Google: Your UGC Content May Have Triggered Panda

Jun 5, 2013 • 8:36 am | comments (38) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

moderatorThere is an interesting discussion going on in the Google Webmaster Help forums between an old community site that is supposedly heavily moderated and Google. It is long but in summary, it seems like the details are as follows.

This site has been around since the 90s. It is a community site where people ask English questions and others respond and help. The site has done well in Google since maybe before Google was even on the radar. But in mid-November, likely because of the Panda 22 update, that site took a major hit in Google's search results.

John Mueller of Google came in to pinpoint specific pages that have poor quality content and linked the site owner to the official Google Panda advice blog post.

John then goes deeper and talks about the pros and cons of UGC, which he has done many many times. John had a lot of advice but let me pull out one point:

One of the difficulties of running a great website that focuses on UGC is keeping the overall quality upright. Without some level of policing and evaluating the content, most sites are overrun by spam and low-quality content.

The thing is, this site owner said the site is very heavily moderated. He said:

Unless i'm being a 'love-blind' we wouldn't have survived this long (as a community) without a heck of a lot of policing and housekeeping.

He then lists out all the things they do to police and moderate the content and it is a long list.

The interesting part is that DaniWeb, which we've covered before as being hit by Panda also claimed they were hit by this November Panda #22 update as well. Dani posted those details in a different thread. Both this English forum and DaniWeb are huge communities that are supposedly heavily moderated.

So is Panda not working right or are these site's moderation guidelines not working right?

Forum discussion at Google Webmaster Help.

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Praveen Sharma

06/05/2013 12:52 pm

You cannot blame Google Panda here, nowadays such forum community sites are hardly left with some quality content. Major part of these communities is filled with spam and useless content. They have strict guidelines, but no one to make sure that they are followed.


06/05/2013 02:20 pm

Another thing that JohnMu commented on in this thread is that even if you consider lower quality content to be worthy to stay on your website (which is easily done with UGC) least make sure it does not get indexed. This is where I see the main problem of the site in question.


06/05/2013 03:05 pm

A) Panda benefitted us, we are not-junk-content. B) What exactly are you basing this on? I know for a fact that we're (like any decent forum) on a day-to-day cleaning 'war', we have hundreds of volunteers who strip out the nonsense, we ban people all the time, we moderate, we discuss, we keep things as clean as we can.


06/05/2013 03:08 pm

Thanks for writing this article, an important correction: Panda 21.5 Ghost is the 'informally' named update. We, like most of the others we've spoken to, benefitted from Panda.

Michael Martinez

06/05/2013 03:33 pm

Based on the links John provided, I would say he is subtly suggesting that certain incidental sections of the forums should be blocked from crawlers because that content -- taken out of context -- won't provide a good search experience. The context is provided by the forum structure and community. These are free-standing "reference" pages, more-or-less.

Praveen Sharma

06/05/2013 04:04 pm

I am not targeting any specific forum website, even not you. But its a fact that you will find many such forums which basically contain spam content which is useless to the user, and are even not moderated by the moderators. Don't believe me, search out on Google for forums on different verticals and you will come to know.

Finance Gourmet

06/05/2013 04:08 pm

Theoretically, the key is how those pages do, or do not, provide useful, relevant information that would provide a useful experience for a user coming off of a search query. Sometimes, UGC ends up with the right words in the right place, but isn't really an answer to queries with those words in it. If that is the case for the majority of searches going to that site, you can't really blame Google for tapping it down.


06/05/2013 04:12 pm

I'm absolutely sure that's true, there are many bad forums. That doesn't explain what happened to the 'better' ones.


06/05/2013 04:30 pm

That has been the way it has worked for many years, if pages were in some way irrelevant they'd drift away. It's the way it should be, the '21.5 ghost update' doesn't seem to be that.


06/05/2013 04:31 pm

So you benefited from Panda, means your traffic was on uptrend during 2+ years. Right ? You were satisfied with the Google's activity until you lost a bit of traffic on the another update. Right ? I'm not sure what is your problem about. You can't be serious, thinking that Google will benefit you all the time. Furthermore, it's obvious what's going on in this case. Panda uses Return as one of the major signals. Forum is the place to return. Any forum. That's why all the forums got the boost. However, it doesn't work as it supposed to. Return online is not equal to Return offline, where it means Quality. Return online means crowd or gated community. Quality by gated community is a gated quality, not for everyone. For example, I don't see quality when I entered your website. I see the mess of forms, links, popups ... mess. I don't want to waste my time, digging into it. All I want is the piece of information. I better leave to check the next result in the SERP. The same is with any forum. For me it's a good sign, that Google sees (probably) problems in the new signals they use. I would like forums to be downgraded more. Gated community is good for the community members, not for everyone. Those who would like to join gated community, could dig deeper into the SERP to find community they like. No reason to highlight gated communities in the SERP's top. But here is another side of the coin (probably). It's easy for Google to manage ads it shows, when people are gated by the interests. Anyway, I'm not sure what is your problem here. Though I agree, that some of your general statements about the latest Google actions are worth to be discussed to get more public attention.


