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2022

How Does Google Know If Your Content is Deep or Thin?

A picture of How Does Google Know If Your Content is Deep or Thin? with The King Of Search

Content depth.

Like many terms in the SEO world—it’s one that gets thrown around a fair amount?

But what does it really mean?

And more importantly, how can you make sure your site’s content is deep enough to quell Google’s bots, and earn it the higher ranking it deserves?

After all, content depth is not simply a matter of length.

Sure, longer articles generally have higher content scores. But this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, nor is it a soft-and-slow rule. In fact, articles that are written simply to be “as long as possible” can rank worse than shorter articles, due to poor “efficiency” of delivering information.

Pretty easy to understand—imagine the following scenario:

You click on some “how to” guide, and when you arrive on the page, you find you have to wade through some 10,000 words restating your question in different ways—just to find the 200 words of information that actually tell you how to do the thing.

How would you feel?

(I know it’s really hard to imagine this.)

Point is, you’d be pretty unhappy.

And while the jury’s still out on how Google wants site owners to feel—we know that it doesn’t want its search engine users to feel unhappy.

So Google’s bots try their best to ensure that content is informative in proportion to its length, and it isn’t just going on, and on… and on for no reason.

I’ll try not to do that to you here. (Wouldn’t that be really meta, though?)

So let’s just dive right into the deep end:

What Is It That Makes a Given Piece of Content Deep (to Google)?

On the surface, “deep content” may seem fairly simple to define—it refers to the level of detail in an article or webpage. Shallow (or thin) content will typically be very general and superficial, while deep content will go into greater detail and provide more information.

However, when you’re dealing with Google’s new souped-up AI bots, it’s not quite that simple.

Don’t worry, it’s still simple—just not that simple.

There are a number of factors Google’s bots take into account when evaluating content depth.

Here are some of the key things they’re looking for when they scan through your articles:

Length

It’s true that one of the key things Google looks at is the length of your content. Longer articles do tend to get higher content scores than shorter pieces.

However, length isn’t everything—it’s how you use those words.

That is, it’s important to consider how much information is actually included in those long articles.

Google’s well aware that there are millions of articles being written purely to hit a certain length, and that these are usually going to have very shallow content.

So their algorithm does its darndest to weed this kind of content out. And it’s getting better at it all the time.

So, what does this mean for you?

Well, rather than focusing on stretching article topics into 500 words, 1000 words, and so on, focus instead on providing detailed, in-depth information.

There’s a reason people don’t just do this of course—because it takes a lot more time and effort.

Write long articles, sure, but don’t use a 10,000 word skyscraper article to answer a basic question like “Why are there 50 stars on the American flag”—unless you’re also covering the entire history of the flag, America, and stars.

At the end of the day, the more efficient your content is in providing informative content, the more Google will appreciate it.

Links

Another way that Google determines the quality and depth of an article is by looking at how many links it contains.

A deep article will typically have a higher number of internal and external links, which serve to support the main points being made in the piece. On the other hand, a very thin article is likely to have either no links at all, or an excessive amount of unnecessary links.

Think of it this way: a shallow article is one that doesn’t have much to say, and therefore doesn’t “need” any references or other outside content to help support its main points.

Even the most thorough, authoritative skyscraper content will naturally need links to other articles, websites, and resources. It’s the same reason you don’t find scientific journals publishing studies that don’t reference previous studies.

Outbound links used to be easy for people to “game” through methods like “link stuffing”—back when Google Toolbar and PageRank were a thing. But those days are long gone. At this point, Google’s very good at evaluating the quality and relevance of those outbound links, and how they relate to your content.

Data

Another factor that Google looks at is whether your content includes quotes, stats, or other data that backs up the information being presented.

Research shows that if you’re just making claims without any supporting evidence, your content will be seen as “thin” and lacking in depth.

This one’s pretty simple. If you want Google to see your content as informative, make sure you back up all your words with facts.

