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Is Panda all about Exit Rate?

7:30 am on Jun 25, 2012 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

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.
6:23 pm on Jul 2, 2012 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I've dipped in and out of this thread a few times and would like to sum up my thoughts:

1. I think Claarky might be on to something here but I don't think it's the whole picture

2. When some of my sites were pandalised in 2.1 I was outraged. My sites all have unique, decent quality content. Content farm? No way! However if we start looking for a metric that is suggesting to Google, low quality, even though to a real person it may be decent quality, then that makes sense.

3. What we're looking at is "how is Google measuring sites to be panadalized". The fact that a site can be good even with a high exit rate is not actually relevant to this discussion

4. I think Panda is FAR more complex than mere bouncerate or exit rate. It could include + or - weightings for number of words, uniqueness of content, whether the user goes to a checkout page, where the person goes next, how long the page takes to load etc etc etc. This means that for SOME people the exit rate is only one factor.

5. It may be that Panda doesn't use exit rate per se, but that for some sites the results of measuring exit rate coincides quite accurately with the metrics that Google does use and that therefore the raw exit rate data is a useful indicator in these cases.

5. I always think of Google as a blunt instrument. There always seems to be collateral damage - websites that get hit that shouldn't. I have sites that were affected by Panda that did have a high exit rate and so would fit the theory here. However others didn't have an unduly high exit or bounce rate and I'm still puzzled as to what was wrong with them.
4:51 am on Jul 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

I like the approach to fixing quality of a site using exit rate.

I run a transactional site that gets 4K+ uniques daily. The site is structured so that home page is a gateway to other pages. Some of these pages have a link for additional pages.

What I consider quality is for the home page to have very low exit rate. There is really no reason users navigate back to the home page after finding what they are looking for. That is because visitors need only one of the options on the home page. Not surprisingly the exit rate is 12%.

However the exit rate for the other pages is >50%. Average time on page is about 15mins. I don't consider the high exit rate a bad thing. In fact the higher the better because as the time on page data shows users are finding what they are looking for.

In summary, I would say high exit rate doesn't always mean bad quality unless the page is categorical/navigational in nature.
6:06 am on Jul 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

I like what you say about hooking exit rate to time on page. The two together can paint quite a clear picture.
9:39 am on Jul 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Having just re-read this entire thread again, I now realise there were many, many comments made that I did not understand at the time, didn't fully absorb or misinterpreted as unhelpful objections.

I would urge anyone trying to recover from Panda to read this thread over and over again as you go through the process. Every single comment contains a nugget of important information which will make more and more sense as you work through your content issues.
4:11 pm on Jul 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member

I like what you say about hooking exit rate to time on page. The two together can paint quite a clear picture.

Yes. Also, I check to see if people are subscribing or converting from those exit pages. On many sites, it's natural for a happy visitor to exit through a subscription or affiliate link, and that's just what I'm looking for from them. In that case, I'd consider the page they exited from to be successful.
10:02 pm on Jul 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Yep - you could even set the end of the sign-up process to be tracked as a conversion and get a clearer picture.
1:03 am on Jul 4, 2012 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member

:) I just recently figured out how to do that with my analytics program. I still have so much to learn with this stuff!
5:10 am on Jul 4, 2012 (gmt 0)

a brand name beloved by G, that I monitor, has such a content per page (less than 200 words per article with a few exceptions) that I presume the visitor wont stay more than 10 seconds on every page, but the link structure keeps the visitor to read other 10 maybe 20 pages from the same site and that is the whole key of a whole year discussions about what, how, why, see wikipedia for an example.
7:52 am on Jul 4, 2012 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I would urge anyone trying to recover from Panda to read this thread over and over again

Can you please tell me how to write time tested [14+ years] of my lectures to simply please the Google animal farm?

Elsewhere in these forums a kind soul was fixated on the use of I, we, me, us, the, him, her as repetitous flags.

I've never written for Google, I've never written for Adsense and I'm never changing a thing to suit Mr. Google.

I wrote most of my stuff BEFORE Google hit the deck and long before AdSense was invented.

In the last two days [again] I've had KRAP results from Google search results. Zilch in the first two pages. I couldn't be bothered anymore.

On both occasions? Bing nailed it within the two first SERPS [NOT the Googlle KRAP ads]

Google is in a death spiral but don't know it yet. The bean counters run everything. For their sake I hope they sell short.
4:03 pm on Jul 4, 2012 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Ian, it may not be your articles themselves - not at all. Rather it might be something about the on-screen layout and on-screen readability. Even the site navigation can hurt user metrics, average pages per visit and so on.
3:47 pm on Jul 5, 2012 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member

Very true, Tedster, but there have always been sites Google struggles to categorize. Sociopolitical commentary/debate is a good example. Google struggles to tell if a website is for or against the things it talks about. It tends to ignore "rant" articles, probably assuming they're linkbait rather than an attempt to galvanize a small niche of users with a particular view. Sites like this do a lot of cross-posting with credit, a practice that sounds perfectly reasonable to academics getting the word out. Now, Google has definitely gotten better at this since a few years ago, but it's got to be a hard thing for machine learning to get a grip on. Ironically, in niches like that one, you have to go back to 2005 SEO: carefully repeat some keywords without going overboard, and the algo can figure it out. Writing in a totally natural or academic style just confuses it.
12:27 pm on Aug 13, 2012 (gmt 0)

I'm really curious to know what happend to claaarky after the last panda refresh on july 24.
1:14 pm on Aug 13, 2012 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

jonathantaioba, I've updated in some other threads but basically no change at the last Panda refresh.

We finished our first phase of removing and improving in mid July and I think it will take a full month or two to see any kind of release from Panda. We are seeing lots and lots of improvement in our stats though and some ranking improvements for our category pages without even waiting for a Panda refresh. Hopefully those are good signals.

However, we've also seen the stats of some good pages go down hill and the cause seems to be connected with seasonality of products, world events (e.g. the Olympics, school holidays) and competitor activity. Also, as I remove pages, other pages are becoming more prominent and their use goes up, which reveals whether they are good or bad pages. Nothing stands still and it all has an impact on everything else!

Earlier in this thread there was discussion about what the statistical profile of a non-Panda'd site looks like, but it's obvious there is no single 'healthy' profile, it's all relative to how your competitors' stats look. If my competitors all have exit rates under 10%, time on page of 10 minutes, etc. on every page it could take us a very long time to reach those sorts of levels (and then there's the stats that Google have about their users which we can't see). Hopefully none of my competitors' stats look anywhere near that great but clearly our stats were way off theirs, so by constantly improving we should be able to get everything moving in the right direction and gradually see some progress with Panda.

It's complicated and we may never get there if the gap is too big, but I feel I am thinking the right way to stand a chance of cracking this now.
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