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Thin content and SEO: a rocky (road) relationship

Friday, August 23rd, 2013 by Ashley Curtis

writerEven if you have a passing interest in search engines and the algorithms behind them, you’ll know that accuracy and relevance of web content is absolutely paramount in delivering the best result for a query; whether that’s on Google, Bing, Yahoo or any other website that employs a search engine.

One way that Google manages to filter out irrelevant results is by giving preferential treatment to sites which deliver high-quality, original and interesting content on a regular basis. Sites with poor (or ‘thin’) content – where traits include grammatical mistakes, duplicate articles, spelling errors or overly short/long articles – are likely to be penalised as a result, pushing the site further down search results and harming SEO efforts.

Consequently, those looking to boost their SEO need to be super-sizing their thin content by force-feeding the calorific goodness found in grammatical accuracy, originality and creativity. In SEO, gluttonous, greedy, overweight content is great; frail, skeleton-thin content is counterproductive. So grab as many digital donuts, chocolate bars and pizzas as possible and let’s tuck in.

Nailing the basics

Getting the basics right is the first step on the stairway to recovery. In the all-seeing eyes of Google, poor spelling, punctuation and grammar is like a billboard-sized neon sign that flashes ‘POOR QUALITY: AVOID’.

Knowing the difference between your and you’re, fewer and less, affect and effect and other common grammatical pitfalls is easy for natural writers, but if you’re not confident in your literary skills, don’t simply publish content and hope for the best. Get a colleague or a friend to check over your copy; even the best writers need a fresh pair of eyes to help spot mistakes.

Even while researching this very article, a site claiming to offer advice about the importance of spelling and grammar in web content stated: “First thing you need to focus that don’t do spelling and grammatical mistakes in the articles of your site. It gives a direct signal to the Google that your site is having a thin content.”

The Google? Having a thin content?! You’re killing me here!

Plagiarism, duplication and repetition

Lifting content from other sites is very easy to do but the implications are wide-ranging. Without even going into the copyright issues involved, plagiarism and duplication has a negative impact on SEO due to the way Google indexes pages. If you cannot deliver fresh content that is your own, Google will view the duplicated content as unimportant and irrelevant, meaning you won’t rank for it. If you aren’t ranking for keywords, you aren’t attracting traffic. The only site that will benefit is the one where the content was originally placed.

Furthermore, plagiarised content delivers no value to searchers as they can find the same content elsewhere. If you aren’t delivering informative, original, creative content then you aren’t actually delivering anything at all. So why should customers visit?

Content length

One of the other major characteristics of thin content is length. To use the Goldilocks and the Three Bears analogy, Google doesn’t like content that is too long or too short; it loves content that is “juuuust right”. Google would stuff its face with appropriately-sized content all day and then suffer from appropriately-sized content sweats on the sofa if it could.

Working out the right word count for a piece of content is the hard part. One of the key things I consider when writing a blog or an evergreen piece is that the article simply isn’t there to appease our Google overlords; it is there to inform and educate customers. For instance, delivering 2,000 words on a single topic that repeats itself three times over is not a valuable piece of content. What can be said in 2,000 words that can’t be said in 700?

As a general rule, I tend to write news articles of around 200-250 words in length while blogs can hit anywhere between 500-700 words. In-depth evergreen pieces could breach the 1,000 word mark depending on the topic. There’s a fine line between too long and too short but it’s up to you to find the sweet spot. Consider each individual piece of content and web page on a case-by-case basis.

As we can see, thin content is a dramatic hindrance on the SEO process. Removing content with a low value and replacing it with fresh, creative, high-value content might appear to be common sense, but you’d be surprised just how many websites manage to get it wrong. By addressing these problems, you’d be helping both your SEO strategy and the value delivered to customers. Don’t put your content on a diet; let it stuff its chubby face all day long.

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About the author

Ashley Curtis

Ashley Curtis

Ashley joined Vertical Leap’s content team in 2011, having graduated with honours from the University of Portsmouth in 2010. After running his own music blog, writing freelance for the Portsmouth News and briefly flying to Germany to write for guitar firm Warwick, Ashley made the move into brand journalism and content marketing. Follow Ashley on Google+