CEO of Letterdrop, former Product Manager on Google Search
You think your company should have a blog, a social media presence, and a newsletter. You read somewhere online that content marketing will attract visitors to your site. More visitors means more customers, which in turn means more revenue, right? That's directionally true. Unfortunately, this is how most companies start producing low-quality content.
You want to create content, but you're a busy business owner or Head of Marketing. It takes hours to write a blog post. You shudder remembering the agony of your university writing classes. You don't have time to create content, so you outsource your blog to an agency that says they know SEO. You've got to focus on your core business. Makes sense.
A year goes by. The agency has published blog posts somewhat regularly, but your traffic hasn't budged, customers aren't banging down your door, and you're frustrated. Did Neil Patel and all those SEO influencers on Twitter lie to you?
You check out the blog yourself for the first time, and you realize that most of your content is hollow. It's fluffy and doesn't answer any of your audience's questions well. If you Google search the blog post's title, you find similar pages from your competitors. Also, you notice that it takes a couple of seconds for your pages to load. A lot of your blog posts aren't even indexed! What's going on?
You've fallen into the trap of producing content for the sake of content marketing without actually thinking about why you're creating it. You've published tons of low-quality content, and when Google scans your site, it realizes that most of it is not valuable. Google has plenty of better pages to serve searchers, so it hides your website on... gasp... Page 2 of search results, the abyss that no one ever visits.
What Is Low-Quality Content or "Thin Content"?
You want to fix your situation. The first step is to learn how to identify low-quality content so that you can vow never to create it again. Here are some hallmarks of a low-quality blog post that aren't looked upon favorably in Google's eyes:
1. Unoriginal Content
Your writer Googled the keyword for the blog post, read the first couple of results on Google and stitched them together into a new post. They made no unique contribution to the internet and added no new information. Google already has this content to show searchers. It doesn't need it rehashed for the 27th time.
2. Grammatical and Language Mistakes
Bad posts are hard to read because of poor grammar, spelling mistakes, and hard-to-read sentences. Don't ruin good ideas by presenting them poorly. Use Grammarly and hire an editor. You'll thank me later.
3. Unstructured and Rambly (Not Concise)
Your readers will struggle to read your post and bounce if it's not well structured. Notice the H2 and H3 headers delineating sections of my post. Avoid long-winding paragraphs that will lose your reader's interest.
4. Your Page Loads Slowly
In a July 2021 update, Google started paying attention to the Web Core Vitals, a set of metrics measuring the loading speed of your site. Fast pages are good. If your page is slow, it's considered a low-quality page. Ask your engineering team to invest in your blog's performance. They can get a performance report at web.dev. Or check out products like Letterdrop that can host performant blogs for you.
5. Your Content is Old 👴 and Outdated
It's unlikely that your blog post is a timeless classic, so if you're answering questions with business intent, update it every year or so to make sure it's still relevant. No one wants to read about the latest and greatest from 2012.
6. Fluffy or Meaningless Content
Sometimes, you read a few paragraphs and realize you learned nothing. It was just words strung together. Congratulations! You've successfully wasted someone's time. Your content should be information-dense. Every sentence must have a point. It shouldn't feel like the person who wrote the post either knows nothing or is an AI. This often happens because your writer needs to hit a word count and didn't know what to say.
7. You're Wrong
No surprises here, but you should fact-check the claims you put in your article. Even if most of your writing is true, one incorrect or overblown statement can make your readers lose trust in your site. Cite your sources. Don't exaggerate claims to try to shill your product.
8. Programmatically Generated Pages
If a site has hundreds of pages that are mostly the same with minor changes like the name of a city, Google considers it thin content. These are called "doorways" and Google can sniff them out if you thought you could completely automate your way to content.
If your blog has any of the above properties, you're going to have a hard time ranking on Google. You're not alone. Most company blogs are considered low-quality. 91% of pages on the internet get no traffic from Google. One of the primary reasons is that they're simply low-quality content.
I worked on Google Search around 2016-17, so you can hopefully trust my advice, but if you're not convinced, you should check out this video on thin content with little or no added value from Matt Cutts, the original Google Search Advocate.
How Does Low-Quality Content Impact SEO?
Low-quality content hurts the SEO of your site. Google's mission is to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." In order to serve its customers, search users, best, it can't return unhelpful pages when they ask questions.
If you want to rank for the coveted #1 position on the Google Search Results Page, you'll need to up your content game. You have to understand what searchers are looking for and produce the very best content to answer their questions. Low-quality pages score low on page authority with Google.
Keep in mind that even if a minority of your pages are low-quality, it can negatively impact your entire site. The more bad content you produce, the deeper a hole you're digging yourself into. If you outsourced content marketing for years to the wrong agency, suddenly read this post, and decide to turn things around, realize that it will take a while to clean up the mess and get back into Google's good books. Your first course of action should be to prune your site of anything you could deem "low-quality."
How To Avoid Low-Quality Content?
The most common cause for low-quality content is when the individual creating your content doesn't care. There is no empathy for your audience. No curiosity for the topic at hand. The goal isn't to answer your audience's questions as best possible but rather to get a blog post published quickly. Time is money, and they charge per word, so they try to bang out 1500 words of drivel and call it a night.
Hold your writers to high standards
Do not accept low-quality content, whether from in-house writers, freelancers, agencies, or guest posters. Have a minimum bar for what you are willing to publish. Use content outlines to create well-structured posts and a company style guide to ensure every writer understands your audience.
As every company rushes to play the SEO game and grow their inbound, there's pressure to produce as much as possible in a short time frame on a budget. Keep in mind the long-term goal. All this content is a means to end. You're trying to attract visitors to your site, help them, earn their trust, and hopefully, one day, their business. Rehashing empty content for cheap is not going to achieve that.
Try to create content in-house
I highly recommend doing content in-house if you can afford it. No one understands your business like you do. You want someone who talks to customers, reads about your market and understands your business to create content. Google values original insights. You've spent hundreds of hours talking to your customers and have learned facts that most people don't know. Share them. Turn that into unique content that no one else in the world could credibly shine a light on. Our platform, Letterdrop, is specifically designed to help teams build effective content marketing teams in-house.
Teach your writers how to write high-quality content
Keep in mind that it's tough to produce great content. You must be an expert at a topic, have a deep understanding of your audience, and have excellent writing skills. If working with writers in-house, train them. I highly recommend B2B Writing Institute and Animalz' blog to learn how to create high-quality content.
Only outsource to trusted agencies and freelancers
Unfortunately, creating content in-house is not always possible, especially if your business is early or if you're rapidly scaling your content needs. If you decide to outsource your content, make sure you work with quality writers. The SEO industry attracts a lot of not-so-talented people trying to make a quick buck. Also, just because you pay a lot to your agency doesn't necessarily mean you're going to get great content. Most agencies subsequently outsource content to whoever can create it cheapest and try to increase their margins.
You can also hire a freelancer on platforms like Upwork. However, be prepared to do a lot of searching. Freelancer rates are completely uncorrelated with quality. You'll have to go through many bad writers before finding a good one.
Low-quality content hurts your website's ranking on Google and is bad for SEO. Remove low-quality content from your site and try not to produce it in the first place by being holding your content team to a high standard. It might seem expensive, but it's the higher ROI decision in the long run.
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