Are the pages you consider ‘low quality’ really low quality? Google may differ. Find out why, and what your options are.
What really is a low-quality page?
A lot of us think we know: they’re thin pages that don’t deliver much ‘value.’
And for the most part, that’s correct.
But, in a recent webmaster-oriented video published on Google’s Search Central YouTube channel, titled English Google SEO office-hours from August 20, 2021, John Mueller added more complexity to the notion of low-quality pages.
Early in the video, at the ~35-second mark, a participant spoke of his site and eventually posed a question.
Basically, his site has a mixture of pages of different lengths, but the emphasis was on the thinner pages. The value from these thinner pages are from embedded videos, pictures, and very little original thought content.
Over time, those thinner pages became the majority of the indexed pages, but only a third of those pages were getting search traffic.
The participant mentioned the possibility of de-indexing the thin pages that don’t get much traffic (in order to improve quality score), but he was also considering using canonicalization to try to achieve the same aim.
And, that was his question: “I was curious how Google would treat that [canonicalizing pages] from a quality score perspective.”
John’s response was, “So, we don’t really have a quality score, in that sense.”
Let’s look further.
He followed that up with “I think that’s something that comes from the ad side.” (I think he was referring to paid advertising.)
A Few Things to Consider
One thing John mentioned was, “I would consider taking some action if you feel that these pages are low quality.”
John also went on to list a few possibilities: removing those pages, improving them, combining them, or anything along those lines. (I’d say that if you remove any pages, you may want to consider de-indexing them, so that Google doesn’t have an effective 404 in it’s index.)
He also said, “If these are pages that just tend to not get a lot of traffic but they’re actually useful on their own, then I wouldn’t necessarily see them as low quality.”
That’s very interesting. We usually think that low-content, thin pages that don’t get a lot of traffic are low-quality, but from what Muller says, that’s not necessarily the case.
And, he went on to reiterate that point: “On some websites, pages that get low traffic are often…kind of…correlated to low quality as well, but that doesn’t have to be the case. On other websites, it might just be that, well…a lot of traffic goes to the head pages, and the tail pages are just as useful, but they’re useful for a much smaller audience, so they get barely any traffic, and, from our point of view, those websites are still useful, and it’s still high-quality content. I wouldn’t remove it just because it doesn’t get traffic.”
Mueller did mention that he’s asked the search quality teams about this, their response is usually to just improve the quality of your pages, but, for a site that has thousands of such pages indexed, that can be hard to do in such large numbers.
4 Options: To Remove, De-Index, Canonicalize, or Combine?
Really, I think that the above options are really variations of 2 real options: removing or combining.
You can remove those pages you think may be low quality, in which case, you should probably de-index them.
You can also de-index them, but keep them up.
Canonicalization is the option I’d probably least advise, unless you were going to move content from page B (a thin page) and combine it with content on page A, and canonicalize B to A. (You can read about canonicalization here.)
Finally, combining may be an option. That’s where you move content from B to A, but what makes this different from canonicalization is that you do a 301 redirect from B to A.
So, those are the options that I see are viable for resolving most perceived low-quality content issues.