How Long Should My Copy Be? Avoiding Google’s Thin Content Penalty for Better SEO Copywriting

Google's Panda algorithm was updated to better detect low quality ("thin") content. But that doesn't mean you should sacrifice concision.

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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

Gregory Lewis

Gregory Lewis

A winsome wordsmith, Gregory M. Lewis loves nothing better than absorbing new information and crystallizing it into clear, captivating copy. Greg brings his incisive insight and easy-going approach to every project. In his free time, the Chicago native can be spotted at Nets games, art galleries, and local concerts in Brooklyn.

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