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|Is Panda all about Exit Rate?|
Commercially, what I am about to do may not be the most sensible thing, but I feel itís right and I want to share what I have discovered about Panda. It may help you understand more about quality and how to escape Panda.
Please note, I have not escaped from Panda yet Ė I came to these conclusions on June 22nd 2012 and began addressing my issues based on a new understanding of how Panda works. This theory could develop and I could end up with egg on my face massively, but it makes more sense than anything Iíve ever read anywhere before. Here goes............(apologies for the long post in advance).
Since Panda hit my ecommerce site in April 2011 Iíve been trying to improve the quality of my site using Amit Singhalís guidelines as a basis but completely without success.
I always imagined that Panda was a magical formula Google concocted using their human guinea pigs when they sat them down and asked all those questions relating to quality, and that ĎPandaí is Google crawling your site looking for the signs of low quality. Itís not.
Last week my attention was drawn to a statistic in Google Analytics that for some reason Iíd never noticed before Ė Exit Rate. Thatís when it dawned on me Ė Panda is all about user metrics, they canít Ďseeí your site, they donít crawl it using a magical formula, they collect signals given off by humans as they use your site to tell them where the bad quality is. If you have too much of it, they demote the rankings of the pages with bad content and any pages that link closely to those pages to protect Googlers from hitting your bad content (what we know as Panda).
I compared pages on my site with very high exit rates to those with very low exit rates and immediately it struck me how much better the pages with low exit rates were. It also struck me how many different reasons there were for the high exit rate pages being worse (in many cases it was just a bad product that rarely or never sold, or the price was too high, the description was poor, the image as poor, etc.). The low exit rate pages were our top sellers, good products, good descriptions, nothing bad to say about the product or the content or presentation of the page.
Then I realised this is where Google started. They wondered about Exit Rate, sat people down, asked them to compare web pages, asked them why they liked or didnít like a page, and found that Exit Rate correlated with human feedback. Itís obvious really Ė people leave your site because theyíve either done what they came there to do or something put them off. This is the ultimate test of quality.
Google doesnít need to Ďseeí your pages, it just looks at where people leave your site, maybe what they did before leaving your site (how long they were there, how many pages visited, etc.) and if your site has a high proportion of pages with a high exit rate, your users probably donít like the quality of those pages.
Of course, people have to leave your site at some point, and that may be because theyíve found what they want, so there has to be an allowance for that. And there may be a different model for different types of sites. But I found, when I looked at my high exit rate pages, in most cases it was obvious why people didnít like them. In the case of our product pages, the high exit rate pages were generally non-sellers, cluttering up the site and, as I now realise, turning off customers.
To try to disprove my theory I started reading back through Amit Singhals guidelines and it all made sense (as I knew it would one day!). I also looked back at various discussions about Panda, things that people did to recover from Panda, and it explained everything.
Itís beautifully simple and it deals with a huge range of Googleís problems in one hit. Users naturally react differently to webspam, duplicate content, scraped content (or original content if itís been scraped), brands. Sites with a high proportion of high exit rate pages tell Google all they need to know about the quality of your site, from a web userís perspective (which takes into account an unfathomable range of considerations that even Google have struggled to document - what Google needed to say is what Iím saying now, look at your exit rates!).
This theory explains so many of the things weíve all noticed about Panda, how it works, itsí effects on Googleís results and our sites. Hereís a few......
Why canít they run Panda more regularly?
They need a monthís worth of user metrics to be able to make a judgement about your site.
How did I recover from Panda without changing anything?
Scrapers can hurt your exit rate. So can competitors. If you have content people have seen elsewhere it affects their perception of your site. If Google got rid of your scrapers, your user metrics would improve without doing anything. The user metrics of your site are affected by whatís happening on other sites so even a new competitor doing something similar to you can affect your user metrics.
Why are brands dominating the results?
