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Should your law firm’s web content be shorter?

typewriter The term “thin content” became a buzzword in the SEO industry two years ago, when Google's Panda update started pounding websites that contained useless content. In definitions, "thin content" is often connected with short page length or low word count. But Google's Webmaster Tools Help simply defines it as content that provides “little to no added value.”

The examples provided by Google include:

  • Automatically generated content: This is content that is built by bots. Usually, this type of content is created by uploading someone else's content into a synonym-based content generator. The result is usually nonsensical, but unique as far as plagiarism is concerned. For the sake of your user's experience, this should never happen on your law firm's website.
  • Thin affiliate pages: Fortunately, this type of content is not common on attorneys' websites. Affiliate pages generally offer low-quality content with the sole intention of getting someone to click on a link to purchase a product.
  • Content from other sources: On this third point, we are hitting a problem that applies to law firms regularly. You may have thought it was a great idea to copy city ordinances, state and federal laws, and other content that relates to your practice areas to your site. This is duplicate content – whether you have a legal right to use it or not – and it will damage your Google rankings.
  • Doorway pages: These pages exists solely to attract search engines, and they provide “little to no added value” for your website's visitors.

Not one of the examples mentions word count. The intent of the Panda update was not to encourage content bloat and ask writers to fill up the internet with more text; it was to encourage better content.

Length does not necessarily create better rankings. For example, consider the strong positions of many frequently asked questions in search results.

For the long tailed keyphrase, “How long will a commercial vehicle accident lawsuit take?” the first-ranked website is that of The Lietz Law Firm.

The Lietz Law Firm FAQ has 280 words. The second-ranked website is an article on that consists of 798 words.

On the surface, it seems like a large, established resource like should get the higher position. It's a bigger site and has a longer article. But Google doesn't just measure the length of the page or even time spent on a site.

Stephen Kenwright's recent article on Search Engine Watch explains the "time to long click” metric used by Google as “Literally – how long a user spends with a website after leaving Google’s search engine results page." But that timing is not the full picture, or even the priority. Kenwright explains, "What the search engine is most interested in is what the user does next: does she go back to Google and click on another result? … Or does that user perform a new search entirely – something unrelated to the original query?”

By this definition, Google has watched people search for keyphrases like, “How long will a commercial vehicle accident lawsuit take?” Perhaps users lost patience with the more in-depth article, whereas the more concise Lietz Law Firm FAQ answered their question and did not result in a need for a new search.

So stop focusing on bounce rate and page length. A longer time onsite and a lower bounce rate does not necessarily mean that Google will reward your content. Focus on value, not length. If your content can get people the answer they want in a short amount of time, it will help you compete against much larger websites.