Is thin content damaging your online presence?

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Published May 24, 2019 | Written by Keith Errington

If you've produced reams of B2B marketing content and are not seeing the results you expected, 'Thin Content' might be the culprit. So what is it and how do you fix it?

Google defines thin content as content that has little or no value. It’s the opposite of deep content – if Google hadn’t already named it, I’d be calling it shallow content. Examples could be automatically generated content, pages which are mostly affiliate links, doorway pages, content from other sources or low-quality guest posts.

For most legitimate B2B businesses who publish content, it's most likely to be either the last two, or simply pages that don't appear to be really useful to visitors.

Let’s look at three ways thin content harms your online presence.

But first, let's revisit the reason you produce content. I think most businesses would suggest it is “to get leads”. In order to do that content must succeed at three main tasks;

  • engage the prospect,
  • present a call to action that will result in a prospect exchanging their contact information for some item of value – an eBook, or a newsletter for example,
  • and get found by search engines in the first place.

1. Duplicate content loses traffic and creates a bad impression

If you have duplicate content – content that is similar to that on other web sites - then why would prospects visit your site? Duplication dilutes the effectiveness of your content. If there is a page out there with similar content that is slightly better, then all traffic will go to that page and render your page worthless.

Duplicate content also gives the impression that you are an unoriginal writer, maybe even a plagiarist, and certainly not an individual voice that is likely to teach the prospect something they don’t already know.

Always try and find a unique angle, or a particularly strong perspective, and write about the topic with your own voice.

2. Thin content fails to engage the prospect

Your buyers are looking to learn something new. They want to find something useful, something they can use. Whatever stage of the buyer's journey they are on, whether they are researching the market or identifying a solution, they want specific, thorough, practical information that benefits them and helps them further their goals.

If an article is generic or light on detail, it is not going to help your visitors that much, and they are likely to look elsewhere. Readers will probably scan the first few lines, gauge the scant nature of the piece and choose to follow the next link in their search results instead.

With content, long pieces are better than short pieces – data clearly shows that. However, lengthy pieces that don’t tell you very much are not an improvement.

Always write copy to address the prospect’s issues, needs and pain points. Address their information requirements, their knowledge gaps and their specific needs for guidance and advice. By differentiating content in this way, you will be in a much better position to engage and snag those valuable leads.

3. Thin content will not even be seen

This is probably the biggest harm to your online presence. Remember that Google’s number one mission is to provide results that are genuinely useful to the searcher. Yes, it needs to sell advertising too, but it can’t do that unless it succeeds at its core role.

Google is laser-focused on this. Over the years, they have developed their search engine (and its all-important algorithms) to define exactly what is useful to an ever greater degree. Today, they are incredibly sophisticated and take a huge range of factors into account when ranking and displaying search results.

This is one reason why it is becoming less and less important to actually understand the way SEO works, and more and more important to provide content users actually want.

Google will penalise you for all sorts of reasons, for example, if you don’t provide good support for mobile, if your website code is messy or incomplete, or if your hosting is slow to serve up pages. All of these can send you spiralling down the ranking of search results.

But remember its fundamental goal – to serve up useful results? Well, that means that when Google is looking at your content and assessing how useful it might be to the searcher, they are actively looking for thin content and penalising the owners. It’s a big issue if you have thin content on your site as it will massively impact your results. Ultimately, this means your prospects will never even see your content.

How can you tell if you have thin content?

There are a few ways to tell if you have thin content; firstly, look at the results. If nobody is landing on your pages from search engines, that’s a strong indicator. If nobody is staying on your pages for very long, then you are not engaging them and that’s another possible indicator your content is thin (although there are other reasons – such as poor quality writing or illegible design).

Of course, what you should be doing is looking at is your buyer’s needs – what content are they looking for, what do they want? Consider your buyer personas and their buyer’s journey. If you explore this in depth and compare it to your content, you may get a sense of how thin your content is.

Another simple way to check your content and see whether Google is penalising it is to use their Search Console tools. They will give you a comprehensive report.

Why would you produce thin content and harm your online presence?

Historically, there was a time when the quantity of content was far more important than the quality of content, so businesses rushed to create as much content as possible – often resulting in lightweight, short pages of content which ultimately said very little.

You may still have some content like that – so go back and check old content as it might be dragging all the newer quality content down with it.

Wondering what to do with the thin content you have identified? Read our Content Strategist's advice on how to revive, revise and reformat old blogs.

How to avoid the penalties of thin content

This one is really simple. Create content that is genuinely useful to your target market. Understand your buyer personas, their business, their job, their requirements, their issues and their pain.

Then create content that speaks to them, and helps them. In short, create exactly the kind of deep content that they might be searching for.

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Published by Keith Errington May 24, 2019
Keith Errington