How Thin Content Can Harm Your Google Ranking

by Chris Horton

Website structureI see this anomaly more often than not and it goes hand in hand with some of the keyword research posts we’ve done here recently. You want your website to rank well, but you can’t get on that front page of Google to save your life. “It doesn’t make sense! Why doesn’t Google rank me!? I have hundreds of pages of content!”  More often than not when a site has a lot of pages of content, it becomes too thinly spread out and disorganized. We’re going to briefly discuss what you can do about it once you’ve reached that point and more importantly, how to avoid getting caught in that trap in the first place.

Let’s say that you’ve got a nice wedding cake bakery that makes wedding cakes. The site has never really ranked well, but you don’t know why.  So you start doing keyword research to find out what people are searching for related to weddings. You find wedding favors, wedding songs, wedding planning tips, wedding consultants, and the list goes on.  You decide to make a page that contains a list of the the most popular wedding songs on your site. Your thought process is that a bride will click through to see what the most popular wedding songs are and then see your services and buy a cake.

The trend continues as you then open a little side store attached to your website to start selling wedding favors. Again with the same thought process in mind that you’ll get that residual business or worse case scenario get affiliate sales from selling wedding favors.  The next thing you know, you’re ranking worse than you were before.  “How can this be?! I added more relevant content!” Unfortunately, you just muddied up your website and made things worse for yourself.

And if you have a website that has already done something similar, you now have to figure out how to dig your way out and get back in Google’s good graces. Whenever you consider adding more content to your website, you should always first consider what type of impact this will have on your site’s relevance. Weddings are a very broad topic in general and in a saturated market, you end up being your own worst enemy.

In the above example, adding wedding favors to a wedding cake website makes your website becomes less relevant for wedding cakes. To make the matter worse, you not only will continue to fail to rank for wedding cakes, but now you’ll fail for wedding favors as well.  And while you might think that adding more wedding related items will make you more relevant for weddings such as wedding invitations or wedding dresses, you thin out your site’s focus instead of excelling at wedding cakes.  It’s the only thing you do and you should focus on your expertise on that.

If you want to add more content, make sure that it’s directly relevant to wedding cakes.  For instance, maybe you consider a section of available wedding cake toppers, so that even if they don’t buy a cake from you because they’re across the country, you may still sell them a wedding cake topper and still be able to maintain your wedding cake relevance. Everything you add to the site should be directly related to cakes.

If you’re already stuck in the mud with a website that has thousands of pages that are all thinly related in the same type of scenario, there are ways out.  You either have to restructure your website and properly silo it or totally kill it and reuse the information in a logical relevant manner.  If it’s not relevant with cakes, it has to go.  The only way that a convolution of thinly-related topics works is if you’re in a non-competitive industry that isn’t represented on the web.

So it may be time to pull a sitemap (you can get those free you know) and take inventory of what you have out there. Keyword research plays an integral part of deciding what direction may be best for your site based on keyword intent and what terms people are using to find you.

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Keyword Research Meets Google Instant

by Chris Horton

We looked at keyword intent to uncover how Google looks at your site, but with the full blown release of Google Instant which we see to be a positive thing for long tail SEO, it also gives us some more insight into just what Google is thinking even as you type.  That revelation alone can uncover even more missed opportunities for your website.

If you’ve used Google, you’ve already seen Google Instant at work. You start typing and Google is already displaying results based on what you’ve typed so far even if you pause for a split second (hence the “Instant” moniker). Not only is it presenting you with options that are the most popularly searched for the moment based on other searches, but it’s also changing the results page for each variation that you complete. In this example below, we started typing the word “printer” and it gave us keyword options that are the most popular at the moment, all the while showing us SERP results for “printer“, just in case we’re already done typing.

Google Instant

There is a lot of significance here for you as a website owner and one that’s not lost on any serious SEO professional worth their salt.  The first being that Google is offering up the most popular keywords based on the root keyword of “printer”.  Not since the now defunct Google Wonder Wheel has Google laid it out so nicely for you. If your website carries a wide variety of printers, maybe you would consider creating a page dedicated to reviewing those printers since it’s a heavily searched keyword. While you would never expect to rank for “printer reviews” because of the competitive landscape like CNET, Amazon and the like), it may help to round out your site’s relevance to Google and also make your site more useful and comprehensive to your visitors in search of printer information.

However, if you’re a business card printer, you’re already going down the wrong path since these variations don’t lend any relevance to what you do.  Just think about the variations of the “printer” keyword;

printer – could mean an inkjet printer, magazine printer, or business card printer.
printers – same as above, but now plural.
printer reviews – a review of inkjet printers? Or maybe customer reviews of local business card printers?

If you’re a business card printer, you should focus on that branch of keywords such as “card printer”, “business card printer” and don’t forget that adjectives are your friends. Words such as “free“, “best“, and “cheap” often rule the roost in search volume.  The same goes for localities such as “Dallas business card printer”. While “business cards” may sit on top of the most searched keyword related to your industry, you can almost guarantee that the person’s search didn’t end there simply because the results presented to them were probably way too broad to make any good decisions.  And once that happens, the searcher then begins to add those adjectives and begins refining the search term to narrow in on what they’re looking for.

This is exactly why Google implemented Google Instant. To not only guide a potential customer down the right path to find the most relevant information, but to also show you how to properly focus your site content to be useful to that person. We’ll talk more about that next.

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