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Is Panda all about Exit Rate?

 7:30 am on Jun 25, 2012 (gmt 0)

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.



 10:03 pm on Jun 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

grippo I agree, analytics is useless as a quality data source to google, it has be placed on the page physically, so it's as a data source not even remotely in the same ballpark as chrome and google toolbar, and google cookies and tracking onpage serp click throughs etc. Chrome and toolbar together have plenty enough users for google's purposes. And if you stop to consider, when did Chrome get these numbers? And when did Panda start. And penguin add to panda. Timelines fit nicely.

I can tell you for a fact that chrome sent back urls I used and that nobody else in the world used and that then showed up as 404 in wmt's, took me a second to remember I'd been doing dev work on test pages.

So chrome certainly sends home page visit data, no doubt about it. Nobody else in the world ever saw or visited that url, and no link ever pointed to it.


 10:29 pm on Jun 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

What I would guess is that, the exit rate PLUS the user searching again for the item on another site, ie, clicking another link, or modifying their search, is the actual trigger. An exit page where no further search occurs means the user found precisely what they were looking for, which is the theoretical goal.

Not where I live. I never look at one page or site for a query. It doesnít matter what site it is either. It could be the most informative and respected site on the web in its niche. Nowadays itís all about finding a consensus while wading through the rubbish. For instance letís say I search for ďblue widgetsĒ I may look at three or four sites and look for similarities, or the consensus. The last site which never bothered to answer the query was not what I was looking for, yet I'm done. Should it be rewarded? Not in this case.


 10:33 pm on Jun 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

discount your own behavior, by definition anyone reading this thread is irrelevant for average user actions or google's response to them.

Watch your mom or someone who is 50 and not a tech person. Also watch a 15 year old, a 20 year old, and a25 year old. Then you will roughly know.


 10:48 pm on Jun 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

So that's a good user experience? Clicking the first result? How can they possibly determine good web pages with people like that?

Now I'm really lost.


 11:29 pm on Jun 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

Leosghost.....I'm loving your posts. If I wasn't so high already I'd be wanting some of whatever you're smoking mate. Keep it coming.

I was thinking about your ehow scraper question earlier and it occurred to me that if you create original content there is a way to claim ownership. Can't remember what it was....rubbadubdub or something. You probably know what I mean. Tedster mentioned it in a post somewhere on another thread regarding a site he helped overcome Panda.

If your content is being scraped and people see it before they get to your site, it could affect how visitors react to your site (oh, just read this somewhere else....I'm off). This is what my stats are showing me from WITHIN my site so I can imagine that's happening due to scraped content as well. So maybe anyone in this situation needs to claim ownership of their content as PART of a Panda solution. The other part being to deal with pages with user experience issues. I'd probably deal with the user experience first, might be some obvious signs of problems on the page rather than any external impact.

Someone brought up the 100% exit rate question again (person arrives on page, gets what they want, goes). When this was originally posed I couldn't get my head round why people would be happy letting visitors just go like that. But it's obviously all relative, depending on your niche. We were talking in the office about Wikipedia as that's one I tend to visit for an answer quickly and then go (check my rankings again mostly). But my customer service girl, who has totally grasped what our user metrics tell us about a page (she doesn't even have to look at a page now, she just talks about the stats, and she's right every time!), and she said she loves Wikipedia because it has so much related information - she arrives on the page looking for an answer and then gets drawn in, clicking all over the place. Delivered the answer but tempted her in.

Comes back to the same old answer really. User experience. If you want to out rank Wikipedia you need to provide a better user experience.


 11:39 pm on Jun 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

discount your own behavior, by definition anyone reading this thread is irrelevant for average user actions or google's response to them.

Nobody ever wants to do this, ( discount their own behaviour or opinion, as irrelevant, nor actually watch others without trying to make them click where they are "supposed to"..nobody wants to feel that their opinion "is irrelevant"..when it is ..especially if it is G picking whose actions and motivations affect "relevance"..

