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Thin content: What it is and how to do better for your users and your website

Author: Vinnie Wong

an image of author Vinnie Wong, accompanied by various search-related iconography

In the pursuit of scaling your content marketing, you might have created “thin content” without realizing it. While that may sound relatively harmless, the detriment happens further down the line, in your search rankings, organic traffic, and ultimately conversions.


Fortunately, understanding thin content and how to avoid it is relatively easy. Let’s break down what thin content really means, how you can spot it, and how to effectively beef up your content strategy so that thin content doesn’t hold back your brand or business.


Table of contents:



What is thin content?

Ever come across articles that feel like they’re just ticking boxes for Google but don’t really tell you anything useful or new? That’s thin content for you. It’s the kind of writing that stuffs in keywords to please search engines, but ends up offering nothing but fluff to the actual human user.


“Thin content is like a mirage. Imagine a searcher is meandering through a desert and they see a mirage. When they get up close, they feel disappointed because it’s not what they wanted—it’s bare and has little use. Instead, your content should be an oasis. Create helpful content that gives searchers what they’ve been looking for, because that’s what search engines want to reward.” Debbie Chew, Global SEO Manager at Dialpad

Google coined the term “thin content” after the Google Panda algorithm update in February 2011. Before that time, SEO was a much less sophisticated practice and the internet was rife with sites cramming keywords into every sentence (and, in some cases, I mean every sentence).


By definition, thin content not only fails to satisfy website visitors, it actually works to frustrate them by failing to provide what the user came to your website for.


To improve its overall user experience, Google updated its search algorithm to weed out pages that were simply built to rank high for search queries, but didn’t provide much value beyond that.


Fast forwarding to modern-day SEO, the most blatant old-school tricks might be gone, but thin content hasn’t vanished. Even now, many businesses unintentionally fall into this trap, not realizing how it diminishes their search visibility and undermines their revenue.


How thin content can hurt your SEO

Producing superficial content may not seem like it will do much harm. However, it’s a trickle-down effect and centers largely on rankings and your user’s experience. 


High bounce rates

When visitors land on a page with thin content, their dissatisfaction is immediate. This dissatisfaction quickly translates into high bounce rates, as users leave in search of better, more informative and relevant content.


SEO is intimately connected with user experience, and this relationship is often shown through high bounce rates—a clear signal that the content does not meet the audience’s needs or expectations.


The impact of high bounce rates extends beyond immediate traffic loss. It affects the site’s conversion potential. If visitors aren’t engaged or finding value, they’re less likely to interact further, impacting your site’s ability to achieve its goals, whether that’s sales, sign-ups, or engagement.

Now, high bounce rates on their own sometimes aren’t a bad thing. If a page answers all of the user’s query, it’s okay if someone lands on the page and leaves without further action.


Merriam-webster’s website definition for “cerberus”
Certain websites, like dictionary sites, may have a high bounce rate even though their pages fully satisfy users.

However, for most business websites, high bounce rates and little time spent on the page usually indicates deeper and more serious underlying issues. Thin content could be one of them.


Bounce rates vary by industry. One study suggests that a bounce rate of 90% and above is high for blogs, whereas 45% might be considered high for eCommerce websites. Don’t fixate on those specific figures, though, as (again) your industry and how your website works can influence your bounce rate. Instead, monitor bounce rates for your high-value pages and find ways to decrease it from there.


Diminished search rankings

Thin content is inherently less competitive in the search results because it omits key information that your audience is seeking out. As Google continues to usher website owners to create helpful content, it also seeks to eliminate thin or spammy content from the search results.


So, if your content doesn’t rise to the level that the topic requires and/or isn’t comparable to your SEO competitors’ content, you can expect poor rankings and very little traffic.