Itís not brands that are dominating the results, itís websites people like and trust that are dominating. Not every brand will always be loved and trusted, and their user metrics will reflect those changes. But generally people trust what they know so sites people like (letís create a new term to replace brands Ė SPL, sites people like) can have bad pages but people wonít leave their site just because of it, so their user metrics are better. You could set up an identical site with your name at the top, the Ďqualityí of the content would be identical, but the user metrics would be much worse.
Why did Google suggest merging pages?
Iím guessing user metrics show that users donít like seeing several similar pages on your site, in the same way they donít like seeing similar content on numerous sites.
Do images or photos help improve quality?
Not necessarily. Every page on the web can produce a different response from users. The only way to know is to experiment, check your exit rates, repeat until exit rate is low.
Should I add more content to my site?
See ďDo images or photos help improve qualityĒ.
Can I escape Panda by improving my brand signals?
If you mean getting backlinks with your website name in them, no. That does not make you a brand. Google doesnít actually care if youíre a brand or not, it just knows that people react better to SPLís (sites people like). User metrics prove it.
Can I escape Panda by getting better quality links?
No. Users canít see your links, links make no difference to how users perceive your site alongside the rest of the web. In my experience, while demoted by Panda, links wonít get you anywhere. Once you get out of Panda though......well, hold onto your hat.
Why does moving content to subdomains work for some people?
If you correctly identify, fix or remove bad content from your site (using Exit Rate as a guide) you will be left with only good content. It doesnít matter how you do it, what matters is that you get your exit rates down.
Will no-indexing or blocking robots from pages of bad content help?
No. If a user can see it, Google has user metrics on it. This is not about googlebot, itís about your users.
I could go on, but you get the point. User metrics tell Google everything they need to know about how real human beings perceive your site in context with other sites they may have come across. It really is as simple and as complex as that.
What I donít know is where the threshold is and Iím guessing it may be different for different types of sites (information versus ecommerce for example) and there will be other factors combined with it but, put simply, I think Exit Rate is the place to start looking if you want to find and fix your bad content issues. It really opened my eyes. (Note: I think bounce rate impacts exit rate, I might be wrong on that Ė removing bounce rate from the Exit Rate calculation may give you a truer reflection on how people react with your content as they move around it).
I suspect that some sites may not able to get below it if they are basically set up with spammy intent (you see how effective this simple method is) but for many of us, understanding that exit rate tells you where you bad content may be, could be the answer to your prayers.
I hope Iím right, or at least on the right tracks. If I am, itís time to end the Panda woe and improve our website KNOWING what quality content really is. Maybe a discussion here will help test the theory and perhaps help us gain an even greater understanding.
I hope this helps you and me escape Panda, I truly do.
There are also queries like "Who won the battle of Waterloo?" which are going to lead to a lot of 2 second visits whether visitors like what they find or not. It only takes a second to get the answer and then leave happy.
I'm thinking Panda must work differently for different types of queries. If a query like the above can be answered in just a few seconds, then bounce rate is useless for determining how well the site addressed it. In fact, it could even be misleading. A site that doesn't answer the question well, but keeps a user thinking it might, could retain a user for a while before they realize they're wasting their time. Hmm, that might explain why Yahoo Answers (from an army of uninformed dolts typing whatever comes into their heads) ranks well - because no one can find a decent answer there!
If Google is really using it, it should be called "Return Rate", not "Exit Rate". It's been tracked in google.com, outside G. Analytics. Exit is not allways to SERP, so if G is not using Analytics, exits can't be tracked.
So, how can we describe the phenomenon from that perspective? what can be measured / tracked?
User views a SERP and clicks any url, then:
a) it returns to SERP - G. tracks it
b) it return to SERP and clicks over the red link "ban this domain...", G. tracks them
b) it never returns - nothing to do
c) user clicks another url, start over again.
ŅAre you thinking they can use other products data? Like toolbars, Adsense, +1 widgets? Policies let them do that? I'm guessing they shouldn't, but I'm not sure.
