27 Sep 2014

Is “Thin Content” The New Google Update?

Is “Thin Content” The New Google Update?

I don’t know if you have heard about it but the past week or so, of writing this (23 Of September), numerous sites have started getting the manual penalty of “thin content“. Many speculate that it might be the anticipated Google algorithmic update. In fact it makes sense, because these penalties started in great scale, about a week ago and still going strong.

One could argue that it would be very hard for all these actions to be taken manually at such a grand scale. What is more probable is that Google tweaked something in its algorithm, sent signals of red flags and then a real person had a glance at the website, before handing it the manual spam action.

Update: I wrote this article on 23 of September, published it on 27 and 2 days ago Search Engine Land confirmed the news, that it is a Panda update.

Let’s dive into it, shall we?

Who are the targets of Google’s actions?

Google is after Private and Public Blog Networks with much more ferocity, than ever before. Here is what are these blog networks:

Private Blog Networks

These are blog networks, owned by 1-2 persons. They are not open to public and they are used to manipulate search engine rankings of personal sites that belong to the network’s owners. In essence, these are networks that not even their wives know.

Public Blog Networks

These are blog networks that are available to the public for a fee. For example, let’s say you want 10 links from sites with PR3. You go to these companies, pay a fee and they get you those links from their blog network and you rank higher. A fleeting victory as we see…

Reports say that both private and public blog networks got penalized.

As of now I will refer to Public and Private Blog Networks, as PBN.

A word of caution. Not only PBNs got the hammer. Many blog networks utilized expired domains. Some people report getting penalized after buying an expired domain. That’s why I advice you to avoid buying expired domains, at least for now.

How it may affect you

Although the manual penalty says “thin content” many PBN owners and their customers, found out that their sites got penalized for being associated with such a network. Here are the 3 groups that got the penalty:

1) PBN owners. Their blogs’ content was good and lengthy, in order for them to be perceived as real blogs. So, the cause for the penalty was probably the unnatural inbound and outbound links.

2) Blogs/Websites with backlinks from PBNs or other low quality websites, got penalized.

3) Blogs that were perceived to be part of a PBN.

The penalty varies from a complete de-index, to partial de-index and lowered rankings.

There is speculation that Google used some Whois information to find such schemes. If your name is associated with any bad website, it will definitely draw attention to the rest of your websites (without that meaning that you will get a penalty).

What you should check

Frequently, blogs belonging to a PBN would link out to other websites in the form of a guest post in order to pass Pagerank, but not necessarily. However, this is part of the extensive guest post spamming Matt Cuts referred to.

This means that if you have done guest posts in the past, it would be good to go and revise them. Are they on real blogs that drive referral traffic, or just stand there to give you a backlink? These are questions you should ask yourself when looking at them:

1) Do they have keyword rich anchor text?

2) Could they be mistakenly perceived as paid links?

3) Do they avoid linking to other relevant content on authority sites?

Furthermore, I advice you to check your overall backlink profile as soon as possible. Don’t check for low Domain Authoriy or Pagerank sites. Instead look for sites that don’t drive you referral traffic, that don’t have signals of real visitors, like social shares and comments, sites that might be de-indexed and those that are not relevant to your website. Sometimes we get links from automated websites. I would avoid them.

I personally disavow all of the previous links to my sites.

Of course, if you have paid for sponsored content or backlinks, they should be nofollowed as always…

These are elements you should look outside of your website. You should also look at guest posts you might have published on your site, in the past. You should ask the same 3 questions as above when seeing the guest posts you hosted. Typically, it should be easy to say if something is legit or not.

One more thing you should look at is you content. Is your content in-depth, unique and valuable? If you have lots of keyword rich articles, or countless affiliate links, you might want to cut down on them.

Future steps of cautiousness

You should avoid getting links, in any way, from blogs that don’t have real traffic (you can easily spot them). Getting a link just for the sake of PR should be not worthy by now.

On top of that, before hiring an SEO agency you should ask them specifically what are they going to do. You should have full understanding before moving forward with them. As always, if an agency is promising specific ranking for any keywords, you better run.

One last thing that you should be doing is checking your backlink profile once or twice a month for potentially harmful backlinks. You should be doing it, or hire someone do it for you. It could save you from a lot of troubles.


Google is steadily cranking down on shady ways to rank. I know I might get some hate for this, but punishing famous blog networks will definitely have an impact on serial link builders and will promote the ethical way of ranking and getting traffic.

Actually, this action alone, drove 2 famous blog network owners to change their tactics and focus on more sustainable ones. If you want to get in the SEO game, I suggest you forget of ranking quickly and searching for gimmicks. Also, never forget to diversify your traffic sources.

What do you think of these changes?


Image credit: Wikimedia

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