So that's a good user experience? Clicking the first result? How can they possibly determine good web pages with people like that?

Your and my and our anonymous/ indeterminate reptilian visitors definition ( even if they were all the same ..and they would not be ;-) of "good webpages" is as previously posted "irrelevant" ..we aint the ones doing the clicking on the links nor the ads ..

Thus either let pride take a back seat..and gain insight into what the average punters do and what moves them ..or let it blind you ..and thus make sites with an audience of you, me, our scaly mate, and our respective mums ( who would all love anything we did, as the absolute bestest thing page, site.. whatever.. ever )..Ethically I loath Ehow and what it does, and would love to see it fall and die..but the behavioralist* ex adman that I am, can't help being struck by it's perfection for purpose..

Reminds me of the iphone..it isn't the best..it shamelessly steals from what was already done ..but a huge number find it perfectly adequate ..and it is the shiniest / slickest..and both the iphone and ehow have roundy corners..a people that go for both and nearly bought into "you betcha" with lipstick, interest G far more than you or us..even if it is only to see if the lab rats can evolve beyond reality TV and tot pageant pron..

*may not be a real word ( but I approve of it anyway ;-)..my speel checker is somewhat unreliable, it always flags "write" as wrong ..English is it's second language


 12:59 am on Jun 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

Interesting thread, thanks. Seems Claarky's had a Road to Damascus experience. Just read monkeysphere article, well worthwhile.

Having just tried noindexing, see if can help a recent slump: it surely can help with exit rates, too.
I've targeted pages for keywords (free tags), which are just lists of articles/photos.
I reckon not so good if these are pages people arrive at via google, so deindexing seems best; but once someone is on site, and wants to find more about one of the keywords, such pages are useful.


 1:55 am on Jun 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

This may have been asked and answered already but, are there any standard definitions or guidelines for what constitutes a "good" exit rate, bounce rate, and average time on page for content and/or ecommerce sites?


 2:14 am on Jun 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

It's going to depend on the type of site. And whatever metrics Google is using, I'll bet they are also customized by type of site. That's the kind of thing they've been doing for a lot of years.

The best answer I could give mis this. IF your site was hurt by Panda, start the way claaarky did. Collect the data for your site and see if there's a correlation for you. If you see a correlation, then dig in. If you don't see one, then move on to another approach. Otherwise you just might break things even further.

The key for me is taking that "open eyed" look at "your own baby" and being willing to notice when it's ugly instead of beautiful. It's not in some automated data/technology approach, it's in the human intelligence. The data just helps you focus.


 3:56 am on Jun 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

If my exit rate climbs from 55% to 60% Analytics will tell me that's an improvement of 8% by displaying it in green? I was under the impression that lower was better.


 4:12 am on Jun 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

Yes, most certainly lower is better for this metric. I think The color coding means that a particular metric "got higher" or "got lower", not better or worse.


 4:15 am on Jun 29, 2012 (gmt 0)


Things Google cares about:

  • Google
  • Users
  • Advertisers

Things Google doesn't care about:

  • Webmasters
  • Publishers

So going forward, don't base your entire business plan around Google. Because if G thinks that sh*tcanning Group Two will provide some greater good to Group One, hello, that thing parked over your head is the bus they just threw you under.


 4:53 am on Jun 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

Morning everyone.......more realisations (why do they always come at 5am or when I'm on the toilet!).

Page Speed - another metric. Google said think about your page speed, it affects your rankings, here's a tool to help, so off I went to please the great master, yes Mr Google sir, certainly sir, right away sir.....doh! Now I get it.......page speed affects my user metrics, we're all being ranked on user metrics, I need to do it for my users (why do we always instantly assume when Google suggests we do something that it's to help them - it's to help us, our websites, our visitors. So obvious now.