Thanks @claaarky et al. for the insights, great post.
|My most popular pages have very high exit rates BE CAUSE they got what they looked for, time on page 5-10sec be cause its image related, another site it could be a download,.... not all sites have or need a lot of text |
I essentially agree.
It baffles me, as one example, why I would go to a "How To" site where I can tell within seconds it has my answers, why I would study the screen for any length of time. I wouldn't be making notes unless I'm retarded.
I either save the page to a folder or, print it out or, do both. I'm rarely disappointed.
[DISCLAIMER] Excepting for the rubbish results I've been getting in recent months. I suspect I now know why. The result I desire is buried on page 101.
I do this quite a lot of searching like this and I'm usually "in and out" in well under 90 seconds. High BR and High exit rate, to me in this instance, is a total nonsense.
It might well be the highest authority site on that topic on the internet. Now it's probably buried on page 101.
An own goal Google.
I realise the high exit rate concept may only apply to ecommerce sites, but whatever type of site you have, I think if you look at the PROPORTION of the pages people visited with high and low exit rates (low I would say is under 30%) there will be a pattern.
If you have an ecommerce site and 30% of your pages have an exit rate of 80% and those pages are product pages, you have a quality problem.
I'm literally working through this now on our site, keeping in mind Amit Singhals Guidelines and I am amazed at how many of the guidelines suddenly make sense when I look at my high exit rate product pages (similar products, rubbish products, badly decribed products, overpriced products, products that don't sell.....they ALL have higher exit rates). People don't like these pages and they leave the site, having been elsewhere on the site beforehand.
Some cases are proving to be not so clear, but when I also look at Average Time On Page, Unique Page Views and Entrances whilst physically looking at the page, I get it.
There must be a pattern for other types of sites. It's all about the proportions. If you have a large proportion of pages showing statistics you would not expect for those types of pages, I think that's why you have a Panda problem.
Great post claaarky, I thought I'd put your theory to the test in the most simple of ways and it appears you are right, my friend.
- Visit analytics
- Navigate to content/sitecontent/exit pages
- Sort the exit percentage column so pages with 100% are up top
- Scroll down and look for thresholds
ALL of my 100% exit pages had few visitors from search. As I scrolled I noticed a jump in traffic at the 99.9% mark, a major jump at the 66.67% mark and another at 50%.
My best pages hover between 50% and 66.66% exit rate. I find it high but analytics says its my sweet spot. I do have many(yikes!) pages with 100% exit rate but I also have many with sub 10% rates as well.
My wife says I'm always right but she didn't think I would be clever enough to figure this out. Some credit has to go to my SEO, he pointed out exit rate to me, I'd never looked at it before and everything just suddenly fell into place.
Wish he'd pointed it out to me 8 months ago though.
Non e-commerce, website promotes a service and contains much additional content such as articles and directories to help people interested in the field. Website size is 223 pages.
33% of my pages have an exit rate of less than 30%, many down amongst the 5 - 6% area;
58% of my pages have an exit rate of less than 50%.
My homepage has an exit rate of 35%.
Many of my pages will naturally have a high exit rate due to their nature as they are articles that address specific issues or are directory pages that lead to other sites offering related and complimentary products and services.
I don't think those percentages look particularly sick, but my traffic is only 25% of what it was at the end of last year.
In analytics if you compare two periods you will notice that they give the variance % in green if it is an improvement or red if it is worse than the earlier period.
If bounce rate changes from 50% - 60% the variance is shown in red, a 'bad thing'. But if exit rate changes from 50% - 60% it is shown in green as if its a 'good thing'. Go figure.
IMO just because high exit rate seems aligned with panda effects in some circumstances doesn't imply a direct cause-effect relationship, it is just as likely both are symptoms of the underlying 'problem' with the site: improve the general quality of the site and exit rate should fall, and panda 'penalty' should be removed.
If I recall claarky hasn't recovered? I had the same surge of confidence at one time when I thought it was over lapping content. That because all the other Amit signals didn't apply to me. I scoured through my site with the find function in Dreamweaver looking for multiple instances of major keywords or phrases and did discover a dozen pages that could have been problematic. No effect.
