Thin Content: what it is and why it is an issue

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It is called thin content, and in a sense it is the exact opposite of the quality content representing the goal to achieve for every web page: as Google explains, in fact, the thin content is not unique and relevant, does not offer users a reason to visit the site regularly and, ultimately, the search engine can classify such pages as of little or no added value and is, indeed, low quality.

What is the thin content

Thin content is at the center of many Google documents, demonstrating the attention that the search engine devotes to the creation of pages that are valid and useful for users, since the debut of the Panda algorithm over 10 years ago, with the subsequent identification of the path to build a quality site.

And even today, in particular, the presence of (many) thin content is a possible cause of manual actions towards the site, can lead to the removal from the Search index and the disabling of Google ADS, and in any case can negatively affect the EAT signals of the site and perceived by the search engine.

Which is the thin content

Thin content can therefore become a problem for SEO because it damages the ranking of pages and the entire site, thus influencing the image of the brand in a negative way; In addition, they can also compromise the chances of creating engagement and blocking conversions, not encouraging users to take any profitable action for the project.

There are various types of content that Google considers sparse, and in particular are the doorway pages, low quality affiliate pages or pages with very little or no content (but it is not enough just the word count to ensure quality, as we know); in addition, even pages that are too similar are considered thin, such as those with scraped or duplicated content, or those too dense of keywords (that is, that fall into the error of keyword stuffing).

Why it is an issue to Google (and SEO)

All these contents are united by the same “underlying problem”: they do not meet the criteria required by Google for the relevance of the results to be shown in response to queries.

As we know, Google tries to provide content that match the search intent, that provides useful and valid information, that have a purpose (that is, that allow the user to realize the purpose that he had set when launching his query).

Thin contents have completely opposite characteristics, and above all they do not give any type of added value for the users, that therefore they remain substantially dissatisfied when they end up on pages of this type. And a disgruntled user is a dangerous element for the SEO, which Google transposes and turns into a negative ranking signal.

Examples of thin content

Wanting to try to list in detail the types of thin content (those that are most at risk of being identified as such), we find:

  1. Duplicate content (even those perceived as duplicates due to some technical errors, such as incorrect redirection from HTTP to HTTPS).
  2. Content scraped from another website, such as the classic typically copy/paste from other sites, typically with few rewriting or remodulating, or the incorporation of various types of content not only textual (images, videos, infographics) but they do not add value to the user. The risk of penalization is high if on the site we systematically add content from external sources without a serious manual reworking.
  3. Autmatically generated content. Google systems also recognize the use of automated means to rewrite content – e.g., attempt to take a foreign language news and then simply translate it into English via Google Translate or other tools before adding it to the site – as well as are mere reproductions of product information copied from other sources or extracted from others sites. When these contents are programmatic, Google may proceed with algorithmic or even manual penalties because it encounters the intention to manipulate search rankings and not to help users. This category includes texts that do not make sense to the reader but contain only keyword, low quality machine translations without care before publication, combined or tied content from various web pages without adding any value.
  4. Affiliate pages worthless to the user. Full of links but that do not offer any useful or relevant information. Google recognizes the value of monetized good sites with affiliate links that add value, for example by offering original product reviews, ratings or comparisons; if we participate in an affiliate program, It is important to be sure to distinguish the site from others and to keep clear the purpose, the purpose, that goes beyond any affiliate offer. Moreover, affiliate pages should represent only a small percentage of the total site, and the affiliate program should be inherent to the product category that is interesting to our audience. Basically, an affiliate page is an intermediate channel between the user and the target page of the original manufacturer, so we have to wonder why a person wants to do this step and how not to waste their time. 
  5. Doorway pages, or pages that are just a means of trying to manipulate SERPs by targeting a keyword or a small group of very specific words, with the purpose of sending this traffic to another website or destination. This technique creates a poor search experience and adds unwanted steps for the user, which has to go through unnecessary pages (of of inferior quality and less relevant) to achieve the desired end result. Among the examples of doorway pages Google indicates:
    • Several pages or different domain names addressed to specific geographic areas, regions or cities that actually refer users to a single page..
    • Pages generated to channel visitors to the part actually usable or relevant to the site.
    • Pages that almost the same, more similar to search results than to a well-defined searchable hierarchy.

Detecting and fixing pages with thin content

After understanding which pages are at risk of being identified as thin content, it is time to get to work to identify problems on the site and try to correct them before they become serious.

It is good to know that not all thin content is deceptive – and Google knows it – and in some cases it is enough to prevent crawlers from indexing such pages, blocking them in the robots.txt file, to avoid negative consequences. This technique applies, for example, to pages generated by internal search results or to shopping cart pages, which may exist even if they do not offer added value.

On the contrary, for the worst situations such as doorways there is only one valid way, namely direct cancellation without thinking twice.

In other cases, you need to work with the broader strategy in mind: pages with duplicate content, self-generated, too short or inconsistent should be rewritten, trying to deepen the information starting with rethinking more accurately the keyword research.

Finally, for the low value affiliate pages you can visit the site of the company that offers the affiliation, looking for valuable resources with which to enrich our page; for example, we can find statistics, studies, but also multimedia content such as infographics or videos, all to give something original and useful to the user.

Thin content, a review work to improve the site’s SEO

Working on the search and resolution of sparse content on the site can seem like a huge task, especially for e-commerce sites with thousands of product pages and categories, but we need to consider it as an opportunity to further strengthen the overall SEO of the website, which will benefit from an updated and improved strategy.

While identifying thin pages, in fact, we can also test the quality level of the project and find ideas to create a more optimized and effective content strategy.

Furthermore, by making the content review and verification process periodic will allow us to simplify future work and save time, because we will address and resolve serious problems right away, learning not to repeat them, immediately recognizing the major threats of sparse content before they damage the rankings and reputation of the site.

Ultimately, we must keep this in mind: we can avoid thin content if we offer unique, original and special content that “is useful” and does not take time from users, the true reference of our work.

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