To achieve first-page search rankings with your website, you must fill it with high-quality content that's valuable and relevant to your target audience.
Since releasing the Panda update in 2011, Google has assessed the content of websites with greater scrutiny.
Websites with high-quality content are now rewarded with higher search rankings.
Conversely, however, you can expect lower search rankings on Google if your website has thin content.
Thin Content Explained
Thin content is content on a website, such as articles or blog posts, that offers little or no value to human visitors.
For example, a basic web page with just 100 words of text proceeded by a call to action (CTA) will probably be considered thin content by Google.
It's difficult to convey any meaningful amount of information in less than 100 words, so Google will likely flag the web page as having thin content.
Word count isn't the only factor distinguishing thin content from high-quality content. Web pages with 1,000 or more words may be considered thin content if they don't offer value to human visitors.
Here are some common types of thin content:
- Short articles and blog posts
- Scraped content
- Doorway pages
- Copied or duplicate content
- Irrelevant content
- Web pages with high ratio of ads to unique and relevant content
- Poorly written, error-filled articles and blog posts
- Landing pages consisting primarily of a CTA
Soft 404s and Thin Content
Google treats web pages with thin content as soft 404 error pages.
Not to be confused with a hard 404 error, a soft 404 doesn't return a 404 "not found" status code.
Rather, it returns a 200 "success" code to the visitor's web browser.
Soft 404 errors typically occur when a visitor accesses a web page that no longer exists, but they can also occur if a web page has thin content.
How Thin Content Can Affect Your Website's Search Rankings
If your website has thin content, it will probably suffer from low search rankings.
Google has always encouraged webmasters to produce high-quality content.
It wasn't until 2011, though, when it introduced a new system in its algorithm to weed out websites with thin content.
Known as the Panda update, it prioritized websites with rich and valuable content over those with thin content.
Because Google treats web pages with thin content as soft 404 error pages, they generally don't rank well.
In fact, most 404 error pages, including hard and soft error pages, won't rank at all on Google.
After identifying a web page with thin content and classifying it as a 404 soft error page, Google will remove it from its index and stop crawling it.
Creating too many web pages with thin content may even place your website at risk for a manual action penalty.
There are roughly a dozen black-hat optimization processes that can trigger a manual action penalty, one of which is the use of thin content.
If Google's algorithm identifies thin content on your website, it may flag for your site for manual review.
A human reviewer at Google will then visit your website to determine whether it merits a manual action penalty.
Assuming your website has lots of thin content, it may receive a manual action penalty.
Manual action penalties are particularly concerning because they don't go away on their own.
Once your website has been penalized for thin content, you'll have to fix it, followed by sending a reconsideration request to Google.
Upon receiving your request, a Google reviewer will check your website to see if the problem was corrected. And only after a Google reviewer has given your website their approval will your site regain its search rankings.
Analyze Your Website for Thin Content Errors and Penalties
If you believe thin content is affecting your website's performance on Google, you should analyze it for soft 404 errors and manual action penalties.
To analyze your website for soft 404 errors, go to Google Search Console and run a coverage report.
From the Search Console's home screen, click "Coverage" on the sidebar. Next, you'll see a list of all errors, if any, Google has encountered on your website under the "Details" section.
You can also analyze your website for manual action penalties using Google Search Console.
To see if Google has imposed a manual action penalty for thin content, click the "Manual Actions" link on the sidebar. According to QuickSprout, a manual action penalty for thin content can lower a website's total search traffic by up to 50 percent.
How to Fix Pages With Thin Content
Like with most SEO mishaps, you can fix thin content on your website to prevent it from adversely affecting your site's search rankings.
Go through each page on your website to determine whether it meets the criteria for thin content.
Even if your website doesn't have any soft 404 errors or hasn't received a manual actions penalty, it may still have thin content.
And you'll need to improve the quality of this content so that it's no longer considered thin content by Google.
Follow these tips to fix web pages with thin content:
- Run content through Copyscape to ensure it's unique.
- Consolidate multiple web pages with the same or similar content into a single, longer web page.
- Create content around topics in which your website's visitors are interested.
- Aim for a minimum of 500 words for each web page.
- Don't fill web pages with an excessive amount of ads.
- Use canonical URLs when the same content is displayed on multiple web pages.
- Add images or videos to enhance the value of text content.
Keep in mind, you'll need to submit a reconsider request to Google after fixing the web pages with thin content if your website received a manual action penalty.
Google will only restore your website's lost search rankings after reevaluating it.
You can't just toss up some generic, poorly written articles on your website and expect to dominate the search results.
Google wants to provide its users with the highest-quality, most relevant results. If your website has thin content, you'll struggle to attract traffic from Google.
By investing more of your time and resources into content creation, however, you can avoid algorithmic filters and manual action penalties associated with thin content.