Thinking of dropping 100,000 new pages onto your 20,000-page site? Think again, as this may be a horrible idea. Many times, publishers will rapidly expand their site size in order to chase search volume from the long tail of search. Note that for purposes of this article, we will initially assume that the addition of such a large number of pages means that they are a bit thin on unique content.
One of the ways that this can happen is when a publisher gets rights to promote a large new catalogue of products, and posts them to the web all at once. Or a publisher suddenly starts promoting their product or service by creating related pages for every city and town in the United States. These are scenarios where is it hard to add lots of new unique content.
Google used to take sites that experienced such rapid growth and throw them into a sandbox. The basic logic was that sites that grew with sudden rapidity were worth a closer examination. I am not sure if this is still true today, but we have run some tests with sites lately that suggest that this may be less of a factor than it used to be (i.e. tests where we tripled the number of pages on a site to see if it took a step back in traffic as a result of being sandboxed) and there was no apparent problem.
In any event, this phenomenon of throttling sites based on rate of page growth is not my immediate concern. You should not ignore is as a possible factor, but here are some other factors you may want to consider.
1. The user experience on these pages will probably be poor. Let’s face it, if you are adding even thousands of pages at once you have to ask yourself what is the benefit the user will get from these pages. Clearly, there is a challenge of making all these pages engaging and valuable to users.
There are ways to potentially work around this challenge, and we will talk about that a bit later in this column. But, the bottom line is that if you push out a bunch of pages where the user experience is poor, then your users suffer, and you will have the problems identified in the next two points.
2. The pages probably won’t attract links. People who read my writings know that I say that publishers link to other web sites (when they are not compensated) because they believe the other site has something of value to offer to their visitors. If you don’t offer a good user experience, then you aren’t going to get those links.
Bear in mind that one of the fundamental ways that search engines evaluate the quality of a site’s content is based on the number of links that the content gets. This is true even in a subsection of a web site. If your block of new content has been out there for many months and has no links directly to at least some part of that block … uh oh.
3. The search engines are not likely to like these pages from a content analysis point of view either. Search engines want to see pages that have some unique content on them. You don’t want search engines to conclude that you just uploaded a large number of crappy pages to the web.
Search engines don’t like low quality pages any more than your users do. Of course, most sites probably have a few crappy pages. Where it really becomes problematic though is if you have more crappy pages than good ones (or worse still, if you have FAR more crappy pages than good ones).
While I have no direct evidence that search engines maintain a formal quality score for web sites related to organic search, it is quite possible that they do so. After all, they are trying to offer their users the best possible experience.
There are a few things you can to minimize your risks when rapidly expanding site size:
1. Roll those pages out a bit more slowly. This will give you more time to beef them up a bit.
2. Enlist some part-time writers (like stay-at-home workers) to produce large quantities of content for you at low cost.
3. Find a way to leverage machine-generated content. This one is a bit tricky because it is easy to do this badly, but here is the bottom line – if you can generate a large number of pages using machine-generated content, and these pages provide real and material value to users – yep, you are all set.
Ultimately, exercise some care. Don’t just throw up a bunch of new pages in the search for long tail search traffic. Devise a strategy that will lead to pages that have something to offer users and you will serve the chase for long tail traffic much better that way anyway.