What search engines and users actually want

The age-old question in content creation: write for search engines or for users? While some SEOs might say these two goals are now one and the same, the key is to aim for both, focusing more on the user while meeting SEO needs. At the heart of this balance is understanding the search intent behind each query:


“People search because they want to change something (even when they don’t know it). To satisfy search engines and users, content needs to inspire or empower the specific change the reader needs. For example, the person searching for ‘Productivity hacks for busy professionals’ might not explicitly realize it, but they may be looking to change their daily routine and habits to achieve a better work-life balance. Content that satisfies this search term should go beyond providing a list of generic productivity tips. Instead, it should tap into the deeper desire for a better work-life balance by tying the tips it shares back to the root challenges faced by busy professionals.” Lily Ugbaja, Head of Marketing at Marketing Cyborg

To get an idea of what Google considers to be robust content, analyze top-ranking pages for the queries you’re targeting to gain insights into structure and content style. Then, differentiate your piece by weaving in unique perspectives that demonstrate Expertise, Experience, Authority, and Trustworthiness (E-E-A-T)


The top Google results for [the best turntables] showing listicles from TechRadar, the New York Times, and Esquire.
For this query, Google clearly favors listicle-style review content from expert reviewers, which could inform your content strategy.

Successful content fulfills search intent while showcasing your depth of knowledge. You’re aiming to become a go-to source for users. Thin content undermines these efforts, and there are different types that you could be publishing. Let’s explore some examples.


6 examples of thin content


Sometimes it’s easier to show rather than tell. After all, you may have understood the characteristics of thin content so far, yet it can still go unnoticed on your own website.


There are several types of thin content to look out for:


  • Incomplete content

  • Repetitive/duplicate content

  • Autogenerated content

  • Syndicated content

  • Low-quality affiliate pages

  • Doorway pages


Incomplete content

Incomplete content is like a story that’s missing important details. Could you imagine watching a Marvel film where you’re thrown in the middle of the action, but have no idea who is fighting who or why? Then the film ends, and you’re left wondering why you paid the entrance fee. 


Incomplete content is much the same. Here’s an example from an article about the basics of gardening.


A screenshot of a page on gardening basics that doesn’t share useful content
This page can be considered thin because the copy just points to another page, rather than share useful information on gardening basics.

Compared to other high ranking articles, this seems incomplete to me as it only contains links to relevant information, rather than a guide where I can learn the basics in a quick read. I also noticed the page doesn’t even mention or have a guide about the tools you need, while all the high ranking pages at least mention them briefly.


This lack of depth and context is a common issue with such content, and leaves the reader with more questions than they started with.

This shortfall in content depth directly affects user engagement. Visitors encountering such incomplete information are likely to exit the site quickly, contributing to high bounce rates. This not only represents a missed opportunity for meaningful engagement, but also potentially harms SEO performance.


To avoid falling into this trap, it’s crucial your content covers topics thoroughly. In the case of the gardening basics article, I’d flesh it out and write at least a few paragraphs under each point. You can use information from other articles and link to them to direct a reader there if they want to learn more, but you need to suss out what the user’s search intent is.


A good place to start is in the search results. If you notice the high-ranking pages for [gardening basics] talk about certain topics at length, it’s a good idea to mention the same topics in your own content.


Repetitive or duplicate content

When you read the same word or phrase over and over, it loses all meaning and you’ll get sick of seeing it again (it’s called semantic satiation, in case you ever wondered). Repetitive content on different web pages has a somewhat similar effect on users.


It’s like when you’re scrolling through a digital marketing blog and you spot the same advice about “boosting Your SEO” or “social media engagement hacks” across several posts. The issue is there isn’t any change in the content, meaning the advice you’re reading isn’t nuanced, fresh, or relevant to that context. 


This is what we mean by duplicate or repetitive content.


A graphic that says “Signs of duplicate content: significant content overlap, structural and semantic similarities, lack of thought originality, similar ranking queries”

Why does this matter for your site’s SEO? When search engines see these copy-paste jobs, they get confused about which page to show people in search results. This mix-up can make your site less visible in search results. Plus, let’s be real, it’s pretty boring for your visitors to read the same content again and again. They might start thinking your site doesn’t have anything new to offer and look elsewhere.