Once you’re an authority, some of this data can be from your own research—but in the beginning, trustworthy data should largely come from outside sources. Speaking of the devil…

Sources

Google also looks at whether the writer has cited reputable sources or experts on the topic.

It’s important to include links to these sources throughout the body of the article—and not just at the very end of the article where most people tend to cram them in. There’s some evidence to show that Google appreciates when links are included towards the beginning of content as well.

Contrary to popular (outdated) belief, while this does boost the SEO of the article you’re linking to, it can also boost the SEO of your own content as well.

They don’t necessarily have to read like a formal bibliography or a “works cited” section. But including highly-relevant links to authoritative/scientific sources shows Google (and others) that you’ve done your research.

And importantly, that you’re not just making unsubstantiated claims—everyone’s least favorite kind of claims.

Organization (or “Flow”)

Finally, it’s important to make sure that the content flows logically and is easy to read.

Assuming you’re doing an honest job of providing information and value to your readers, the more organization and “structure” your content has, the deeper it will appear to Google.

A simple way to ensure good content flow is to use proper headings and subheadings.

How so?

Breaking a long article up into smaller, manageable chunks allows Google’s bots—oh, and also the human beings visiting your website—to do a better job scanning and understanding your content.

Google knows that literally no one wants to read a Wall o’ Text™ (Now 100% Carriage Return Free).

Using headings, numbered/bulleted lists, and other formatting techniques helps everyone—human and bot alike—understand the main points of your article more easily.

Is Google’s Definition of “Deep Content” Perfect?

No. Google’s constantly updating and refining its algorithm to ensure that users get the best possible experience when they search for information.

There are very good arguments to be made about why the definitions of shallow and deep content are wrong.

But for our purposes—ranking—it doesn’t really matter whether we agree with the definition or not.

If you want your site to rank on Google, you need to model your content according to what Google considers “deep.”

If ranking isn’t a big concern for you, then you can ignore all of this and go off in your own direction.

But for most businesses, providing “deep” content is key to getting pages ranking highly on Google—and keeping them there.

Does Every Piece of Content Need to Provide Tons of Information?

No. Not all content needs to be exceedingly long and detailed in order to rank. For example, entertaining content can be very valuable as well.

In fact, there’s such a thing as “over-optimizing” for depth.

The idea is that if every single piece of content on your site is an in-depth, comprehensive article, then Google may view your content as “unnatural”—not good for SEO.

It’s important to keep in mind that some topics and topics are naturally more detailed than others, and it’s often not necessary to go overboard with lots of data and information for every single piece of content.

It’s more important to focus on providing quality information that’s relevant to the topic, rather than just throwing in lots of extra data for the sake of it.

When in doubt—be natural. That’s what Google’s looking for.

The Takeaways

So, the content we provide for our visitors may seem deep enough to us—but how can we ensure that Google’s bots will feel the same way about it?

There are a few key things to keep in mind:

  1. First—always and above all—focus on quality over quantity. It’s better to have shorter articles with valuable information than longer ones that include the same information but are packed full of fluff. Also, know this: Google’s bots aren’t getting any dumber. The higher quality your content is now, the more future-proof it will be—and the more secure your rankings will be after the next 50 algorithm changes.
  2. Second, make sure you’re including links throughout your content—especially to “reliable sources,” when appropriate. This shows Google that you’re not just rattling off random words or making unsubstantiated claims, and that you (or someone) has actually done your research.
  3. Third, focus on making your content cohesive and easy to read. Google’s AI will penalize content if it can’t make sense of it, or recognize certain patterns, regularities, and “quirks” that indicate an actual human was involved at some point during the creation of said content.

By sticking to these general guidelines, you can be sure that your content is deep enough to satisfy both Google’s bots and your human visitors as well.

Sure, there are always little changes and improvements that can be made to content to make Google like it “better” after the fact, but these are good rules of thumb to follow.

In the end, the biggest takeaway is to remember that it’s the quality—not just the quantity—of words that will help your content rise to the top and stay there.

If you want your content to actually rank on Google, the simplest way is to provide content that’s actually good.

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