Google has started specifically penalising websites for “having thin content with little or no added value”.
Penalties are issued in the form of a manual spam action with an email alert and a notice in Google Webmaster Tools – just like penalties for bad links.
The notice in Google Webmaster Tools and the accompanying email alert looks like this:
This is interesting. Google has been penalising content farms for thin and duplicate content since February 2011, via its Panda series of algorithm updates. These eventually became a standard part of the main algorithm – so that content farm websites would be detected and penalised automatically.
This new penalty appears to be a manual action specifically targeting sites with thin and/or duplicate content.
In one sense Google’s approach to thin content sites seems to have taken a step back, if they are now reliant on a manual review instead of automatically detecting thin and duplicate content via the algorithm as they did before. It may be that in in some cases the algorithm cannot be relied upon to deal with these kinds of sites without penalising legitimate sites. Or it may be that some severe cases warrant special attention from Google.
Either way, this represents an extremely important development for SEO. It may be particularly serious for e-commerce websites that populate a large number of pages using a small quantity of copy provided by the product manufacturer or wholesaler – which is a very common arrangement for online stores. That standard copy is probably duplicated on many other websites. The duplicate content alone may put your website at risk of a Panda-style action, particularly if your website has a lot of products. The risk increases significantly if there is only a small amount of copy on each page.
The new penalty may be targeted at very low quality sites that might have deserved some kind of penalty. Indeed, where Panda may have unwittingly hit some legitimate sites, at least a manual review should help ensure that only really low quality sites get penalised.
But beware! Google may just want to use widespread manual actions to reduce thin and duplicate content in search results. They took a similar, aggressive approach to unnatural links, after all. If that is the case then e-commerce websites are likely to be targets because they typically have a large number of pages containing nothing but duplicate content. Content that people could easily get on a number of other websites.
All of this is good news for the SEO industry. It just became even more important to make sure websites, and particularly e-commerce websites, are populated with lots of lovely rich content. That content could be used to improve a website’s performance in Google search results anyway - but it may now be needed to protect websites from future manual spam actions. We may be about to see the next SEO gold rush, with agencies offering their services to protect websites. And to assist with the recovery of websites that have been penalised for thin content.
If you are worried about your website getting hit by a Google penalty – or if you have already been penalised and need help to recover swiftly, please get in touch. Digivate offers a range of services to deal with every kind of Google manual spam action or penalty. Learn more about our Google penalty recovery services here. Or just Contact us.