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Google's Thin Content Penalty

Website Content Not Up to Google's Standards

There's a "thin content" penalty (slap) going around. If you happened to receive that, then it means that Google doesn't favor the content your posting on your website. You can fix it and then resubmit your website.

Finish your facepalm and then read on. 🙂

Google's Warning Email

Here's what you might have received in an email from Google (if you have Google Webmaster Tools set up):

Google has detected that some of your pages may be using techniques that are outside our Webmaster Guidelines.

As a result of your site having thin content with little or no added value, Google has applied a manual spam action to [your domain]. There may be other actions on your site or parts of your site.

Recommended action

  • Update your site so that it meets Google's Webmaster Guidelines.
  • Once you've made these changes, submit a reconsideration request.
  • For an updated list of manual actions currently applied to your site, visit the Manual Actions page. If no manual actions are listed, there is no longer a need to file a reconsideration request.
  • If we determine your site is no longer in violation of our guidelines, we'll revoke the manual action.

If you have any questions about how to resolve this issue, please visit the Webmaster Help Forum.

Identify What to Fix

If you want to fix your website, then there are a number of things you can do. First, you'll want to pinpoint the pages/posts that might be questionable. Here's a good article explaining a bit about what Google's looking for or how they judge your content:

More guidance on building high-quality sites (googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com)

These are the kinds of questions we ask ourselves as we write algorithms that attempt to assess site quality. Think of it as our take at encoding what we think our users want. Of course, we aren't disclosing the actual ranking signals used in our algorithms because we don't want folks to game our search results; but if you want to step into Google's mindset, the questions below provide some guidance on how we've been looking at the issue:

  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
  • Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
  • Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
  • Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
  • Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
  • Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
  • Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
  • How much quality control is done on content?
  • Does the article describe both sides of a story?
  • Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
  • Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
  • Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
  • For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
  • Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
  • Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
  • Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
  • Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
  • Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
  • Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
  • Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
  • Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
  • Would users complain when they see pages from this site?

This is a lot to think about but if you look at this list, it makes sense. Basically, you want to publish great/awesome content on your website. If you've been scraping (copying and pasting) content from other websites to your webiste, then you might have been hit with this penalty. This might even be the case if you're doing it from manufacturer websites. The way to avoid this (and fix it) is to have the copy rewritten.

Steps to Follow

First, as mentioned, identify which content might be the problem.

Second, decide whether to delete that content (and redirect that URL to your home page) or improve the content. You could also just set that content to "no index" (noindex) so that search engines ignore those pages. This way, you can keep the content on your website in case you think it might be helpful to people. If it's truly junk/dripple/fluff, then 86 it.

Third, once you're sure you've got things cleaned up, go into your Google Webmaster Tools account and you should be able to submit your website for reconsideration there. You don't get many second chances with Google, so make sure you've done enough to fix things. I'd suggest waiting a week or so after you clean things up so that Google starts to see any "no follow" rules you've put in place and to confirm those rules are working. You'll want to jump on this soon and respond quickly to Google to help minimize the damage.

Here's another good article on this topic:

Addressing Thin Content (searchenginewatch.com)

This article gets a little technical but it helps to explain the process about what needs to be done - it's a lot of grunt work and you may or may not be up for doing that. If you're not up for it, just know that we are... it's what we do.

How to Improve Content

To help make sure the content on your website passes what Google wants, you'll want to beef up each page that might not pass the questions above.

Here's a great article about writing great content for your website (and I've posted a LOT about that topic here on our website, too):

The Anatomy of a Perfect Blog Post: The Data on Headlines, Length, Images and More (blog.bufferapp.com)

There's a lot there. What I think helps you have great content is the following:

  • Write enough to cover the topic. Don't write fluff but make your content "bookmark worthy" or "share worthy." Enough content might be 500 words or it might be 1000 words (or more).
  • Include links to other sources (high value sources). If you're going to copy and paste some content in (like I've done here), make sure that the content you pasted is, at max, only 30% of the article - so 30% or less.
  • Make the content scannable with headlines and sub-headings.
  • Also use bulleted or numbered lists to help make the content scannable.
  • Use some bold text to emphasize things. Don't go crazy.
  • Include images that relate to your content.
  • Include YouTube videos if they relate (embed them).
  • Spell check (duh).
  • Re-read your content before posting. Make edits. Ask yourself if there could be more of what's missing.

Create content so good that people will want to share it. You have to "think like Google" and put yourself in their shoes - if you were Google, would you want to give this page as a top result to your users or is it just fluff?

Once you've posted great content - get it out there using your social media accounts.

Website Structure

How your website is structured is critical. You can actually rank high and get by with less content if your website is just structured correctly. I'll post more about this in the coming weeks and months but I've been researching it more and it really does matter. Basically, you have to think like a spider / search engine robot in this case. Spiders spin symmetrical webs that make sense and offer support, so that's what search engine spiders like, too. If your website doesn't have that structure, it's not going to work as well and will not rank as high. It'll take more work to make your website work if the structure isn't good.

Just think about a house that wouldn't have enough support in the basement or in the foundation. If you want to build it high, you're going to need some ugly supports on the outside, angling in to hold it up. It's going to be hard to get around that house, too with rooms sticking out here and there with no hallways. People would get lost and hate it, too.

Conclusion

If you got this warning, don't freak out. Come off the ledge. The world has not ended.

The good news is that you might still get good traffic from Bing. Many people use Bing since it's the default search engine for Internet Explorer. It's also a good search engine - I like it.

Take a minute. Breath.

Ok, now regroup and check your website over. If you really don't know what to do, then contact us. We have a Website Maintenance Team that can help you. They will work with our in-house SEO staff and help you identify which content to either nix or improve. In the short term, we can help set up low quality pages with "noindex" rules so that you can start recovering your rankings soon.

Going forward, you'll want to write really good content for your website. You may even want to consider hiring a copywriter that specializes in website copy. You want to give Google what they want - great content that people would want to share.

Start Over?

In some cases, you might need a brand new website - you might just want to start over. That's an option, too. Feel free to contact us and find out. We can look at your website and help you make that decision. In that case, you might need to take down your website and get a one-page website up in the meantime while your new website is constructed. I think doing that would send clear signals to Google that you're repenting and turning from your previous ways. We'd be glad to help you with that.

-Tony

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