Should We Still Worry About Thin Content?

It’s not about the quality of the copy but the value that content adds to the user.

Date published
January 30, 2015 Categories

What makes content “thin”?

Google’s original Panda algorithm did a relatively good job of identifying content that was inherently thin, but subsequent updates – and especially the more recent manual actions have brought important clarifications: it’s not about the quality of the copy but the value that content adds to the user.

We only need consider that some of the sites that have been hit hardest by Panda over the years – article marketing sites and press release sites – usually have strict guidelines for minimum word count. Most content on could reach 1,000 words and still fail to add any value to a reader. The number of words on a page doesn’t have all that much correlation to its “thinness.”

Not All Bounces Are Created Equal

Bounce rate is a vital metric to measure but it doesn’t tell the whole story – not all bounces are created equal. There might be such a thing as a good bounce.

According to a previous article here on Search Engine Watch, it’s generally considered that Google measures the quality of its search results using a metric called “time to long click.” Literally – how long a user spends with a website after leaving Google’s search engine results page. However, what the search engine is most interested in is what the user does next: does she go back to Google and click on another result? … Or does that user perform a new search entirely – something unrelated to the original query?

If the website answers the query the user entered it doesn’t matter whether the user has spent 10 seconds on the page or 10 minutes – if the user doesn’t have to read any more copy then the search has ended. That page was the right one to serve.

Here’s an example to illustrate:

In the U.K. if you enter a search for “when do the clocks go back?” the ranking page is on There are less than 75 words of copy on the page but it would be hard to consider this page “thin” because it absolutely answers the question and ends the search.

This content adds value for four main reasons:

  1. The information that users most likely require is displayed prominently as this is the most likely search intent.
  2. Based on the search queries anticipated to find the page, it’s possible that users might be looking for information relevant not for now, but for the future – this is less likely so that information is less prominent.
  3. There is an option to “add to calendar,” encouraging users to take this information away with them so they never have to enter the same search again.
  4. Explanations of the concepts attached to the information (in this case GMT and BST) are presented at the bottom of the page in short, simple sentences.

Thin Content vs. Google Panda

We have always considered Panda an algorithm that deals with “thin” content – our stock response has to make that content less thin by writing more of it…and as a consequence recovering from Panda has not always been a straightforward process. But Panda is not a content penalty – it’s an engagement penalty.

As a consequence the best metrics to judge a page by are bounce rate and time on page. If a page isn’t engaging users, it has to go.

In his analysis of a previous iteration of the Panda algorithm, Glenn Gabe explained how to implement an Adjusted Bounce Rate in Google Analytics, which is really worth doing for webmasters trying to recover a site impacted by Panda. Adjusted Bounce Rate takes into account time on page to give a better understanding of how users are engaging with the content on a website. Gabe goes on to give some great advice about how to develop content moving forwards too.

Back when the first Panda was rolled out Dr. Pete Meyers gave seven definitions of “thin,” which were variously related to the amount of unique content on page and how accessible it is to users (and Google). Even after four years, the best measures to take for ridding a site of Panda issues involve getting rid of what you’ve got that just doesn’t meet the grade.

According to Dr. Pete:

…”thin” tends to get equated with “quality” – if you’ve got thin content, just increase your quality. It sounds good, on the surface, but ultimately Google’s view of quality is defined by algorithms. They can’t measure the persuasiveness of your copy or the manufacturing standards behind your products.

Google is a search engine whose algorithms attempt to understand user behavior. Quality is subjective, so the fact that Google can’t measure quality isn’t important. Instead Google attempts to measure how satisfied the user was with that page when reaching it via the search engine.

Instead of asking ourselves “is this content thin?” we should be asking ourselves “does it answer the question?”

Homepage image via Shutterstock.

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