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Your Thin Content May Belong on Facebook

by Ethan Glover, Sun, Nov 15, 2015

Internet readers have a short attention span. Writing for them requires an extra level of cutting and summarizing.

Google seems to like high-quality, well cited, unique, expert, long form articles. Like what you might see on Wikipedia.

Which do you choose? What people will like? Or what people will see?

When you look at sites that get hit with "thin content" penalties, it's obvious why they don't rank well on search engines. A "news" site might be embedding YouTube videos and super-summarizing lists from other sites.

There's nothing unique about it, but there is a belief some readers prefer it. And what we know about writing for the web seems to agree with that.

That's where social media comes in. There are a lot of people who feel like they can curate and summarize information better. This is understandable. After all, there is a lot of information out there, it's difficult to sift through it all.

It makes sense that Google would avoid sites that focus on summarizing others in a few sentences. The Google search engine is a tool to discover information, and learn about a query.

It's not a tool to help you read the news, or to give you TL;DR versions of what you're looking for.

Remember, thin content isn't the only ranking factor. Other considerations include bounce rate, the time the user spends on the page, and how interactive they are with the site.

When professional news sites start providing TL;DR summaries at the beginning of articles, and writing in a way that makes the article interesting enough to keep the user reading, they're hitting every point.

So when you build a website that just provides the bullet point summary, you're way behind to begin with. There's no use complaining about it.

It is up to the website to provide everything the user needs. Sites like the Daily Mail provide descriptive headlines that summarize the story. They provide bullet point summaries above every article. And they explain the details in text, pictures, and video.

Why would a site that copies that summary rank any better?

If your goal isn't to provide unique information and write explanatory articles to help people answer questions, just don't worry about Google.

Social media is now an option. Go ahead and build the website if you feel it's necessary. But if the goal is to curate content and to give short commentary and summaries, Facebook is the way to go.

As an example, I searched for 'political news' on Facebook and clicked on the first result. If you go to their website, it's your typical thin content, low-quality news curator.

But the Facebook page has ~23,000 likes. I think it's safe to say that Facebook gives their content much more play time than Google does. 

That makes sense given the fact that Facebook is a personal feed. Google is more universal. Social media is more personal, something closer to an RSS feed, but with friends.

It makes more sense for short commentary and news shares to appear in a Facebook feed than on a Google search. You don't have to rank high on Google if your content isn't appropriate for it.

Instead of studying how to optimize your website for Google, try studying on how to optimize your content for social media. How can you attract people to your page? How can you create and maintain conversations? What is the best way to keep up engagement?

If you mean for people with short attention spans to see your content, put it where attention spans are at a minimal. On social media.

If you mean to explain something that you know about in detail. Put it where people looking for information go to look for information. On Google.

Knowing the difference between these two is only a part of knowing your audience and how to reach them. Lay no fault on Google's doorstep, they can't provide every service.