blog posts because they didn’t have much personality or originality. But many of them were still solid blog posts, and, while they probably wouldn’t be seen as “thick content,” they probably wouldn’t be seen as “thin content” either. They were just content. Normal sized content, if you will – still beneficial, but not necessarily going to catapult you into search engine fame.
In fact, in some cases that might be ideal. Let’s say you have over 200 location pages that are all based on a template, and thus all considered “thin content” by anyone’s standards. Turning each one into rich content is exceedingly difficult and time consuming. You may benefit more from simply replacing each one with a 100% unique page, but not necessarily trying to overextend yourself by turning each one into a page that is rich with content.
But at the same time, it’s important to try to add thick content as well. One of my favorite projects, Everyday Interview Tips, was built almost entirely on thick content. Every single page on that site is unique, written from a combination of research and imagination. The website gets over 200,000 hits a month, and the only strategy to achieve those hits was adding unique content that cannot be found anywhere else on the web. No backlinking. No significant social media presence. No forums. No press releases. Everyday Interview Tips is 100% content, and yet has exploded in search terms in a popular niche, and is growing with each Google update.
Examining and Changing Your Thin Content
Thin content is often an honest mistake. In some cases it may even be a necessity. After all, replacing 1,000 product descriptions on a new website can be costly and time consuming, when simply cutting and pasting from the manufacturer or reposting across all pages is simple and allows you to get your products online.
But thin content can be a problem in the long term. Give your content some high calorie meals, beef it up, and chances are you’ll see changes in your analytics as a result.