The term ‘thin content’ can get bandied about quite liberally in the world of content marketing and SEO – but it’s actually a term that has multiple meanings behind it, and can have huge significance on how your website is performing. So, with that in mind, it’s vital you know what it is, how it can negatively impact your website and (perhaps most importantly) what you can do to fix it.
What is thin content?
First of all, let’s start off by understanding what is really meant by thin content. In a nutshell, thin content refers to content that lacks all (or any) of the following:
- Detail about the content’s subject matter
- Authority and expertise
- Accurate information and trustworthy sources
- Useful information, for example next steps, links to other relevant content and contact details
As a result of these factors, thin content is prohibitive to a positive user experience and it fails to impart information that the website user is searching for. Thin content fails to bring value to the visitor of your website.
Thin content can manifest itself as:
- Duplicate content (or content which has been identified by search engines as duplicated, perhaps due to technical mistakes such as incorrectly redirected pages).
- Content that has been scraped from other websites, offering little or no value above and beyond the original.
- Doorway pages. These are pages created specifically to try and manipulate search engine indexes. The doorway page is designed to rank for particular phrases but when it is visited it redirects the user to another page.
- Content that has a high bounce rate because it hasn’t fulfilled the intent of the user’s search.
It’s worth noting here that I’ve not focussed on the actual length or wordcount of the content – thin content doesn’t necessarily mean short content, the two aren’t co-dependent. Short content, when written well, can be hugely informative about a specific subject matter and offer the detail required by the person reading the content. Creating great content is about understanding your audience, what they are expecting from the content on your website and how you can fulfil that expectation whilst demonstrating authority and trustworthiness. If you can do all of those things whilst using fewer words, then that’s all the better!
At the end of the day, well-written, sharp content can say in 300 words what a poorly written 3,000-word article can.
Why is thin content negatively impacting your SEO and website’s performance?
Poor quality, thin content has been the target of Google algorithm updates since 2011 when the Panda update was rolled out. Back then, the update focussed on stripping out search results that duplicated content from other sites and which failed to offer value to the user.
Since the Panda update, content quality has been a huge factor in Google’s search engine rankings – with further updates, such as BERT, becoming more focussed on serving up informed, organised and well-written content to search engine users.
Read more about the BERT update and how it impacted content marketing
But Google’s algorithms that focus on the quality of content aren’t the only reason why thin content is impacting your website’s performance. Thin content is also a poor experience for your website’s user – and it can impact how they perceive your brand and what you offer. If you only offer your website user thin or, worse, misleading content then you’ll be leaving a negative imprint on the user – they’ll bounce off your website, fail to convert and potentially actively avoid your brand in future.
What can you do to fix thin content?
Thankfully there are plenty of steps you can take to address the issue of thin content on your website but it will require time and expertise on your part. Quality content can’t be produced with a click of your fingers, and it will often take months (maybe longer, depending on the size of your website and available resource) to address widespread thin content issues.
Good content will be authentic, unique, value-driven and well-written – and all of these take time and resource, but it is definitely a worthwhile investment when you see the SEO and brand perception results.
Hopefully I’ve convinced you that addressing thin content issues is worthwhile, so where can you start?
1. Begin with a content audit
Don’t just dive in and start updating website pages randomly or based on your ‘gut feeling’ about how the page is performing or perceived by users and search engines. If you do this, you risk having a long road ahead – you may miss opportunities to consolidate pages, or waste time updating pages that don’t drive a good ROI or have much potential when it comes to search volume.
Begin your content audit by collecting all of the URLs of web pages on your website. You can do this using a number of online tools – or speak with a content marketing agency to understand how they could run this audit for you. Tools such as SEMrush are very useful in helping with a content audit.
Once you have all of your URLs, you will want to gather key information about each of the web pages such as the meta title and description of the page, the H1 title tag and word count of each page. These details will help you to identify duplicated pages, as well as identify pages that could do with some keyword optimisation.
Supplement this information further with data from the likes of Google Analytics and Google Search Console to show you how each of your pages is currently performing in terms of:
- How many people are visiting the page
- How long people stay on the page
- Whether people visit other pages on your website from this page
- The ROI generated by the page
- Backlinks to the content
- How the page currently ranks in Google for key search terms
This all sounds like a lot of data and information to be gathering, but it’s vital in helping to get a big picture of what is performing and what isn’t on your website – helping you to prioritise any updates and identify potentially harmful thin content.