I've thought off and on that it's probably a Google problem. My site deals primarily with the installation of widgets. That in itself is overlapping, but no way can I avoid it. Why? Because there are many types widgets and the installation methods vary.
Thanks for the insight claarky. It proved to be a glimmer of hope, but I think this whole Panda thing is beyond my control unless I condense the heck out of the site. However that would make it extremely difficult for anyone looking for information and it would look downright fugly.
LostOne, that's right I haven't recovered, I'm literally fixing my site this week based on this new understanding (and I expect the 30% of my site that I'm seeing as the problem to be sorted by the end of the week - most of it's going which is quick to do).
Then I'll keep improving while I wait for the next Panda update (apparently there was one yesterday - damn!). Should give me a better chance at the next one though.
I realise I will look pretty silly if I never recover, but if you could see what I'm seeing as I go through this process and look at my site you would be as 100% confident that this is the way to go as I am.
For the last 14 months I've been wasting my time, I can see that now. I'm literally looking at a product description right now, written by our content people (to address Panda) and it's overly wordy, doesn't describe the product very well....plus there's a customer review, put on the site unedited. It looks terrible. I've just rewritten the description and tidied up the review - the page looks quality now. Exit rate is 76% (bounce rate is 90% - net exit rate from internal visitors of 37%). I fully expect that to improve after my changes. Most are even more obvious than this!
Perhaps I should have waited until I'd seen if it got me out of Panda, but I think there's something in it and it may help to discuss the idea. As I do more work on my site I can see all the knock on effects of my bad content (home page linking to some high exit rate products, footer links to high exit rate pages, etc.). Seeing the interconnectivity of the bad stuff to the good stuff I can completely see why I have a sitewide Panda demotion.
The chrome browser can measure user satisfaction in many ways. Here are some examples:
-- Visitor slowly scrolls down the page at a typical reading speed.
-- Visitor bookmarks a page as a favorite.
-- Visitor saves a copy of the page to disk.
-- Visitor prints out a copy of the page.
-- Visitor clicks an external exit link near the bottom of the page.
-- Visitor returns to the page later.
-- Visitor explores other pages on the same site.
In one of my niche areas, out of the top 5 sites I am the tech. adman. for 3 and know the other two. The owner of the new #1 site, a 5 page very low scraped content site, has been repeatedly clicking for hours on end on his site for months. Started before googles algo change. Now that its number one he has his mother, brothers, sisters, and the whole fire department doing the same every day.
Which seems to contradict the exit theory.
Mt theory is google floated all the s*** to the top.
aristotle - does Chrome actually send that sort of info to google - I always wondered about this.
So there may be some sort of regression analysis involved here, and exit rate could be a strong factor in the equation, along with other such items as time on page, and of course industry (search term) averages. From here the Panda penalty is derived.
Well now wait a minute.
I'm not looking at my top ecommerce site at the moment because it's being upgraded.
But looking at one of my own sites, which is not ecommerce - there's a *path* to get to what user wants, and once he gets there (in this case, the information about an event) he usually flies off. So I see exit rates along this path, starting with the home page, of lower than 20%, and once it hits the end of the line, it jumps to 81%.
But that should be normal. And that page with the 81% exit rate is probably the third most popular page on the site, and the second highest ranking. It's also one of the most shared pages on the site.
And to lesser degrees, I have thousands of pages like this. It's just the nature of the site.
So maybe I'm not quite understanding this.
|aristotle - does Chrome actually send that sort of info to google - I always wondered about this |
I think so. In fact, I once read somewhere that the main reason Google created the Chrome browser was to be able to collect data on user behavior.
|Visitor slowly scrolls down the page at a typical reading speed. |
This one presents somewhat of a problem for me. Our site has been designed to reduce the amount of scrolling required. We are an unrecovered Panda 1.0 site. Prior to Panda, much more scrolling was needed. Part of our Panda work was to drastically clean up our categorization to help improve quality. This eliminated the need to scroll so far down a page to view information and provides a better user experience. It's also much better for our tablet and mobile device users not to scroll. So by eliminating much of the need to scroll, have I shot myself in the foot?
