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Google is sending visitors too deep into my forum threads

4:24 am on Aug 27, 2011 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Senior Member sgt_kickaxe is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member

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I run a fairly popular forum on one of my favorite subjects and recently Google has begun sending visitors deep into many threads, such as to page 7 of a 20 page discussion instead of at the beginning on page 1.

While I appreciate the deep linking and in general I am happy with the targeting from Google for this site the new deep linking is causing problems, and an increase in bounce rates. What it looks like is happening is people are landing in the middle of a discussion and getting lost or not understanding what people are talking about, something only the first post truly covers, and are back-paging or closing the browser without reading other pages in the thread.

It's become a problem, is there a way I can let Google know that the first page of any thread should always be first choice without blocking googlebot access deeper into a thread?
5:33 am on Aug 27, 2011 (gmt 0)

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I think it's more like people are looking for a solution, not a description of a problem (at least if you're running any tech-related forum - not sure about other niches). The description is on page 1 but the solution may be on page 7 and Google is helping users get there quicker. There's nothing you can do about it; I'm not sure you even need to. My guess is that you ultimate goal is to convert a casual surfer into a member and they are probably going to be more inclined to join if they see answers quicker.

I do realize it cuts down on your ad impressions - struggle with it myself. But there's probably a long term benefit in this, at least I hope so.
5:56 am on Aug 27, 2011 (gmt 0)

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As a user, I've noticed this happening recently - I land in the middle of some discussion thread. It's a bit disconcerting but I think I like it. When I'm sent to the first page, I rarely bother clicking through to try to find my relevant terms.

I guess it also depends how relevant the topic is. If I'm looking for ways to fix blue widgets and come to the first page of a thread on fixing blue widgets, I'm good and will read page after page. If the thread is actually about red widgets and someone mentions blue widgets only on page 6, I'll never see it - I'm out of there if I've landed on page 1 because I feel like the search engine's job is to get me to the specific page I need, not the general site. On the other hand, if I land on exactly the page with the blue widget information, after I read it I look around to try to find a reason to stay, because hey - these might be my people.

One thing you might be able to do is provide better navigation aids, so your visitor can see where they are - that it's a forum thread, that there's a beginning that's easy to get to - some way to ground them. Low clutter, especially, so they won't feel like they've stumbled into the middle of a hectic party of strangers and bow out with an embarrassed "excuse me" (which may be what the bounce is about).
10:07 am on Aug 27, 2011 (gmt 0)

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webmasterworld repeats the first post on every page. I find that annoying as I'm browsing the forum, but it would seem to make a lot of sense in this use case.
8:29 pm on Aug 27, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Would it be possible to detect an SE referer and redirect to the "home page" for the topic? Or at least, as per WebmasterWorld, add the OP above the topic?
9:34 am on Aug 29, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Maybe Google could add a link to the last page of the thread in the results page, next to the 'usual' link to page ... 7, which neither the first, nor the last page and it may contain outdated information that just ranks better.

Moreoever, I certainly hate it when my forum's thread is #1 result but Google says that this particular thread was last updated a month ago, when in reality it a fresh discussion.

I see this happening a lot and may direct users to other site just because Google's date is not updated as often as it should. My forum get 1mil pageviews/month but still, the date is wrong.
3:29 pm on Aug 29, 2011 (gmt 0)

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You've got a legitimate observation, yandr. Google's "dates" have been out of whack for a long time.