So, what can you do? Make sure every page or post on your site targets its own unique keyword(s) with content that’s sufficiently distinct from your other pages. Even if you’re covering similar topics, try to bring a fresh angle or new info to the table. Regularly checking your site to spot and fix any copycat content is a good move, too.


For example, if you’ve published a bunch of articles about email marketing, each one should dive into different aspects. Maybe one talks about crafting catchy subject lines, while another covers the best email tools. This way, each article brings something different for your readers.


Raw auto-generated content

A survey last year showed that a majority of U.S. adults are aware of ChatGPT, and many digital marketers are well aware of its content creation capabilities.


Yet, relying heavily on AI for content, without editing or adding insights, can lead to thin content. 


“Thin content is the generic stuff that leaves you with more questions than answers. It typically offers little in terms of novel opinion, insight, or research... Content written largely by generative AI, with little supporting research, or without the input of a subject matter expert will feel flat and generic.” Ashwin Balakrishnan, Head of Marketing at Optmyzr

AI content often recycles information without adding new insights. For example, here’s a ChatGPT article on healthy eating that’s factually correct but lacks depth, sources, and nuance. 


A screenshot of an article created by ChatGPT 4

Newer AI tools can generate templated articles, like “10 Best [Product] for [Year],” yet these lack genuine product evaluations (after all, “experience” is the first “E” in Google’s E-E-A-T). The worst cases involve scraping and stitching together content from various sites, resulting in inconsistent and jarring articles.


Google’s algorithms focus on people-first content, regardless of whether it was originally written by generative AI or a human writer. So, take the time and necessary steps to enhance your content to address real audience needs, which is especially important if you’re leveraging ChatGPT (or similar technologies) for content creation.


Syndicated content

Syndicated content is when you take content that’s already published somewhere else, like an article or a blog post, and republish it on your own site. It’s a widespread practice that can carry huge benefits when done right. But, here’s the catch: If your site only or mostly contains syndicated content, search engines might not see your site as offering unique value. 


That’s because Google loves originality. If a bunch of sites all have the same article, Google needs to figure out which one to prioritize in the search results. More often than not, it’ll choose the original source. So, if your site is full of content that’s available elsewhere, you’ll likely find it hard to climb the SEO ladder.


Low-quality affiliate pages

Affiliate pages that focus more on sales than quality content were one of the types of thin content that the Google Panda update (and the more recent Reviews update) targeted.


Affiliate pages can be a really helpful resource for shoppers who need more information about a product. But in an effort to make a quick buck, some affiliate marketers will create pages with “product reviews” that lack the comprehensive advice, insights, or experience users look for. 


If your content aims only to promote products, you risk your reputation and may incur a Google penalty for thin content. Such pages offer minimal value and can negatively impact your site’s SEO performance.


A screenshot of an affiliate page about noise-canceling headphones
While this page on the best noise-canceling headphones looks great, the content is thin because it doesn’t share any helpful advice beyond the vague experience of an award-winning sound engineer.

For example, here’s a recent article from a reputable domain about headphones. As well structured as the article is (and as pretty as the visuals are), I felt it lacks any useful information that an average reader needs. The quote from the sound producer doesn’t add much, and the article doesn’t go into any depth to show that the authors even own their own pair of Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones.


As a reader, how can I trust the product recommendation when you don’t show any experience using the product under different use cases?


I also noticed the number of affiliate links to product landing pages, but none to any individual reviews of the recommended products.


A screenshot of an affiliate page about an everyday carry bag with a CTA to buy the product
This affiliate page has in-depth content about an everyday carry bag, sharing multiple images of it being used, what the use cases are, and the personal experiences of the reviewer using it over two weeks.

On the other hand, I found this website (shown above) to have useful product reviews. After spending some time on their site, I felt more confident checking out their recommendations from similar roundup pages because I know they take the time to review each product themselves.


