Length Doesn’t Always Matter
BY Jason Bland STAFF CONTRIBUTOR
Short Content Could Rank Higher
The term “thin content” became an SEO industry buzzword two years ago when Google’s Panda update started pounding websites that contained content with no real user value. Thin content is often associated with short page length or low word count. But Google’s terms simply define it as content that provides “little to no added value.”
The examples provided by Google include:
Automatically generated content: This is content that is built by bots. Usually, this type of content is created by uploading someone else’s content into a synonym-based content generator. The result is usually nonsensical, but unique as far as plagiarism is concerned. For the sake of your user’s experience, this should never happen on your law firm’s website. Just nine years ago, this lazy content was taking over search results and cluttering Google’s index with low-value pages. Google Panda has come very close to eliminating this problem.
Thin affiliate pages: Fortunately, this type of content is not common on attorneys’ websites. Affiliate pages generally offer low-quality content with the sole intention of getting someone to click on a link to purchase a product.
Content from other sources: Content from other sources is a problem that haunts law firms regularly. You may have thought it was a great idea to copy city ordinances, state or federal laws and other content relevant to your practice areas to your site. This is duplicate content — whether you have a legal right to use it or not — and it will damage your Google rankings. If you have such content, read our bonus tip.
Doorway pages: These pages exists solely to attract search engines, and they provide “little to no added value” for your website’s visitors.
Not one of these examples from Google mentions word count. The intent of the Panda update was not to encourage content bloat and ask writers to bombard the internet with more text; it was to encourage better content.
Length does not necessarily create better rankings. For example, consider the strong positions of many frequently asked questions in search results.
For the long-tailed keyphrase, “How long will a commercial vehicle accident lawsuit take?” the first-ranked listing is from the website of The Lietz Law Firm.
The Lietz Law Firm FAQ has 280 words. The second-ranked website is an article on HG.org that consists of 798 words.
On the surface, it seems like a large, established resource like HG.org should get the higher position. It is a bigger site and has a longer article. But Google does not just measure the length of the page or even time spent on a site.
Last Fall, Stephen Kenwright from London-based digital agency, Branded3, published an article on Search Engine Watch titled, “3 Basic Principles of Journalism to Consider When Writing Content for Google.” In that article he explains the “time to long click” metric used by Google as “Literally — how long a user spends with a website after leaving Google’s search engine results page.” But that timing is not the full picture, or even the priority. Kenwright explains, “What the search engine is most interested in is what the user does next: does she go back to Google and click on another result? … Or does that user perform a new search entirely — something unrelated to the original query?”
By this definition, Google has watched people search for keyphrases like, “How long will a commercial vehicle accident lawsuit take?” Perhaps users lost patience with the more in-depth HG.org article, whereas the more concise Lietz Law Firm FAQ answered their question and did not result in a need for a new search. By Google seeing a user click on the Lietz Law Firm FAQ page and not click on other results in Google or start another related search, Google has determined their content to be most useful.
This is in direct contrast to conventional wisdom that says a longer time onsite and a lower bounce rate equals better rankings. Focus on value, not length. If your content can get people the answer they want in a short amount of time, it may be seen as more useful than a long in-depth study.
DO YOU HAVE DUPLICATE CONTENT THAT IS USEFUL TO VISITORS?
If you have laws, court opinions or government resources on your site, you are hosting duplicate content. But it is useful content, so deleting it may not be the best solution. Simply add the follow meta tag to that page, or select “noindex” using your website’s SEO plugin.
<META NAME=”ROBOTS” CONTENT=”NOINDEX”>
This will tell Google to ignore your duplicate content (thus preventing backlash), while leaving the content available to your human visitors.