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Invision Power Board - Panda Trigger

11:20 pm on Jul 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Hey guys, I felt compelled to post this, as I've found a potential Panda trigger for websites running Invision Power Board V3+. Please excuse the bloated post but I'd like to give you a little background.

On January 19th/20th we suffered a large traffic drop. The worst possible update to be caught in, because it coincided with the 'above the fold' update.

The first task I had, was to establish which update we'd been hit by. I'd only ever had a maximum of 1 advert per page and removing the ad for five weeks, didn't rectify the issue, so Panda it was, oh boy.

The odd thing was, it's an old and established website and January's Panda update was merely a refresh. Therefore something had to have changed between Dec-Jan that caused the site to suddenly become caught in Panda. In December of 2011, I'd released V4 of my website, as I said it had previously been untouched by Panda.

V4 of the website had identical content and the design was very similar, the main differences were member specific features. I spent endless hours going through the website, source code, WMT but nothing stood out. But I continued to focus on user experience and made significant improvements, which included halving bounce rate, doubling time on site and site speed but none of it made an ounce of difference.

I'd never considered the forums, as they don't bring much traffic and they're not used much. Yesterday I looked through the chat transcripts between myself and my devs, in the days that lead up to the release of V4 and found reference some changes we were going to make to the forum. In V3 the entire forum was disallowed in the robots.txt, as it didn't have anything of use, it's mainly used to report problems and members playing random forum games. In V4, I decided to allow the forums to be indexed, which at the time didn't seem like a big decision and I'd pretty much forgotten about it until last night.

So last night, I went through the forum with a fine tooth comb, looking for something that could have triggered Panda and found something that was quite alarming. In IPB 3.x members can update their status, but what I didn't realise, is the system creates an indexable page for every single status update.

I found 177,000 indexed status update pages in Google. All with the title "Status update". That's 177,000 pages with nothing more than 'good morning', 'hello', 'Im new'. etc etc etc. Useless, thin, largely duplicate pages.

Obviously not all IPB websites will be hit by Panda but this is certainly something that has a huge potential to trigger it. I've seen some really big IPB websites, with very few status updates, my website is quite social, so it's used quite a lot.

I've added noindex, follow to all of these status pages. If your're using IPB 3+, I strongly recommend doing the same. If you're unsure how, I can ask my dev if he can write up some instructions.

Our forums don't attract much traffic at all, so I've noindex, follow the entire forum for good measure, but that's something you likely won't want to do but you may want to consider doing the same to profiles.

I'd previously found other SEO issues with the forum software, such as multiple pages of a thread, being interpreted by Google as individual threads. I reported the earlier problems, along with fixes to the devs, who have promised they'll be fixed in 3.4.

I'm feeling pretty confident the status update pages are the cause of my website being hit by Panda. I'll update this thread if traffic picks up during the next few Panda updates.

I've also reported this to the developers, but I've not received a response yet, as to whether they plan on fixing it in a future revision.
2:59 am on July 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Administrator anallawalla is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

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Thanks for posting such a detailed account. Some forums like to see an intro post from new members but they ask them to add to a single, existing thread. This should help a lot.
4:11 am on July 19, 2012 (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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As CMS systems in general try to encompass all things on the net, and add more gizmos to the code to cope with it all, it's becoming important to strip down the code so that it only has what you need remaining. Unfortunately that's opening a pandoras box of problems for many people, especially if they aren't code savy (security issues included).

Have you contacted any other invision power board users to see if they got caught in the latest Panda/Penguin/Zoo Animal trap too?
5:24 am on July 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

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How did you miss that ? Your counts of indexed pages surely spiked? Didn't you see the tons of the Duplicate Title alerts under HTML improvements.
11:06 am on July 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Klark0, we'd just allowed the forums to be indexed, which included hundreds of thousands of pages and we were at the time, focused on fixing bugs that V4 introduced. By the time the penalty hit in late January, the pages were indexed and the jump in indexed pages was attributed to the forums in general and better sitemaps.

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