getcooking - 12:49 am on Jun 27, 2012 (gmt 0)
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 :)