A screenshot of an affiliate page showing the timeline of how good a product is comparing the first time of using and two weeks later
At the end of every affiliate product page, the reviewer shares a timeline of the product’s condition and how it held up two weeks later compared to the start of the review.

All of their product reviews share pros and cons and several pictures of what the product looks like in use, along with the dimensions of the person wearing it so you can gauge if it’s a good fit for you. I particularly liked the timeline they share at the end of each review, as it indicates the reviewers didn’t base their conclusion on a single use but over a period of time.


Now, this example of a high-quality affiliate page isn’t scalable or practical for everyone to do. Instead, the lesson to learn for these types of content is that a little effort spent sharing your experience with a product can go a long way in terms of transforming your content from thin to substantial.


Rather than just listing product features, list practical applications, offer balanced reviews, and share insights that inform your readers. Offer honest reviews that discuss both strengths and weaknesses, helping readers build trust in your website and make informed decisions. Quality content should serve the reader first, with the promotion of products as a secondary goal.


Doorway pages

Doorway (or gateway) pages are a bit like the misleading turns in a maze. They’re designed to catch the eye and pull users towards other revenue-focused areas of your site. 


These pages are often stuffed with a whole bunch of keywords, hoping to convince search engines of their relevance, but they fall short in giving users what they actually need. Like Debbie Chew mentioned earlier, you’re shown a mirage when you need an oasis. Google’s not a fan of these pages, and for a good reason—they don’t meet user needs and muddle up search results.


In practice, this could look like a site with several individually indexed pages that all have the same content on the page, except a few differing words here and there. For example, a site might have several pages like “Best food for dogs in Texas,” “Best food for dogs in Houston,” and “Best food for dogs in New York,” all leading essentially to the same content or product.

While this approach worked in the past, it’s frowned upon and your site could be penalized if search engines detect that you have doorway pages. This tactic might yield some ill-gotten clicks and conversions, but it won’t win any trust or loyalty from your audience.


What word count is best for SEO?


So for your own blog or site, how much should you write? Thankfully, there isn’t a magical formula: 


“It depends. I know that’s some sort of SEO joke, but it really just depends. Being thorough and succinct is an art form that pays dividends. There’s ‘clearly too little’ content and ‘clearly too much fluff’ content. Finding the happy medium is the key. Writing as if you’re speaking to a human is the best way to find that happy medium.” — Tess Voecks, VP of Operations at Rickety Roo

If you’ve been following along so far, you’ll have noticed that search intent is a common theme. On a very fundamental level, the basic intent behind many search queries is that the user is looking for an answer. How long should the answer be depends on the breadth and depth of the question being asked.


For example, if you were in conversation with someone and you asked, “What’s the speed limit in California?” you’d expect a brief answer (65mph on a multilane highway, 55mph on a two lane undivided roadway, in case you needed to know). If the other person spent 20 minutes talking about California’s history, you’d be taken aback by this information overload.


Likewise, if you asked which is the best country to live in, which is a subjective and broad topic based on multiple factors, you’d be surprised if someone responded, “The USA. It’s the best.”


These are facetious examples, but if you treat content the same way, you’ll have a better idea of how much content you need to answer a search query in full.


How to identify and fix thin content


There are several ways to tackle thin content and shore up the gaps to improve your SEO.


Run a site audit

First things first, you need to figure out where the problems are. Running a site audit is like doing a health check for your website and can help you pinpoint areas you need to address. 


Use tools like Ahrefs or Semrush to scan your site for thin content. These tools can highlight pages with low word counts or duplicated content across your site.


Each tool will have their own interface and pricing plans, but you want one that can show you a content or SEO gap analysis.


Use canonical tags

Canonical tags help you tell search engines which version of a similar page is the “main” one. Let’s say your site has multiple pages that are similar in content. Without canonical tags, search engines might get confused about which one to prioritize, leading to SEO issues like diluted page authority. By using the rel="canonical" tag, you effectively say, “Hey, this is the main page I want you to pay attention to.”