@netmeg - I think you just touched on something that makes this more clear for me.
What if it's a type of page that has a high exit rate when it isn't supposed to that is a factor for Panda?
I'll use my site structure (content site) as an example.
Homepage -> Categories -> Content
The content pages should have the highest exit rate. That's the meat of the site and what most people are there for.
The categories should have a much lower exit rate. They aren't the content that the visitor is there for - they should encourage the visitor to keep pursuing what they are looking for.
The homepage should have the lowest exit rate.
If google has categorized your pages (which I'm sure it has) it probably has also determined what sort of action the user should take on that page, whether it's following a link or exiting the site.
My site was hit by Panda on primarily the category pages. So now I'm off to see what percent of our category pages have a high exit rate. There may be something to this theory. I doubt it's the only factor, but I think it could shed some light on things at least for me since I knew even before Panda that my category pages needed improving.
I guess that Google is not measuring the quality of a page/site by the bounce rate.
As already said there are many examples of pages with high bounce rate but good content (e.g. searches for phone numbers, zip codes, lottery numbers). On the other hand clicking on more than one page on the same website doesn't mean that this is a high quality site, because it might be caused by the fact that the information is buried.
I guess that Google is measuring the quality by "the user is still searching on Google for the same phrase after leaving the website" rate (continue searching rate). (You can see that they pay attention to this point when you hit the "back" button and get "Block all www.example.com results".)
The reason why this method would prefer big brands is the following: People know what they get on these well-know websites. Therefore, people who dislike these results don't click on the search result. This leads to a lower continue searching rate (which indicates a better page/site) for well-know websites compared to an unknown websites.
Of course, just a theory.
Does Chrome track on-page user actions? Copying text/image, scrolling to the end of the page, switching back and forth with another app (like following a tutorial) etc.?
Edit: I forgot, +1 button does all the tracking, including mouse movements.
Google might be combining user's actions with bounce/exit rate to get a more representative number.
"What if it's a type of page that has a high exit rate when it isn't supposed to that is a factor for Panda?"
getcooking, welcome to the Panda escape committee!
That's what I've been saying. The exit rate is just the start of your investigations. Congratulations. You're nearly there.
I don't have Analytics, and I'm not sure what in my stats package would correspond to Exit Rate, but I do know this. My most popular entrance pages are also my most popular exit pages. But when I examine these pages to see where the exiting visitors come from, I often see absolutely nothing but StumbleUpon as that source of traffic.
This makes sense, because in SU's environment, clicking around on a site kind of takes you out of the "stumbling" loop. So instead I look at how many Stumblers subscribe to the site, and it's a decent number. They're planning to come back when they're not in the stumble loop.
What exactly does Exit Rate measure?
Because without understanding what brought the visitor to your site, it's not necessarily very helpful. It depends how sticky your site is meant to be.
There's another reason why sometimes your most popular entrance pages are your most popular exit pages, and that's because people are bouncing around your most popular pages (assuming you have these highlighted somewhere) and THEN leaving. They aren't actually exiting from the same page they landed on, and that makes a big difference to how I estimate their satisfaction. I figure that's a happy visitor.
So again, just how is Exit Rate determined? I think that's what I'm just not understanding here.
diberry, Exit Rate is the percentage of people who went to a certain page of your site and then left. In Analytics it incorporates bounce rate, which confuses things a bit, but you can extract that so you see just the stats for people who navigated to each page on your site from within your site.
Ok @claaarky, I think you might be my new hero.
When I first read about your theory I applied it to my site as a whole and it didn't really seem to show any clear indicators of being applicable, at least not to me.
But when I pulled out only our category pages (the type of page on my site that was demoted in Panda) and looked at things it became a bit clearer.
