Thin content is the term for “thin” digital content that offers the user little or no added value. Officially, Google rates websites as irrelevant and thus as thin content if they do not meet the requirements of the Webmaster Guidelines.
The term Thin Content first appeared in 2012 when Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines were leaked. Since then, the word has stood for website URLs that are devalued by Google due to a clear lack of quality.
Thin content has been an important aspect of search engine optimization (SEO) since the 2011 Panda Update. Google penalizes websites and blogs with low-quality content in order to gradually optimize its own Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs). Google places a high value on the information content of digital content. Irrelevant content that does not advance a search query is removed from the search results. The starting point here is the goal of not frustrating users with useless results in search queries.
The danger of thin content lies in the fact that even a single page rated as “thin” can have a negative impact on the ranking of the entire website.
Soft 404: This page is irrelevant
Google’s Webmaster Guidelines list the requirements for website content and structure in more detail. Above all, this includes relevant content that is well structured and offers users what they are looking for. Especially for marketing, basic knowledge about the Quality Rater Guidelines is important. The most important principle is the fact that Google ranks the value of pages keyword-related, but also according to the search intention. Depending on the search intent, a page will rank better or worse. However, if a page offers practically no useful content at all, it is treated similarly to an Error-404 page.
Since the Panda update, Google classifies thin content pages not only as low quality pages, but also as so-called soft 404 pages – similar to error 404 pages, whose content is zero. The HTTP status code 404 indicates that a certain requested page does not exist. As a result, Google removes pages classified in this way from the directory and does not offer them in the SERPs. The more URLs of a website or blog are classified as thin content by Google, the more likely this can become a big problem for webmasters.
What is considered thin content?
The different types of thin content can be categorized as follows:
It happens that web pages do not have any content besides the basic HTML framework, for example, when an image or text file that is referenced no longer exists. This is the classic case of thin content.
Duplicate content is the term for content that exists twice – i.e. text, videos, images or other media formats that have been copied. One-to-one translations from other languages are also considered duplicate content. Duplicate content is a potential SEO hazard, especially for store owners. Far too often, manufacturers’ product descriptions are copied and adopted. Especially in highly competitive product areas, this convenient procedure is bad for the ranking.
Machine-generated content includes, for example, texts that are not generated by hand, but automatically with software. Machine-read third-party RSS feeds and scraped texts that are individualized with article spinning also fall under this category.
Websites that serve exclusively the marketing purposes of affiliate partners are also considered thin content. They have no or very little unique content and consist mostly of links or content provided by affiliate partners. Google quickly recognizes when pages serve exclusively marketing purposes and do not offer any added value to the user.
So-called doorway pages serve the sole purpose of redirecting the user to another page. They have no relevant content beyond this goal.
Content that, for example, has no relevance apart from an advertising purpose, consists in part only of images or achieves an extremely high value on Google’s Gibberish score scale (“gobbledygook score”) is also rated as thin content.
How to fix thin content
If a single page of one’s website is rated as a soft 404 page (which is verifiable on Google Search Console), there are several solutions to fix this problem. The obvious strategy is to delete the page. The loss of backlinks is usually not harmful in this case, because the quality of the linked thin content page has been downgraded anyway. But other approaches are also possible: for example, filling the page with unique content or excluding it from Google’s search results with a noindex and, if necessary, nofollow note in the meta descriptions.
It makes sense to clean up your website from time to time. Often, many thin content pages turn out to be outdated.
Avoiding thin content with the help of Google tools
In Google Search Console, it is possible to locate soft 404 pages in order to change or delete them. The sooner this is done, the lower the risk of downgrading due to high bounce rates. Bounces, short dwell times and a lack of added value are detrimental to Google’s ranking even without the machine classification as a soft-404 page. This gives webmasters the chance to prevent these effects in time. Before users react, Google has already detected thin content. The responsible person can delete the page, set it to “noindex” in the robots.txt file or improve its content.
Under the item “Manual Action” (Manual Action) of the Search Console, Google lists individual pages of a website that have been checked by a human and do not meet the quality standards. Here Google also provides tips on how to correct these errors.
Thin Content is basically the opposite of Unique Content. If many sub-pages of a web presence are classified as thin content by Google, this has negative consequences for the entire website or blog. Above all, webmasters should keep in mind that the technical possibilities for detecting thin content are continuously improving. Those who do not consistently offer high-quality content on their web presence will drop in the rankings in the long run. Those who avoid thin content, on the other hand, will also score points in the search results.
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