One of the biggest clichés in the SEO industry is that content is king, and although it’s true that posting a wealth of articles on your site can boost your Google rankings, it can do more harm than good.
Why? Because quality is hugely more important than quantity. It is now incredibly easy to scrape, spin and upload content from all over the web. In fact, it is possible to build a huge collection of articles for your blog with little more than a few mouse clicks.
As so often with SEO techniques, the easier it sounds the more damage it’s going to do to your site in the long term. Scraping and spinning content has always been frowned upon by Google and last year it really clamped down on webmasters who had been making use of these methods with its Penguin update.
Google’s overall aim is to make it easy for people to find the information they are looking for and, quite rightly, it sees no value in boosting the profile of sites which have “borrowed” their content from elsewhere.
Thin content is content which doesn’t add value to a website – it might be a 300 word post which has been spun 20 times and littered across the web, it might be a 1,000 word article which just rehashes something from Wikipedia or it might be an infographic full of inaccurate statistics.
So how can you avoid creating or posting thin content?
1 – Be aware of thin content in all its forms
There’s a misconception that if an article is long, it’s good and will contribute positively to rankings. This isn’t the case. Google takes into account things like bounce rate when calculating search engine results, so if people are clicking on and off your articles almost instantly because they don’t offer the information they want it doesn’t matter if the piece is 200 or 2,000 words long, it’s not going to rank well.
2 – Find out what people liked and give them more of it
A good rule of thumb is that if something is popular, then it isn’t thin content. There are a range of tools which can be used to discover what worked well. Checking page views and bounce rate in Google Webmaster Tools is a great place to start. Using social media metrics is a great idea too as shareability it a great sign that your content is hitting the spot. Of course, you don’t want to churn out the same article over and over again, but by finding out what sort of articles are popular with your audience, you can steer content creation in that direction. You might discover “how to” articles are outperforming “top five” articles and so produce more of the former. But remember – you don’t want to end up repeatedly covering the same topics in the same way.
3 – Bad content producers steal, great content producers steal ideas
Just lifting someone else’s article and passing it off as your own, even after a hefty rewrite, is a sure fire way to end up with thin content – but that doesn’t mean you can’t seek out inspiration from elsewhere. If you spot an infographic and know you could have done better, then do it better. The key is to add value – don’t rehash someone else’s ideas, improve them. You can see for miles by standing on the shoulders of giants.
4 – You have to add value all over your site
It’s tempting to fall in to the trap of thinking actual blog entries are the only place you need to worry about thin content, but if you have landing pages you need to spend just as much time thinking about them. One of the biggest problems here is the desire to include plenty of keywords in these locations, something which can limit the quality of content. You may need to think outside the box to make the most of your landing pages. However, taking the time to introduce something extra will pay dividends in the long run.
5 – Keep up with the Joneses
Content creation and SEO are fast moving areas and what is seen as best practice can change from month to month. By keeping an eye on leading publications such as Search Engine Journal you won’t miss out on vital developments. You’ll also pick up more than a few ideas along the way.
Finally, it’s important to bear in mind that you’re writing for readers, not for Google. The search engine is just an intermediary, not the end user. By thinking about what people want, rather than what crawler robots want then you’re more likely to produce content that’s a hit.
By being aware of what thin content is, you can make sure you don’t post it to your blog. You should make sure you apply the same stringent standards to guest writers and to yourself. If you don’t think a post is good enough, don’t set it live. It’s as simple as that.
Will Stevens is an experienced journalist and SEO expert who provides content for the Webfusion blog team as well as working on a range of other projects.