If you’re unsure about how to execute a content audit then it is worthwhile speaking with a content marketing expert. They will be able to help you assess your website’s current standing, run an effective content audit and put together a plan of action to help you move forward – all of which could prove invaluable in saving you time and resources, but also in generating worthwhile results from the audit process.
Once you have your content audit ready to go, it’s time to move onto the next step…
2. Prioritise the pages requiring work
Your content audit should have identified which pages are currently hosting thin content. Depending on the size of your website, this could be hundreds of pages so you’ll need to focus in on the pages most likely to generate you results first.
Prioritise your pages by assessing how many sessions the pages attract, whether they are key revenue-driving pages and based on business necessity – for example, is the page going to be used for an upcoming campaign soon or does the page currently only offer potentially damaging or misleading information? Put these pages to the top of your priority list as these are where you could get the quickest wins, or potentially be causing the most damage if they’re left untouched.
3. Create a keyword strategy
Understand what search terms people are using to find your products or services via search engines by conducting keyword research. This will help to inform what keywords you should be using to enhance the visibility of your pages within search engines – and as a result what keywords you should be incorporating into your copy when updating your thin content pages.
HubSpot has a useful guide to keyword research for beginners but, again, this may be a part of the process where you find the input of experts invaluable. Content marketing experts use keyword research to form the backbone of all their work, so they will be able to conduct the relevant research and apply it effectively to your brand.
4. Decide on what action needs to be taken and get to work!
Once you have a priority order for your content updates, decide what action needs to be taken to improve each page. You may want to:
Consolidate pages. If you have multiple pages addressing similar or connected topics which would be targeting the same keywords and which don’t warrant their own pages, then you may want to bring the content together onto one page. Be conscious of moving content from high-performing pages though, as you may be missing a trick to instead expand on this topic. This is why it’s important to understand the data from the likes of Google Analytics and Google Search Console before embarking on any content updates to address thin content issues.
If you are consolidating pages, make sure you appropriately redirect any pages made redundant.
Rework poor performing pages. If your audit has identified pages that currently perform poorly in search engine results, or which have a high bounce rate for example, then you will want to read through the content and identify ways in which you could enrich it. Could you add new subheadings on the page that use relevant keywords and address questions or topics people are searching for? (This information should have been revealed by your keyword research).
Think about how you could add authority and trustworthiness to the page, and what information it would be useful for the user to see when visiting the page:
- Could you add more authoritative sources to support your content?
- Do you have additional imagery or video assets that could be used to support the content on the page?
- Could you flesh out some of the content already on the page to provide more useful detail?
- Are relevant details, such as contact information or related products, easily accessible from the page?
Address technical thin content issues. Your content audit may have identified pages that need removing (because they ultimately don’t offer value to the user and wouldn’t benefit from being enriched further) or pages which in fact should be redirected to another, better performing page. Other issues might be that you have both HTTP and HTTPS versions of pages on your website or multiple category pages with thin content or only a few items listed.
You can use a number of techniques such as redirects, canonical URLs and noindexing to help address these issues – but again, you may want to speak with a technical SEO expert to make sure you implement these correctly to generate the positive results you’re after.
5. Create a long-term content strategy There’s no rest after you’ve addressed the initial thin content issues on your website – instead, it’s vital you keep up the hard work you’ve started to make sure there’s longevity to your website’s content.
Create a long-term content strategy that takes into account new pages that align with your keyword research and is a worthwhile addition to your website’s sitemap and a user’s experience. When creating your new content, always keep in mind Google’s E-A-T guidelines. These guidelines are designed to help content creators to develop content that is appealing to users and search engines by offering expertise, authority and trustworthiness.
As part of your content strategy factor in revisiting pages you’ve updated and pages where information may become irrelevant (perhaps due to regulation changes or changes in your business’ strategy). Keep updating these pages to ensure the information is accurate, fresh and useful for visitors.
Equally, frequently check the performance of your content with tools such as Google Analytics and Google Search Console. Use this data to help you decide which pages may need more urgent amends or whether the updates you have made are getting the desired results. You’ll be amazed at how much more informed your content strategy will be by using the data that’s at your fingertips!
Addressing thin website content isn’t a quick win, but it’s certainly a worthwhile one. It will help you get to grips with your website and take control of the content that you’re surfacing to a wider audience – and it could generate you much-needed SEO results too. Depending on the size of your website and how familiar you are with data and auditing tools, though, thin content can be challenging to address, so don’t hesitate to speak with experts who will be able to help you.
In the meantime, if you’re thinking of updating your current content strategy, why not download our useful guide to the content marketing matrix?