Thin content is an issue that comes up in discussions about Google Panda, along with the more talked-about issue of duplicate content. Google hates thin content, but there’s much argument about what, exactly makes content thin. Why does Google hate thin content?
Thin Content is More Vulnerable to Duplication
If a given piece of content is too short and thin, it suffers from possible duplication issues. If, for example, you wanted to quote two sentences from this piece, and it ended right now, you’d be quoting nearly half of the article. That puts half of the article on another site, possibly a site with a higher search rank and higher trust than this one. That means this site looks bad in comparison; this piece would be short, while the piece quoting it would be long.
Of course, longer pieces can be duplicated just as easily; content scrapers have no qualms about stealing large pieces of content. The issue becomes one of trust. When you have two sites, one filled with quality content and one filled with spam content and a few quality pieces, Google can easily make the determination that the site filled with quality content is likely the originator of the copied content. If the content in question is too short to have value – i.e. it’s thin – it’s harder to make that judgment.
Thin Content is Easier to Spin
Short, thin content is easier to spin in a way that makes it look unique without actually providing any unique content. The problem with article spinning in large pieces is that so much needs to be changed that it becomes difficult to keep a coherent point throughout the whole piece. As more of the content diverges, more of it may be working toward another point accidentally.
Thin content is just too easy to copy and spin in a way that makes it unique. Consider a short question and answer segment, like something you might see on Yahoo Answers. Rewriting the question would be easy. The answer would be easy to change as well, as long as it’s not so technical and specific it needs to be copied letter for letter. Instantly, you have “original” content that has nothing original about it.
Thin Content Contains Less Value
Thin content is generally short, under 300 words. In that little space, it’s hard to dig deep into an issue and come out with insight. More importantly, it’s hard to back up any claims with evidence. Consider what a piece of content needs to have to be considered valuable:
• A thesis; some sort of claim, argument or insight that the piece is based around. This might be something controversial, or it might just be the basis for a how to guide.
• Arguments to back up the claim, steps to perform the task or other information to back up the premise of the article.
• Links to other content that supports your claim, both on and off site. Additional links to references you made.
Trying to cram all of that into a short, thin article is impossible. You have to cut something, be it your evidence or your supporting links. Most of the time, both are cut in favor of a quick Q&A that doesn’t provide much reasoning or useful information.
Thin Content Can Often Be Merged
One of the prime offenders when it comes to thin content is the ecommerce product description. Take a shoe store, for example. One particular model of shoe might have five different color varieties and ten different sizes. Having an individual page for each size in each color leads to over 50 pages with nearly identical content; the only difference being the description of the color and the label of the size. All of these pages are both thin and duplicated.
You can improve your user experience and eliminate thin content issues by merging all of these pages together. A single page with a description of the shoe, with buttons to select color and display pictures of each color dynamically, and a drop-down box with size to select before purchasing, is much better.
Consider another possibility; the site FAQ. If each question is a link to a page where the question is restated and the answer, typically short, is provided, it creates dozens of thin pages with some duplicated content. Merging the questions and answers into one page may make the page look less streamlined, but it’s a more robust page as a whole. You can use scripts to hide the content until the question is clicked as well, to streamline the look without sacrificing content.
Thin Content is a Sign of Spam Pages
Links are important to SEO, and a large number of links can outweigh other issues that lead to a lower ranking. Some spam techniques involve creating hundreds of thin pages and using those pages to link to another page, giving that page a huge number of incoming links. This technique is also used as part of link pyramids, to link to higher quality pages, which in turn link to higher quality pages, and on up the chain until there’s one high quality page with a high ranking from links that really only come from spam.
Likewise, if you have a blog post with only 300 words and you want to include your long-tail keyword twice and a link to your product once, you’re already running low on space.
Identifying and Fixing Thin Content
Thin content can actually be hard to identify. For example, as mentioned above, Yahoo Answers is a site full of what looks like thin content; it’s just a short question and answer with little additional value. Yet YA ranks highly for a wide variety of queries. In Yahoo’s case, it’s not necessarily because of value, but because of links. Some answers may be the best available resources, while others are thin, but there’s no site-wide determination.
To tell if any piece of content on your site is thin, ask yourself a few questions about it.
• Does this page answer the question it asks?
• Does this page support its premise with evidence?
• Does this page serve a purpose beyond “gathering links” or “linking to a product”?
• Can this page be beneficially merged with other, similar pages?
If you answered yes to the first three, your content is probably fine. If you answered yes to the last point, chances are you can make the merger and come out with better content, even if the existing content is valuable on its own.