I’m going to share my thin content story so you can fix similar issues on your site, which will ultimately improve your SEO and avoid site-wide penalties. By the end of this article, you should be able to accomplish the following:
- Identify thin content
- Make the decision whether to delete, redirect or enhance the content
- Create a game plan on how to improve thin content in a strategic way
- Start with the implementation based on your game plan
- Track and Monitor Success
My thin content story
I started my digital marketing agency back in 2010. At the time, I was fresh out of college and blogging about everything and anything. One time, I was frustrated with with the lack of Wi-Fi on Southwest Airlines, so I blogged about it. I was amazed to learn that Panera had a lobster sandwich that sold for nearly $15, so I wrote about it in a humorous way. Each of these blog posts were 350 words or less. I viewed these blogs as funny posts that I could share on social media that would engage my audience, which at the time was primarily friends and family.
Fast forward to 2020. My agency grew from a one person operation (myself) to a talented staff of 15. I hadn’t thought about the Lobster Sandwich from Panera in quite some time, until a recent consult.
On a quarterly basis, I like consulting with the others in the SEO industry to learn new trends. I follow Glenn Gabe on Twitter (and I recommend you do the same). I scheduled an hour consult with Glenn. After looking at my site, within 5-minutes, Glenn mentioned the following: “Jason, you have a lot of thin content, I recommend cleaning this up.”
As an SEO expert myself, I knew about thin content, I was just too busy focusing on our client websites to think back to blog posts I wrote in 2010 and 2011. Glenn shared a couple of example blog posts with thin content, which happened to be the Panera lobster sandwich blog and the Southwest Wi-Fi blog (the lobster sandwich brought back good memories, Southwest’s slow Wi-Fi, not so much).
What’s thin content and is it hurting my SEO?
Thin content is content that has little or no value to the user [source]. Google considers doorway pages, low-quality affiliate pages, or simply pages with very little or no content as thin content pages.
Thin content is a serious issue. When Google rolls out major algorithms, thin content problems can be one of the reasons you have a site-wide drop in rank. There are many webmasters that suffer a drop in rank across their site and never realize thin content issues could be holding them back, since Webmasters don’t get notified of this many times within Google Search Console.
Fortunately, a site-wide penalty wasn’t the case for my site. I did feel like something was holding back my organic rankings. After my conversation with Glenn, I knew it was time to get to work.
Identifying thin content
I’ll be honest, I was a bit overwhelmed after my conversation with Glenn. There were 300 total pages on my website. 250 of those pages were blog posts. After a thorough analysis, I learned 175 of my blog posts had less than 400 words and I deemed them “thin” in content.
Are all pages with under 400 words thin content that Google would view to have little or no value? No. Every website is different and a 400 word blog post or page on your site could be extremely valuable. Continue reading to see how I ultimately made the decision to delete vs. enhance vs. redirect.
For the record, I didn’t manually count the words on each blog post. I utilized Screaming Frog to run an audit of my entire site. With Screaming Frog, you can segment all pages by word count. I was able to easily identify all of the pages on my site with low word count. I highly recommend utilizing this software or a similar one as this will help create a road map for your thin content strategy.
Deleting vs. Enhancing vs. Redirecting
At the beginning, deciding whether to delete vs. enhance vs. redirect was one of the more overwhelming aspects of this project.
Obviously, deleting is the quicker route. It would take about 10 minutes to just delete all of my past blogs and start from scratch. Glenn wrote a great article on removing low quality or thin content versus removing it, which I highly recommend reading. I estimated that enhancing each blog post would take 2-hours to complete. When you’re talking about enhancing 175 blogs, that’s a TON of time.
PS – If you have hundreds or even thousands of blog posts and need help determining whether to enhance or deleting the content, you can contact us for a free consult. I know firsthand how overwhelming this can be.
I came up with a theory that worked well for my website and should work for yours. I went through all of my blog posts. If I was not able to internally link from two other pages on my website, I deemed the content to be irrelevant and provide little value. When this was the case, I deleted the post.
Related Blog: Beginners Guide to Internal Linking
For example, the Southwest Wi-Fi and Panera Lobster sandwich blog posts. These articles were completely irrelevant to my business and there was nowhere else I could think of on my site to link to those pages as a cross reference, so they got deleted. There were a total of 85 blog posts that got deleted.
I realized a lot of blog posts I wrote were similar in nature and often times duplicative. When this was the case, I redirected to the more authoritative blog. In nearly all instances, I would take key elements of content from the less authoritative post that was getting redirected and add those components into the more authoritative blog to make a more powerful, centralized blog. In total, there were 10 redirects that took place.
This left me with about 100 pages of content to optimize. Obviously, this is still a massive project and extremely time consuming.
How I Enhanced 100 Pages of Content
You might be wondering why I decided to rewrite all of the blog posts myself.
- I was the original author
- Many of the articles required heavy knowledge on SEM and SEO
- It would be hard to find an author with this knowledge in such a short time-span
- I wanted to get the blogs written quickly so I could put this project to bed
- I like writing and can move quickly in cranking out articles so it seemed like a good project for me
I created a rule that in order to make the blog posts truly valuable, each post had be at least 1000 words. I knew I had my work cut out for me. Fortunately, I had someone on staff that could copy-edit each of the blogs.
I created a Google Doc. to help stay organized which included the following pieces of information:
- Blog Post URL
- Original Word Count
- Updated Word Count
- Date of Enhancement
- Date of Copy-editing
- Changes Reflected on Website
- Keywords Added into SEMRush
Note: If you have hundreds or thousands of blog posts that need rewritten, this doesn’t have to be done by the original author. Depending on how severely the blog was changed, you should consider changing the author (if the original authors contributions are minimal after the enhancements).
The results were amazing and happening in real-time, which made this tedious project rewarding.
Each time I’d optimize a blog, the rankings (for the most part) would significantly increase. The example below shows the blog, “choosing a good domain name for SEO.” This blog was enhanced around May of 2020 and then saw a substantial uptick from the number 19 position to the number 7 position.
A blog I wrote on “Questions to Ask in a PPC Interview,” which ended up being over 2,500 words, went from not ranking on Google to ranking in the number 6 position.
What was also interesting was other blogs that were of quality beforehand that didn’t need enhanced also experienced an uptick in rank. It was clear as day that Google values quality and you will get rewarded for quality content and eliminating fluff and non substantial pieces of content.
Other Key Takeaways
A question that came up during this project was whether to keep the date of the original blog posts or update it to reflect the new date of edits.
After back and forth with other SEO experts, we came to the conclusion that the original blog posts should stay the same and you make reference of the blog post being updated (example below).
In terms of timeliness, I was able to get done with this thin content project for my website in 2-months. I made it a goal to enhance 2 blog posts per day. It was exhausting but rewarding at the same time.
Not only can updating and improving past content improve the rank on individual piece of content, it can also have site wide benefits. The better quality content, the better place you’ll be in with Google.