Alternatively, where you have duplicate content that serves a purpose for your users but might not be ideal for search engines, consider using the noindex tag. This tag tells search engines not to include these pages in search results.


After you’ve done a major content overhaul, especially if you’ve addressed issues like duplicate content, using canonical tags is a good way to let Google know.


Output from the URL inspection tool within Google Search Console, showing the request indexing button.
You can use Google Search Console to request that Google index a given page on your website.

You can do this through a reconsideration request via Google Search Console. This step can be important if your site received a penalty in the past.


Optimize underperforming pages

Found some pages that aren’t pulling their weight? It’s time to give them a content refresh. Look for pages that have high bounce rates or low engagement and spruce them up. 


Refreshing content doesn’t just mean republishing it with a new date. It’s about making meaningful updates. This could include: 


  • Analyzing competing URLs to see what they’re doing differently

  • Finding new rich snippet opportunities

  • Identifying relevant keywords to expand your content

  • Updating screenshots and videos

  • Revising time-sensitive data like stats and dates

  • Updating your CTAs and forms to align with your current conversion strategies


How often should you refresh content? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but a general guideline is the 25% rule. If you’re adding new content regularly, try to focus about a quarter of your efforts on updating existing material. This approach helps ensure a balanced content strategy, keeping your site fresh and relevant.


Consolidate or prune content

Sometimes, less is more. If you’ve got several short blog posts on similar topics, each one is like a puzzle piece, offering a bit of the picture but not the whole story. Consolidating these posts creates a comprehensive guide that not only provides more value to your readers but also strengthens your SEO. While SEO should not be the only consideration when merging content (business considerations come into play as well), if your content is cannibalizing keyword performance, then it’s certainly something you should look into.


On the flip side, if you’ve got content that’s outdated or no longer relevant, it might be time to prune it. This helps keep your site fresh and focused. Think of it as tending to a garden—you want to nurture the plants that are thriving and remove the ones that aren’t.


Both consolidation and pruning are about optimizing the quality and relevance of your content. By consolidating, you enhance the depth and value of your content, and by pruning, you refine your site’s focus and clarity. This approach can not only improve user experience but also aligns with search engines’ preference for comprehensive, high-quality content. 

Remember, in the world of content, it’s not just about quantity—it’s about the richness and relevance of what you offer.


Share your experience or expertise on topics

Nothing beats a personal touch. If you’re knowledgeable about a topic, don’t hold back. Share your experiences, insights, and personal stories. Search engines actively reward and prioritize pages that demonstrate expertise. 


Where you can, you want to convey E-E-A-T. To that end, treat your content the same way you’d share information with someone to show you’re knowledgeable and trustworthy. For instance, if you’re writing about travel, don’t just list places to visit—add stories from your travels, tips you’ve learned, and insights only you can offer. 


There are many ways to signal E-E-A-T, but perhaps one of the most potent for your overall SEO might be to build links to your most valuable content.


Users don’t care for thin content—write with them in mind


Thin content can easily fly under your SEO radar, but left unchecked, it could cause deeper issues and knock-on effects that become more difficult to fix.


A meme of a site owner sat in a burning room cause by thin content, Google penalties, and poor SEO
Thin content could cause your site to go up in flames—don’t ignore the embers if you notice you’ve got thin content on your website.

Remember, Google’s not trying to make life harder for website owners. It’s just championing the cause of valuable, rich content that serves readers. Whether it’s avoiding the pitfalls of duplicate content, optimizing your underperforming pages, or bringing a personal touch to what you write, the goal is the same: provide real value.


 

Vinnie Wong

Vinnie is a content expert with over 5 years of SEO and content marketing experience. He's worked with Ahrefs, Empire Flippers, and is committed to crafting exceptional content and educating others on the symbiotic relationship between content creation and effective link building. Twitter | Linkedin

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