Mobile users - I'm sorry, that's all I can say. I'm ashamed. I thought you'd prefer my full fat, image heavy website and be prepared to wait 20 seconds for it to load on your iphone when you're not on Wi-fi or in a 3G area. You want it to be fast, I see that now from my stats. Sorry, I'll get onto that, right after clearing out all the crap on my site I've been subjecting you to if you had been one of the few prepared to wait so long to see it.

This is making me think about EVERY aspect of my business, how we deal with customers by email and on the phone, checking they're happy once they've bought from us, it's all part of the user experience. Returning visitors, someone said it earlier, another indication of people getting a great user experience on your site. Sort out the user metrics, make people happy and they'll tell other people. Okay, the jobs are stacking up now.

Links - I've been thinking about links a lot. What sort of links is Google going to value now? Yesterday I thought it had to be the sort that drive real, genuine traffic that will interact well with my site and hopefully buy. That way Google will see it's all genuine and will trust my anchor text and consider ranking me for that phrase. Now where can I get a keyword targeted text link that will drive real visitors and business to my site.......Bingo! Google Adwords!

But hang on, we couldn't make Adwords pay before, too competitive. Hello, what's happened to my conversion rate all of sudden. WTF! It's almost doubled since we started doing this earlier this week! PPC is back on the table.

You see how this all fits together now. Clever, clever Google. My hat is well and truly taken off to you.

I wonder what I'll realise tomorrow at 5am?


 5:11 am on Jun 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

Another one......just checked my rankings, a few climbs a few drops. Why is it so unstable these days? Always fluctuating. Why does it always seem to be on a Thursday or Friday?

Of course, my user metrics are fluctuating all the time and so are those of my competitors. Maybe those fluctuations get fed in on a weekly basis - could they do it daily? Hmmmm, ponder on that one.

So Panda ratings are decided when the update is run, but user metrics are in play all the time. I'm liking that idea.


 5:29 am on Jun 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

So Clark... and tedster... I took an open eyed approach at my data and suddenly realized that a certain grouping of landing pages have much better user metrics than the site average. (like 2x time on site + 2.5x page views and 1/2 the bounce rate) I then looked into the key terms for those landing pages and sure enough they are standing strong in Google serps...

What does this mean to me?

1. It gives me guidance as to what I should be reaching for in user metrics for the whole site... not just this obscure sub-set of pages.

2. It is another example of Google saying that "while we think your site is spam (panda update hits) we can't deny that your users for this particular subset of pages are highly engaged so we'll continue to leave you there until someone comes along and steals your crown...."

In other words I'm now a believer in fixing the user engagement issues...


 5:41 am on Jun 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

while we think your site is spam (panda update hits)

Please be clear about this. It's Penguin that is about SEO tricks (spam). Panda is described identifying and demoting weak or shallow content - not spam.

In fact, it was clearly stated that this kind of content falls in between the spam team's responsibility and the regular team. Addressing it forces them to work with each other more closely than they did before.


 6:13 am on Jun 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

I think its important to mention here that when people look at pages and they perceive them as "bad", the first reaction might be to "pad out the page" and simply "add more" to it to keep them on the site/page longer.

Believe me, in my opinion this is the biggest factor in Panda - and only adds to the shallow content identifiers. More and more and more of the same isn't what the users want.

In my case, on one site, I've improved traffic levels (way up from pre-Panda 1.2) by removing paragraphs of text - and showing the information in a different way. Time on page is less - traffic is up (and users are happy).


 6:14 am on Jun 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

Another thought.....read somewhere that Mat Cutts said good spelling/grammar on a pages tends to correlate with Page Rank. I wonder if user metrics and Page Rank are related. So that would mean Page Rank is actually a reflection of the user metrics of that page/site.

I'm not happy with the internal exit rate of my home page. Haven't been happy with that since we revamped the site. Think I'll go looking for a high Page Rank ecommerce site and what their home page looks like, get some ideas what people like.

I've just collected up all the pennies that have dropped since last week and I now have £1.38.


