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How to Clean Up Thin Content

Thin content refers to content with little or no value to a website visitor, including redirect pages, doorway pages, or general poor-quality, unhelpful articles or content. If you have thin content from your earlier days in online content marketing, you might think it’s fine just to move on and not do anything with it. In reality, however, keeping your thin content as is could be hurting your SEO rankings. Take a look at how thin content works against a business and what you can do about it.

Why You Need to Clean Up Your Site

Image via Flickr by internetsense

Many businesses once thrived on erroneous content that was thin on value and stuffed from top to bottom with keywords, but Google’s crawler bots have gotten far more intelligent and savvy since the turn of the 2010s. In addition, content that duplicates assets, repeats information, poorly paraphrases the same ideas, and engages in similar lazy attempts to rank keywords is all considered thin content now.

Even if you only did this a little in the past and are making substantial content now, you are better off improving your trust factor by re-purposing, updating, or resolving your thin content. Ever since the Google Panda algorithm update in 2011, exploitative, thin-content SEO strategies alert Google to trust and value the domain that owns them less than sites with only substantial content, even those with fewer keywords or daily visits.

Remember, Google is in the business of providing the best, most relevant results for any search page. If a page of yours isn’t qualified as one of the best results but looks like it’s lazily trying to be, your domain, in general, could be punished.

The Pitfalls of Thin Content

For content to be considered thin, it should meet the following requirements — all of which should be avoided:

  • The page has fewer than 350 words. This is a rough measurement, though, and making very short content longer through purple prose or irrelevant filler will not fix anything.
  • The page has a number of keywords that do not seem closely related to each other. Stuffing in barely related or completely disconnected keywords for trending subjects or popular evergreen topics only serves to confuse the algorithm.
  • The page is a duplicate of your content or someone else’s. Even if you had permission to repost someone’s content, you are better off making a transformative piece, using only small samples of the borrowed content to commentate, criticize, etc.
  • The page is no longer up-to-date regarding its ideas, opinions, news, etc.
  • The page is not optimized to current standards (such as for mobile devices).
  • The page uses black-hat SEO strategies (e.g., spammy backlinks or keyword stuffing).

If a page fulfills several of these traits or strongly epitomizes one, you have thin content. Still, do you necessarily have to fix all of these things to remove the thin-content stamp from your website? In reality, there is a much simpler choice: noindexing your thin-content pages.

Exceptions From Search Results

Noindexing is simply the process of marking certain web pages on your domain so that Google doesn’t count them as part of your site and stops them from being found in search result pages. This sort of thing is typically done on pages only meant to be visited for a very specific reason, such as thank-you pages for customers who subscribe or buy a product, but noindexing also works well to hide thin-content pages from Google.

Even if you noindex a thin-content page, it will still be visible through direct visit by link-clicking or URL entry, but the vast majority of potential traffic to the pages, including trackable and measurable visits, will stop. This is the best choice for content that is unsalvageable, and it’s not as extreme as outright deleting the pages.

However, you shouldn’t immediately use this method on a page before considering its potential for improvement. If a page is out-of-date and low on word count, update it with new, relevant information and insights. Be sure to mark your updated parts, as that helps show visitors that you care about keeping all of your content worthwhile.

Improving Thin Content

Sometimes, thin content still has the potential to be valuable with a little extra work, or it’s already supporting your business with a profile of backlinks directing visitors to it. In such a case, you’re better off making this page more impressive and valuable and only temporarily hiding it from your site’s index, if at all. Here are several ways to approach and resolve thin-content problems:

  • Is the content too short? Perhaps, it could be adjusted to offer more specific information. For example, a skin cream business with a page on Vitamin E could go beyond the mere beneficial aspects of this substance and why it’s used in their moisturizers, adding scientific studies with data visualizations or engaging case stories from customers. Add something that makes the message more compelling.
  • Do you have a handful of very short, simple pages that would be better if combined into one? Do just that and then make all the other URLs redirect automatically to your collective page. This way, you don’t disrupt the backlinks and send people to 404s, and you deliver more information at once, creating a stronger impression.
  • Has the content been stuffed with keywords? Narrow down the focus of the content to whatever keywords seem most worthwhile, remove all that aren’t relevant, and then ensure the keywords are sparse enough to feel natural. You may find that doing this actually helps you find better long-tail terms relevant to your main keywords, improving the page’s SEO magnetism in a more natural way that Google appreciates.

Thin content was a gold mine in the early days of Google search and SEO, and you can’t blame businesses for doing something that worked to get their message out there. However, it’s time to move on and put aside your thin content, whether through upgrading it, finding uses for it that raise its value, or by hiding it from index bots. When Google sees that you care enough to do this, they will know your website is one of the most trustworthy ones in your niche and bump up your search rankings accordingly.

About the author

Shane Hall