How to Avoid Contributing to Content Bloat

I have a serious problem with words. I use too many of them and I would rather structure elaborate sentences than write clean and simple ones. I’d rather read sentences like that, too, but I’ve been called “overly wordy” enough in my career that I recognize the truth in that. In working on a presentation for a recent marketing conference, I definitely struggled with my slides. I always put too much information on them. I ended up with more than 80 for a 30-minute talk, for example. It’s too much, but condensing it was too difficult. Know what the saddest part about all that is? My main point to make was that my methods are very simple.

That didn’t take 80-plus slides to say! (Well, it almost did actually.) When I rehearsed the presentation out loud I realized that several of my slides were mostly duplicates of others. That’s definitely content bloat!

What Is Content Bloat?

When you visit a site and they have one writer churning out 10 meaningless posts a day? That’s content bloat. It’s having 10 different versions of the services offered. It’s an attempt to capture traffic by covering every possible base or simply keep up with everyone else who constantly cranks out content. It’s what some of us did back in 2002, quite successfully I might add, but it’s what can really mess you up today. The most recent offenders that I’ve seen have been bloating their sites with pages for every city where they operate. If you have 100 offices in 100 different cities in New York but they all do the exact same thing, you don’t really need 100 pages, do you? You don’t need pages entitled “DIY Auto Fixes,” “DIY Car Fixes,” “DIY Automobile Fixes,” and “DIY Vehicle Fixes.” Creating those is bad enough, but why would you want to maintain all those extra pages?

Why Is Content Bloat a Problem?

Remember Panda? Outside of getting hit by it, there’s the problem of confusing users. Should I click on the link for Recovering Old Pillows, How to Recover Old Pillows, or Pillows Recovered? Also speaking as a marketer, it’s pretty obvious that the only reason for having all this bloat is to cast the widest net possible and I have seen enough damage from doing that that it just really turns me off. Not only would I not link to a site like that, I wouldn’t return to it.

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What Can I Do About Existing Bloat?

Look at your pages that never get traffic. Look at your pages that have no inbound links. Are you giving that same information somewhere else on the site? If so, kill the pages. If not, figure out why nothing good is happening with them. Maybe you aren’t linking to them properly internally, or maybe no one’s visiting them or linking to them because they’re superfluous. There are some great guides available for how to do a really intensive content audit so go read one and evaluate your content. Everett Sizemore has a particularly good one that’s well worth checking out.

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How Can I Prevent Future Bloat?

Learn from your existing content and how it performs. If no one responded well to your last article, ask yourself why that is and don’t replicate the mistakes. If you wrote five articles and two did very well but the other three got no attention, that’s telling you that those three simply did not give your users what they wanted, so don’t offend them further by doing more like that. Look at the two and use those to model your next pieces. I recently wrote an article that did well socially but inspired two commenters to complain that I was not saying anything new, so I had to look at that and learn from it. (Also my best tip? Don’t just write to get something out there. Write because you have something worthwhile to say.)

Pay attention to the analytics of whatever social platforms you’re pushing content on. Look at likes, tweets, comments. Try and correlate responses to everything from topic to length of content. Maybe you wrote a post on X topic two weeks ago and it did amazingly well, then you decided to write a bit more about it yesterday and it’s gone nowhere because you said everything that needed to be said two weeks ago.

Ask your users! You know I love surveys and SurveyMonkey has some great free options, so ask your users what they’d like to see more and less of when it comes to your site. Feedback from someone else is invaluable. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve just participated in a conference where the organizer spent a lot of time talking to each of us, going through our slides, and making sure that what we would be presenting would be right for his audience. As a result, there weren’t four presentations all saying the same thing.

Why Does This Matter for Link-Building?

Recently I was trying to figure out which page my client was referring to when we were talking. When I did a search for the client’s URL and the keyword, I saw three pages come up that were nearly identical. They had very similar titles and were just bloated versions of what could have been just one page. It was the kind of nonsense that I did as an SEO back in 2002 when I didn’t know any better. Why split up potentially great link power into three pages when you could have it all funnel into one page? One page with 10 great links is going to perform better than three pages with three great links. It’s also less risky for Panda-related problems. Many of the sites that I do link audits on are also at serious risk of being hit by Panda but a link penalty hit them first. No one wants to link to a bloated site. If you do get hit by Panda and you aren’t ranking, you’re losing your chance of being found in the SERPs and then being linked to also.

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I’ve personally audited several sites that suddenly lost their rankings and assumed it was due to bad links but what I found was massive content bloat and Panda issues. (It’s not always links remember!) Link problems are not all due to Penguin either of course (not that a lot of non-SEO people understand this quite yet.) It’s certainly not a stretch to imagine the high volume of sites that had bad SEO advice (or none) and constructed both tons of thin/duplicate content pages AND used spammy link techniques.

Glenn Gabe did an amazing analysis of what tactics were being punished by Panda and as far as links go, here’s what he had to say:

“You need to be very careful with the quality of supplementary content and the amount of that content included on your website. Many users don’t know where that content will take them, and they are inherently trusting that clicking those links will be OK. But in reality, some of those links lead to ultra-low-quality pages. I’ve come across many examples of heavy sales landing pages, irrelevant content (based on the original article being viewed), and even some sites with malware and risky downloads.”

So as you can see, content bloat is also horrible for users and trust. How on earth are they expected to find the one source they’re seeking? Users don’t want to have to click 15 times to find the right page. If I need to cite a source and I visit an authority site, if I can’t find what I need within a few clicks or I have to search and wade through 20 pages that all say the same thing, I’m moving on. I’m not the only impatient person out there either. If I have to search that hard to find what I want and I can’t do it? Well you’ve just lost your link.

Just remember: Linkable sites are sites with good usability because they are designed with humans, not bots, as the focus point.

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