 6:25 am on Jun 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

A high home page exit rate could mean you're getting a lot of poorly targeted traffic and you actually have a high bounce rate. How about isolating the home page traffic that came from within your site - and see what THAT exit rate looks like?


 6:43 am on Jun 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

Thanks Tedster, yep, I was looking at internal exit rate (25%). Bounce rate is 35%. Feels high to me.

11% of people already on the site go to the home page. Hmmm...


 7:35 am on Jun 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

35% is not high. I have sites with bounce rate >50% firmly holding #1 spot in quite competitive niches.

The proper bounce rate highly depends on the nature of the site. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that Wikipedia has >90% bounce rate (hmm,no that's pprobably too much, but still should be pretty high ...). Did they ever publish this kind of data?


 7:40 am on Jun 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

My 14 year old ECOM has been taking ongoing and regular beatings from these updates.

I was thinking it would be a good rule to NOINDEX poorly presented product pages on my 70'000 sku ecommerce site. Products that have no description for example. I think its safe to assume that the user experience of such a page would be poor. Do you think this kind of blanket approach could be advised at this point?

Opinions very welcome.


 8:47 am on Jun 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

I can't see how noindex could make any difference. If people navigate to the page and it's a bad experience it will affect your rankings.

I'd get rid.


 9:54 am on Jun 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

Another realisation.......

There's an opinion that social marketing affects your rankings. It doesn't, not really.

Social media gets visitors to your site, at which point Google can collect user metrics, decide on site quality and get you ranking (if your site offers a good user experience). Once you're ranking, you don't need social media any more. The traffic is coming from Google.


 10:04 am on Jun 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

Well google clearly wants to get away from backlinks as a ranking factor - I accept that, but if Panda is all about Exit rates how does someone using amazons mechanical turk to generate good data figure?

Also where exactly does this data come from, not analytics, perhaps they buy ISP click data, chrome is the obvious answer but reading Cutt's description of what they actually collect [mattcutts.com ] I doubt it.


 10:15 am on Jun 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

Another realisation.......

The cat is out of the bag! Apologies to all those in the know and well connected people who paid a fortune for this information and probably signed tight legal agreements preventing them from passing the information on, even if it meant having to watch friends suffer and potentially lose their businesses and homes.

I understand, many wouldn't.

Ok, let's get back to business.


 11:07 am on Jun 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

The cat is out of the bag! Apologies to all those in the know and well connected people who paid a fortune for this information and probably signed tight legal agreements preventing them from passing the information on, even if it meant having to watch friends suffer and potentially lose their businesses and homes.

Ah claaarky ..you were doing so well..and then you had to go all Dan Brown and damascene again .."it's the freemasons", "the templars", the David Icke hypothesis..

That said I'll bet a certain Mr F****** somewhere Mozzy, "discovers" exit metrics within the next 90 days..

I'd get yer ebook out there first.. if I was thee....


 11:38 am on Jun 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

claaarky, you have to be careful.

What started as a good bit of empirical investigation is rapidly turning into a splurge of unfounded speculation.

There's an opinion that social marketing affects your rankings. It doesn't, not really.

The cat is out of the bag!

Correlation is not causation. Exit rates are an inverse approximation for user satisfaction (once you normalise for goal completion). Google could be using that raw data. Or, it just might be that they can accuratley predict user disatisfaction.

I mean, users don't leave because the Exit rate is high. They leave because they don't like the page. Google could Pandalise you because you have a high Exit Rate, or because people won't like the page. You can't tell.

What you can do, is use Exit Rate data (again, normalising for goal completion) to establish prime candidates for Pandalisation, and prioritise those for improvement. Or, at the very least, for good honest appraisal.


 11:43 am on Jun 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

Just a quick note for anyone genuinely reading this thread and wanting solve their Panda problems.......please just read my posts and Tedster's and ignore everything else.


 11:47 am on Jun 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

+1 Shaddows


 11:50 am on Jun 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

A quick note for anyone wanting to understand, well, anything.

Ignore anyone telling you to ignore dissenting opinion

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