Google’s Panda algorithm designed to detect high-quality original contents evolves steadily with new tools and features.
As the old mechanical content evaluation algorithms are changing to a huge and complicated machine learning system, it gets harder every day to describe the detailed properties of contents which are favored by Panda.
Therefore, a new term has emerged in SEO jargon: The thin content.
Although it’s so easy to understand what the thin content is, there’s not any clear metric for measuring thinness or thickness of a piece of content!
Definition of thin content
Google defines the thin content as content with little or no added value.
According to google’s description, the following content types are more likely to be classified as thin content:
- Automatically generated contents
- Affiliate programs
- Scraped content
- Doorway pages
Even before Panda update and imposing penalties for thin content, search engines have always been against low quality and thin content. Panda update for thin content is just one of the many steps have been taken by Google and other search engines to demote non-valuable contents in the search results.
However, cheap and click-thirsty websites always find new ways to utilize thin content in attracting traffic and seems that this cat-and-mouse game will continue in future.
Deliberate use of thin contents in the websites
Thin content is not necessarily short. Also, not every long content can be considered as rich and thick!
There’s two critical question for recognizing thin contents:
- Do you have contents that do not match the title (for your frequent visitor)?
- Do you have entrance pages that don’t match their respective search queries?
Considering above questions, there are many cases that site administrators intentionally deliver thin content.
Here are two examples of intentionally think contents:
- A medium length content divided into very small pieces to get more clicks for a single topic.
- Publishing feeds from other blogs to get more clicks. Although this strategy leads to a better Alexa rank, it’s prone to delivering thin content as you would not have been able to exert necessary controls on the quality of the fed content.
Unintentional thin contents in blogs
Many blogging platforms, including WordPress as the most popular one, generate think contents automatically even if you are intended to do so.
Here are some of the automatically generated thin contents:
- Single posts on a specific tag or category: Let’s suppose that I have just one post about Seth Godin and have tagged it with Seth Godin. Both pages will have the same content, and I would face with the double content issue. The most common solution to this problem is using post excerpts in tags and categories. This would eliminate (actually reduce) double content issue. However, a new issue would appear. A piece of thin content! A URL with 50 or 70 words tagged with Seth Godin. Even if Google do not penalize this URL as thin content, it will become a high-bounce page in your website.
- Automatically generated contents: User profiles, reply to comments, and paginated posts are just a few examples of automatically generated contents. Such pages would not be necessarily thin. However, it’s reasonable to check them as the first chances of thin-contents in a website. Google webmaster’s URL parameters tool is a very quick and handy solution for such problems.
- High Bounce Pages: As Stephen Kenwright says in his article about thin content, not all bounces are created equal. There are good bounces and bad bounces. But still it’s logical to check your high bounce pages (With the bounce rate of 75% or more) for thinness. You may find many thin contents that you have never been aware of.
The thin content threat is something beyond Panda, SEO and Google penalties
Although there are many technical mistakes that may lead to the creation of thin content, any rational SEO specialist would accept that a large portion of the thin content problem, has roots in the shallow understanding of content strategy.
Yes. Having just one post on a tag would create various thin contents automatically. But there’s a more critical question: Why you have just one article about a topic in your website? If this article is linked to your other ones, there should be other instances of your tag. Otherwise, there can be just two reasons:
Otherwise, there can be just two reasons. Either you have not included a professional content tagging system in your content strategy, or you are trying to catch cheap traffic with non-relevant articles.
Both of the above mistakes are not technical and should be considered as faults in the strategic level.
The answer to the thin content problem is lean content, not long content
It’s necessary to emphasize again that thin content is not the same of short content.
Therefore, making a piece of irrelevant thin content longer doesn’t change the nature that content.
So although we read the think content vs. thick content here and there, it would be much more strategic if we compare thin content with lean content.
As Heidi Cohen has provided a very insightful article about the elements of lean content, I do not repeat it here. However, I do strongly recommend you to read that article if you are concerned about thin content issue.
Recommended articles about thin content
Syndication problems and how to manage them (SearchEngineWatch)
How to find thin content in your website (Vertical Leap)