For the longest time, the Google algorithm has remained a mystery. How do we ensure that our website gets to the first pages of search results? Businesses and individuals have been desperately seeking the answer for many years. Every so often, we get an insight into how the algorithm operates and how we can shape our content accordingly. This week, news websites were the ones to receive the great news as John Mueller discussed some best practices for SEO in this area.
For those that produce news articles and updates, you will know the concern that comes with article length in particular. Sometimes, all you need is one paragraph to tell a story. The problem with this is that Google could label it as ‘thin content’ which negatively affects SEO. Well, now it seems as though length isn’t everything.
Does length matter? Recently, John Mueller from Google sat down to do a Google Search Central SEO hangout and took questions from people in the field. In this, he covered some valuable information regarding news content and short articles.
In the last couple of minutes of the hangout, Mueller took a question from somebody who runs a news website. Essentially, like many others, they were afraid of indexing short content because they didn’t want it to be considered thin content. They were stuck between ‘noindex’ tagging and indexing but suffering at the hands of the Google algorithm.
At this point, we should state that this is a genuine concern for business owners and content creators around the world. Look online and you’ll see plenty of stories of Google devaluing content just because it’s too short. The Panda update from Google even had a specific goal to stop thin content from rising to the top of search results because it was assumed to lack value for the audience.
Should you put a noindex tag on all short content? Even if you’re not a news website, you might decide that you want to publish an article of only a couple of paragraphs. Therefore, this applies to businesses of all sizes.
In response to the question, John Mueller stated that noindex tags are unnecessary in this situation. Interestingly, Mueller then said something that will reassure content creators across the country. He said:
‘We don’t care about the length of articles’
For so long, many websites have steered clear of short articles because they thought it would harm their SEO prospects. Now, somebody from Google is telling us that length doesn’t matter.
Mueller remembers a problem with Google News and the Search Console. In the initial stages of the platform, he said that some news articles were categorized as too long or too short. However, even if this is still the case, he says that there’s an option to block it from Google News using the Googlebot news meta tag. This way, it keeps the article from Google News while still allowing it in search as normal.
With this, Mueller has ended the debate that short content is automatically considered and categorized as thin content. Just because you produce a short article, doesn’t mean that Google classes it as ‘thin’ content with no other checks. Instead, thin content is based on quality and various other factors.
What does this mean? Well, long content is just as likely to be assessed as thin content. If a page has 3,000 words of spam and poor-quality content, this could be categorized as thin content. In fact, an article of 200 words could be deemed to contribute more to the internet than 3,000 words. If the content doesn’t contribute to the web and provide quality for the reader, Google will deem it as thin content (regardless of the length!).
One form of bad content is duplicated content. If you’ve taken content from elsewhere on the internet, don’t expect good performance because it will probably go down as thin content. Furthermore, this is also true of content that’s scraped from other websites. Either way, Google will recognize if you’re not adding anything new of value to the internet.
If you’re contributing something new to the internet, you don’t need to worry about length at all. As far as news articles go, length isn’t important if the news you’re reporting is something unavailable on all other news websites.
Mueller also suggested that short content is perfectly acceptable if it answers the questions and queries of users. People often forget the motivation of Google and the algorithm, but it’s actually very simple. Ultimately, Google wants to achieve one thing from the search feature - to provide the most relevant result to the person searching.
As a Google user yourself, what happens when you get the right result immediately? You’re more likely to return to the platform when you have another query. Google is the best search engine at providing relevant results and this is why it has around 92% of the search engine market share. The more correct results it provides, the more likely these people are to keep returning time and time again.
Therefore, the Google algorithm isn’t designed to show favoritism towards one platform over another. It doesn’t consider names or opinions - it simply wants to get the right web pages in front of the right people. Sometimes, the most relevant answer for a query is actually a short article. Users get the answer they need within seconds and Google has accommodated another positive experience - another user walks away happy.
With this in mind, you shouldn’t be afraid of producing short content if it answers an important question in your niche or if you’re reporting news that hasn’t been reported elsewhere. Google answers queries with the most relevant web page rather than the longest one.
This is a fantastic lesson for news websites because it no longer means they should be afraid to create short content for fear of it being listed as thin content. If you want to shine on Google’s search engine this year, here are some bonus tips!
As a news website, it’s sad to think that most of your content will be irrelevant within one week or so. Most articles are time-dependent and have a lifespan of sometimes just 24 hours. As soon as this period ends, the news is…well, no longer news. The world has moved onto the next thing and it’s this fast-paced working environment that some people love, and others hate.
From an SEO perspective, it means that spikes in traffic and engagement can sometimes only last a few hours. Depending on the stories that resonate at any given moment, you could go days without serious traffic, which is why we recommend creating evergreen content to supplement the news content.
For those without experience in this area, evergreen content refers to content that generates constant traffic over time. In other words, content that interests readers in one year just as much as it does today. With evergreen content, traffic is more consistent and reliable over time.
Popular news websites can add upwards of 20 new pages to the website every day. Consequently, the site’s architecture can get rather messy when not maintained properly. There are two reasons why this is important:
Start by using tags and categories - these should help visitors find news stories regarding specific topics. At the same time, make sure that no visitor has to click eight times just to reach a destination. You want to find the balance between a website that’s shallow yet easy to navigate and crawl.
Finally, nobody wants to click on a news website that hasn’t been optimized for mobile devices. People like to update themselves with the news while commuting, sitting in waiting rooms, and first thing in the morning (and last thing at night) while in bed. If your website doesn’t accommodate mobile visitors, you’re missing out on a huge chunk of people (not even the world’s best evergreen content can save you!).
Mobile usability all starts with a responsive website design. In other words, a design that responds according to the device of the person loading the site. Responsive websites optimize all pages for mobiles, tablets, and other devices. You should also consider page loading speed, navigation, AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages), the number of images and videos on pages, and more.
There we have it, length doesn’t matter. As long as you’re adding value, Google doesn’t punish news websites for short content!