I have 3500 categories I'm working with so it's been hard for me to get a really good (easy) way to look at Google Analytics compared to some other internal data that I use to judge my own page quality. I exported just the categories from GA into my own database and cross referenced a few things that look at internally.
Sure enough, the high exit rates are a pretty good indicator of what my own internal data considers "shallow" content. It's not a 100% foolproof indicator, however. There are definitely some exceptions to the rule but the high correlation between the pages I already considered shallow and the exit rate are a pretty good indicator that I wasn't the only one considering those pages shallow!
Interestingly enough, a huge majority of the pages I had already noindexed had the highest exit rates. I still have more to noindex it looks like but now I'm thinking it might be why we had a 15% recovery in Panda 3.7. I noindexed a few more since 3.7 and we might have had up to a 5% recovery from yesterday's update (still waiting for the dust to settle).
I don't recommend to anyone just removing (noindexing, deleting, merging, etc) pages based on this data alone, however. I'm looking many, many factors on my site but the exit rate is very helpful now that I'm looking at it from a different standpoint. Users shouldn't be exiting from a category page. They should be exiting from a content page. If large amounts are exiting instead of clicking through to a content page then they aren't finding what they want. I'm also looking at what internal pages link to those underperforming pages (maybe they aren't linked internally in the best way), the number of external entrances to that page, % visits from search vs total traffic to page, etc.
Okay, then what I said definitely applies. A high exit rate combined with a high bounce rate would indicate a problem in many cases, but it definitely depends what the searcher was looking for.
And yet, this might explain why the SERPs are so uneven right now. Bad sites could rank if people bounce around them a while if it's not immediately obvious they're not going to find what they were looking for. Good sites could fail to rank because they're doing such a great job of addressing the query.
I think it might be safe to guess that Panda is (over)emphasizing this particular metric, but I don't think it's going to be uniformly helpful to everyone trying to figure out how to improve their site.
For what it's worth, though, I have several sites where the most popular entrance and exit pages are exactly the same pages, and I have other signals telling me the visitors do like what they read even though they left. I think none of these sites have been hit with Panda, or possibly one was but only very recently after Penguin pretty much trashed it.
|My site was hit by Panda on primarily the category pages. |
Also took a big hit on category pages.
|I don't think it's going to be uniformly helpful to everyone trying to figure out how to improve their site. |
I dont either, your not going to experience a dramatic drop, or rise in ranking due to "user metrics" like bounce or exit rates. Does Google use that in their all consuming efforts to figure out the perfect means to rank sites? Probably, but the question is to what degree. (say as opposed to your back link profile which still dominates why you end up where Google places you in the pecking order)
When I see a page with a high bounce rate, the only thing I think about are all those visitors that took off and will never convert for me. From there I try and recognize why people have so little interest in it and then work to improve it.
Bounce rate (and or exit rate I guess but i'm not convinced about that one) is more about monetization of visitors right now than ranking IMHO.
getcooking, glad you're seeing some sort of correlation. Like you say, there are some pages you expect a high proportion of your visitors to leave your site on......the trick is finding the ones you don't want people leaving from in their droves. That's where your problem is.
On the basis that Google is collecting Panda data via the browser for pages people actually visit on your site, noindexing won't make any difference (unless you've also made it impossible for people to navigate to those pages from within your site). I think any improvement in traffic you might see around a Panda update will only be attributable to removing bad content and/or improving the quality of some of your low quality pages.
I'm intrigued by the idea you think visitors 'should' be exiting from a content page. Don't you want visitors to look around your site more? Does your revenue depend on visitors clicking off the site? But even then couldn't you open the page in another window so your visitor has the opportunity to look around your site a bit more later?
