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Is your web content long enough? Does it have enough substance—does it add enough value? If it is, it’s in danger of getting dinged with a “thin content” penalty from Google’s Panda algorithm. 

While Panda’s been around for a quite a few years now, it got a significant update at the end of September that helps it sniff out low-quality (i.e., “thin”) content. 

So, how’s this affect you? What kind of word-count should you shoot for with your web pages and blog posts? Is Google going to downgrade your valuable content? Don’t panic: as long as you’re not doing anything sketchy, you should be fine. 

Bigger is Better, But No Magic Number

There’s plenty of interesting search engine optimization (SEO) research out there that shows that long copy can perform, convert, and rank better than shorter content. Longer content gives Google more concepts to index, earns more links, and can become the definitive resource on a niche topic. 

Those findings are based on real, empirical (if limited) data. They should be taken with a grain of salt—length doesn’t automatically equal value, just see Seth Godin’s wildly successful micro-blogs—but they are wholesome food for thought, especially if you’re trying to own a particular subject matter. 

Unfortunately, you’ll also find a pestilence of self-appointed SEO gurus spouting off specific minimum word counts your content has to meet to avoid the dreaded thin content penalty: 200 words, 250 words, 300 words, 500 words

Why can’t they agree? Because there is no minimum word-count magic number—it’s just the SEO guru echo chamber chewing its own cud. 

Short is Still Sweet

Go straight to the source, and you’ll see Google’s actual advice on avoiding the thin content penalty doesn't mention anything about length. 

According to Google, “thin content” is not short content, it’s:

  • Automatically generated content
  • Thin affiliate pages
  • Content from other sources. For example: Scraped content or low-quality guest blog posts
  • Doorway pages

Those are all pretty shady, black hat approaches; if you’re not doing it, you have nothing to worry about. 

In fact, concise content can be much more compelling than a long-winded diatribe, particularly for landing pages. Never overextend your content farther than it’s natural length. Far more important than your page’s word-count is its substance, style, and social shareability. 

Image credit: Kevin Dooley

Badvertising: Scent of a Woman? Tom Ford's Va-jay-jay Fragrance Ad

In this installment of MarketSmiths’ Badvertising, we answer the question: “Does sex sell?” Probably, but only if you're selling sex.

Below is a lesson we can all learn from a controversial Tom Ford campaign. And, as ever, we say: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!

Scent Of A Woman? Tom Ford's Va-jay-jay Fragrance Ad

In 2007, designer Tom Ford took a page from Calvin Klein's playbook and let down his buttoned-down image. Yet instead of loosening his tie, he went several steps (significantly) further, and ripped off his clothes. Rather, he ripped off the clothes of a female model and then slapped a bottle of his new Tom Ford For Men cologne across her va-jay-jay. (In a previous ad for his scent he'd shown a nude woman clasping a bottle of the stuff between her breasts, looking to all the world as if she had a well, “you-know-what,” wedged there.) 

The fragrance ads were controversial: the entire point of the campaign. In spite of the predictable stir, something about them smelled…way too calculated. They bore more the mark of Ford's photographer, Terry Richardson, than the scent of the man who had been responsible for turning around the fortunes of the House of Gucci. 

“So what does it er, smell like?” asked the ads. They smelled like desperation… and earned the name Vaginads by sites like AdRants.

Like its execution, the intended cause and effect of the campaign was as subtle as a flying hammer. Wear this cologne. Attract ze women. Position yourself you-know-where. You know, (yawn) sex sells. Women (a significant target market for men's colognes) viewed the ads as being vulgar v. sexy. Men saw themselves portrayed in the ads as mere lustful voyeurs. Instead of creating desire, both genders were turned off, and lo and behold: sex not only didn’t sell, it made Tom Ford a laughingstock for a brief and infinite season. 

Finding Your Voice: What’s your brand’s signature style?


Like Scarlett Johansson’s throaty coo or Gilbert Godfried’s nasal assault—a voice can come define you (for better or for worse).

This is also true for brands, whose use of diction, tone, and style determines how they resonate with audiences. How are you getting your message across? Should you be friendly, serious, or aloof? Let us help you peg the voice that best fits your business.

1. Clever 

A fun, accessible brand voice helps you connect to readers on their level. Get creative with copy by weaving in colloquialisms, humor, and puns. E-commerce companies often use this voice to jazz up dull sales speak and capture customer interest.

2. Cool

Knowing how to “talk the talk” is important for fashion or lifestyle brands targeting tastemakers. Use trending terms and cultural references to highlight the aspirational value of your product (was Beyonce just wearing that on Instagram?). Keep it simple, of course—you wouldn’t want to sound like you’re actually trying.

3. Evocative

Beauty, food, and boutique brands have the luxury of waxing poetic in order to evoke visceral experiences and/or memory. Entice readers with sensual words and an inviting tone. Doesn’t something like “lilac and lavender float as in a field stirred by a spring breeze” simply transport you?

4. Compassionate 

If you’re addressing real, human pain points, don’t come off like some soulless entity. Healthcare and human service brands can win audiences by demonstrating a little empathy. Speaking in second person using a nurturing, knowledgeable tone can secure readers’ trust.

5. Authoritative

Sometimes, being cute or colloquial can work against you. If I’m shopping for brain surgeons, for example, I’d take “a premiere group of experts advancing the field of neuroscience” over a “medical team that’s totally up on the trends.” If you’ve got the accolades, tout them; if you’ve got the technical jargon, use it (without alienating the average reader). Let your voice convey the expertise that your audience wants to invest in.

Cultivating a brand voice can be a process, but finding yours will help you connect to ideal audiences. If you’re having trouble, our MarketSmiths are here to help make sure you hit all the right notes!