When Google unleashed the Panda update, it waged war on “thin” content in its search results. Google wants to provide pages that offer information valuable to searchers, as opposed to content that was hastily thrown together.
It’s easy to hear “thin” content, and associate that with content in which there is not a lot of actual content. In other words, you might take this to mean that Google does not like short articles, and would favor a longer article in a case where these two pieces of content are competing for rankings.
Have you seen search ranking success with short content? Let us know in the comments.
The fact is, Google may very well favor the longer, more in depth piece, but that does not mean Google will not value a short article.
In a Google forum thread, a webmaster asked the question: Is short content = thin content?” As Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Roundtable points out, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller, weighed in on the discussion. Here’s what he said:
“Rest assured, Googlebot doesn’t just count words on a page or in an article, even short articles can be very useful & compelling to users. For example, we also crawl and index tweets, which are at most 140 characters long. That said, if you have users who love your site and engage with it regularly, allowing them to share comments on your articles is also a great way to bring additional information onto the page. Sometimes a short article can trigger a longer discussion — and sometimes users are looking for discussions like that in search. That said, one recommendation that I’d like to add is to make sure that your content is really unique (not just rewritten, autogenerated, etc) and of high-quality.” Emphasis added.
Last year, Google shared a set of questions that one could ask himself when assessing the quality of a page or an article. One of these was: “Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?”
Shallow does not mean short. The beginning part of that, which talks about experts and enthusiasts, is likely to have a stronger bearing on how Google views the content. Who you are matters to Google. That’s why they’re looking to push authorship as a stronger signal in the future. Length of a specific piece of content is not necessarily as much of a factor.
Still, that doesn’t mean it’s not a factor. If one piece of content is simply more informative, which it may very well be if it is longer, it might still be the better result, regardless of who you are. There’s still something to be said for a well researched, insightful article. Google is not looking to ignore this kind of content, by any means.
Another of Google’s questions is: “Does the article describe both sides of a story?” Sometimes, it may take more text to answer that with a yes.
One thing about Mueller’s comments that stikes me as interesting is the part about comments. In an article a while back, we looked at the SEO value of comments. Blogger Michael Gray, who turned off his comments several years ago, told us, “It was one of the best decisions I made, and regret not doing it sooner.”
“Does Google take a look at factors like time on site and bounce rate?” he said at the time. “IMHO yes, but you should be looking to increase those with good information, and solid actionable content, not comments. The biggest effect comments have is giving Google a date to show in the SERP’s. This is a huge factor who’s importance can’t be unstated. If I’m looking for how to fix the mouse on my computer, or what dress Angelina Jolie wore to an awards show, having the date show up in the SERP has a lot of value for the user. If I’m looking to learn how to structure a website, the date plays almost no role. The author’s expertise and understanding of information architecture trumps the date.”
It should be noted that Google’s Matt Cutts has reportedly said since then that Google doesn’t use bounce rate.
Interestingly, according to Shoemoney blogger Jeremy Schoemaker, who we also spoke with for that particular article, a Google engineer said at the time that, if anything, comments were diluting the quality score of a page, by possibly diluting overall keyword density. There is also the possibility that the few comments that go through that are clearly spam, could send poor quality signals to Google.
“So he said he did not see a positive to leaving indexable comments on my site,” Schoemaker told us at the time.
But now, here we have Mueller talking up the value of comments.
Of course, it’s not as if this is the first time that Google has sent mixed signals to webmasters and content creators. But on the other hand, you can’t really hold every person at Google, speaking candidly, accountable for knowledge about every aspect of how Google works, especially when it comes to the search algorithm – Google’s secret recipe.
It stands to reason that Google would look at comments in similar fashion to how it views the rest of the content on the page. Some comments are obviously of higher quality than others, even if the spammy ones have been cut out. But if quality is there, Google may just see how such comments could be valuable to users.
Perhaps webmasters should be more stingy with the comments they allow, but then you’re talking about censorship, which is not necessarily a path you want to travel.
Do you think comments on your blog have helped or hurt you in search? Do you believe they’ve had any effect at all? Should Google take them into consideration? Tell us what you think.