What I'm finding about myself with this is that I had a complacent approach to my visitors and Google - I just thought my site couldn't perform any better and Google would continue to keep pumping people in and some of them would inevitably buy. What I'm realising now is that we had many low quality pages that weren't producing any revenue and were gradually grinding people down to the point where they left. I always had the mindset that it was better to keep ranking pages on my site to keep the traffic coming in. Now I see those pages are why Panda hit me. People were saying they don't like them and I wasn't listening (well, I didn't know where to look to discover that, now I do).
|Homepage -> Categories -> Content |
Only a small number of visitors to my site [pre-Panda] would follow that path. Usually they were people following links from other sites.
Thirty percent follow links from other sites to very specific pages and fifty percent go to specific pages via SE's, the balance are returning visitors and the others people following links up above.
Ninety percent of my visitors go directly to:
How to design widgets
How to build widgets
How to fix blue widgets
How to paint blue widgets
How to fix green widgets
How to paint green widgets
|I don't recommend to anyone just removing (noindexing, deleting, merging, etc) pages based on this data alone, however. I'm looking many, many factors on my site but the exit rate is very helpful now that I'm looking at it from a different standpoint. |
Very wise advice. Just as looking at keyword density can help a webmaster but is not directly in the algorithm, so it may well be with Exit Rate. With regard to removing pages, here is what John Mueller said in the Google Groups Forum, right after the original Panda release:
|Completely remove all pages that you absolutely don't want anymore. Let them return 404 (and make a great 404 page so that your users can get to where they were headed, or find something related). |
If you have products that you can merge, then use a 301 redirect from the alternate versions. If you can't use a 301 redirect, use the rel=canonical link element...
If you have entries that you want to rewrite, then using a noindex meta tag sounds like a good solution. I'd keep the URLs in the Sitemap file (you want Google to recrawl them so that the noindex meta tag is seen) and make sure that they're not disallowed by the robots.txt file.
Now - how to apply that to category pages, eh? Many times, the site navigation absolutely leans on category pages. At the same time, in and of themselves, category pages can't carry a lot of weight. However, if they are well designed, I can't see their Exit Rate being all that high.
|Now - how to apply that to category pages, eh? |
You are right, for some sites (like mine) category pages are a necessity. They need to be there in order to organize the content so users who are browsing the site can find the goodies. But they too can be an authority and get traffic if you design them right. Our category pages used to be (pre-Panda 1.0) our highest site entrance pages. They ranked well despite not really having content on them other than links with some minor text to the content pages. Some had more text than others, and those were hit less severely. (we still compete very well with a few of them - against some mighty competitors too for some very high traffic terms)
Post-Panda they need to offer something more though. Not just "more", but more than other similar sites offer. I've had to think creatively in this regard and what I've been doing so far has helped (what that particular thing is will vary by site). The category pages need to present the information to the user so they a) know they are in the right place (if they entered from a SE), and b) want to click on one of the content (or product -for ecommerce) links. My hardest hit category pages had large bounce and exit rates, and not coincidently very little to offer the user. (also fyi - our content pages were never hit by Panda, they lost only collateral traffic from the decrease in category traffic so the links to content on the category pages don't seem to have been a factor)
Also as a side note (and apologies to Claaarky for kinda veering off topic), I stumbled on John Mueller's post about 2 months ago (despite trying to read the Google forums regularly since Panda 1.0) and have used that as my guidelines on what to do with under-performing category pages. I wish I had found that when it had been posted, we may have had recovery sooner. I'm currently noindexing pages that need work. I've merged/301'd ones where I can. There isn't anything on my site that needs to be deleted outright. I'm convinced that our meager Panda recovery is from noindexing pages. I've improved some, but those changes haven't yet gotten any traction from the search engines, at least not from Google. The redesign might have helped some - it was done in February of this year with Panda demotions continuing in Feb, March, and April. No-indexing started after the last April update but clearly should have started Feb 2011. And we've now seen nearly a 20% recovery combined with the last 2 Panda updates (3.7 & 3.8). And let me clarify - I'm no indexing pages that are slated for improvements. I'm just getting them out of the index until they can be modified. Everything on my site was built for the user - just not maybe as well as it could have been :)
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