Five Steps for Identifying Thin Content

by Bernard DriesPosted @ Jan 14 2019

There is a lot to juggle when addressing the SEO of a website. If you’re a marketing manager, you’ve probably heard dozens of different industry buzzwords. Backlinks, domain authority, featured snippets and canonical tags are all terms that, almost certainly, have been mentioned during one of your SEO consultations.

We find it worthwhile to step back from this noise every so often to prioritize SEO endeavors. At its most basic level, SEO is about “optimizing your site to serve your users’ needs.” It’s imperative, then, that the content we serve to users (and search engine bots) is worthwhile and not thin, i.e. low quality that adds little to no value.

How do you identify pages with thin content? Is it allowable for certain pages to be light on content? Follow the 5 steps below to answer these questions and more as you optimize your site.

1. Crawl Your Site

To optimize your site’s content for search engines, you have to think like a search engine. To do so, you should employ an SEO crawler tool, such as DeepCrawl or SEO Crawler. At Go Fish Digital, we use Screaming Frog.

Before crawling your website, make sure that you’ve configured your simulated crawl correctly. Within the main navigation, select “Configuration” and then, within the dropdown, select “Spider.”

A view of the Screaming Frog configuration settings.

For the purposes of this exercise, we want to perform a quick crawl of just HTML pages to review their content. We will also want to compare some pages against the sitemap’s submitted URLs, so you will need to supply your website’s sitemap location within the configuration menu’s bottom field.

After configuring your crawl, ensure that the main navigation’s mode setting is set to “Spider.” Then, enter your home page’s URL into the field marked as “Enter URL to Spider” and select “Start.”

A screenshot of the Screaming Frog Crawl Menu

2. Review Word Count

After your simulated crawl of the site is complete, select “HTML” within the right-hand menu’s navigation.

Next, review any pages with a suspiciously low word count. It depends on the website, but I usually like to review pages with fewer than 200 words.

NOTE: A low word count in and of itself does not quality a page’s content as thin. Sometimes certain pages, such as blog articles, warrant a short word count. In those cases, a manual check should be performed to ensure that it actually contains thin content. 

Back to Screaming Frog. You can select the column header titled “Word Count” to organize your website’s URLs and then begin reviewing.

A Screaming Frog simulated crawl ready for reviewing.

3. Review status codes and canonical tags

As you investigate these pages that (potentially) contain thin content, we need to ensure that the status code isn’t a 301-redirect response and that the canonical tag doesn’t point to another page. The rationale is straightforward: 301 redirects and canonical tags pointing to other URLs direct a page’s link equity to those other web pages. As a result, a page with either of these directives is already properly accounted for (in the case of this task) from an SEO perspective. Instead, review the 301-redirect/canonical tag URL destination. There is a column within your SF crawl titled “Indexability Status” that will supply you with this information:

A review of a web page's indexability status via Screaming Frog.

4. Compare pages with (potentially) thin content against the XML sitemap

After confirming that a page (a) has a low word count, (b) does not 301 redirect and (c) does not contain a canonical tag pointing to another URL, we will want to see if the page that we’re investigating is submitted within the XML sitemap.

As a reminder, a sitemap is an XML file that lists the core URLs that webmasters want indexed by online search engines. So, if the web page that we’re investigating is included within the XML sitemap, we can conclude that it should be searchable by online users and can potentially rank within SERPs (search engine result pages) for organic keywords.

To see if a page is included within the XML sitemap, scroll to the section titled Sitemaps within the right-hand navigation menu. Then, search the URL that you are reviewing by entering it into the search field titled “Search…”

Sitemap review via Screaming Frog.

5. Ensure that the page with thin content is intended for organic listings

Now that you’ve properly identified a page with thin content, the last step is to ensure that the web page is meant to rank for organic keywords within SERPs.

For example, if it’s an About Us or Contact Us page, it probably doesn’t rank for an organic keyword with substantial search volume. You’ll want to check and ensure that these pages have enough text to validate their existence on the site, but they probably will not need further optimization/more breadth added to avoid being flagged as thin.

Conclusion

And there you have it. You’ve crawled your website, organized pages by word count and verified that the page with thin content is meant to supply users with valuable information and rank within organic SERPS.

You’re well on your way to remedying this issue! Your next step is to now circle back and optimize these thin content pages. Ensure that you’ve performed proper organic keyword research before adding text. I suggest utilizing the expertise of an SEO specialist focused on content optimization.

Feel free to leave your comments/questions below! Thanks for reading!

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