06/05/2013 04:42 pm

Oh man, i'm totally lost as to what you are saying here. I don't navigate blogs/forums/article sites from the homepage, I find content within them via Google. What exactly is a 'gated community'? "I would like forums to be downgraded more." ok then, but this is about forums/blogs/UGC - stuff the general public write outside of a company. So if you want that gone too, then cool also. *I don't think that's what Google is trying to do by any stretch. Oh and also, my traffic is still thankfully strong, the hit sucked but could have been much worse. This is not whinging, this is a valid issue we're trying to ask Google about.


06/05/2013 04:58 pm

Then think about it ) I have no time to explain you. Too much. No doubt your problem is not Panda related. I believe forums will loose more traffic.But they gained a lot before )

Brian Wozeniak

06/05/2013 04:59 pm

I don't think you can stereotype all forums as bad sites with spam and useless content. I do agree that the forums who are littered with spam and don't take care of their content probably shouldn't be appearing in the search results. However, there are plenty of great forums or websites that have their content generated by users who do deserve to be showing up in the search results in my opinion.


06/05/2013 05:08 pm

Correction : it is Panda related, but not the way you try to present it.

Brian Wozeniak

06/05/2013 05:14 pm

Just to clarify for others, this in my opinion was not Panda #22. This occurred approximately 4-5 days before Panda #22 was rolled out, hence to why it is being talked about as Panda 21.5 or the Ghost Update. This seems to have mainly affected UGC websites, all of which have done well with Panda in the past (for the most part). I don't expect that all updates will be favorable for UGC websites, but with Google being more transparent, especially for changes that drastically affect websites, this one went largely unnoticed -- and if affected these sites in drastic ways. Many saw at least a 30% drop in traffic on those dates before Panda #22 was rolled out. There is no official announcement from Google with regards to what happened on these dates, whether intentional or not. It would be nice to get clarification from Google to see if this update was aimed at UGC websites, or if it was an unfortunate mistake due to another change that they did not realize would affect UGC websites. I think most of us just want to know if it was intentional or not. A quick analogy, look at Microsoft and how many security and bug fixes they always release. When Google makes changes to their algorithms/software, I am sure there are times there are bugs introduced that they are not well aware of. That is why we are looking for clarification here, was this purposely what they had in mind for what happened on this date?


06/05/2013 05:38 pm

Who are "we" you're referring to ? Could you please talk about yourself only ? I, being a web developer, don't care what it was, bug or update, Panda or Penguin, number 71 or -31.1 ...

Brian Wozeniak

06/05/2013 05:58 pm

When I saw we, I am referring to who was affected around November 17, 2012 before the Panda #22 roll-out actually occurred. The majority of the people I am finding that were affected on that date run some sort of UGC type website.


06/05/2013 06:21 pm

Did I miss kind of meeting, where you've been elected to represent this group ? I run UGC website. Probably I lost traffic on this date ( it was far ago to remember). I still don't care ...

Brian Wozeniak

06/05/2013 06:48 pm

LOL, you are an arrogant one, aren't ya? For responding to many of the posts here you sure seem to care, otherwise you would probably spend your time doing something else more productive. If you don't remember that date then likely you weren't affected, don't have many users participating at your UGC website, or never had the traffic to begin with. Anyway there has been discussion here: for if you really do care.


06/05/2013 06:50 pm

Ok, thanks for your trolling Anti-SEO. Be well.


06/05/2013 07:09 pm

You're welcome ) However I can't thank you back for your whinging.


06/05/2013 07:27 pm

Oh, you're not only talking on behalf of people, who never asked you about that, but you also do care about others time. Sure, it's much easier, than to mind personal business. "WE want this ... WE want that ... WE WE WE ..." "Sorry, where are "WE", you're referring to ?" "Hey, mind your own business and WE will mind it as well" So Brian, are you just commie or SEO, loosing the job ? I would suspect, that you're SEO since you're following WMW, well known forum for losers and whingers.

Brian Wozeniak

06/05/2013 07:31 pm

Nope, just trying to find answers. You sound like a winner for sure.


06/05/2013 08:03 pm

Take your website and do the tests to find answers. Do you own the website with the reasonable amount of traffic to make tests ? Rhetorical question.


06/05/2013 08:57 pm

You, POS, work for Google, your job is to make people click on ads and to force us to advertise. You are a CROOK,

Jaimie Sirovich

06/05/2013 09:47 pm

This is somewhat analogous to the nofollow problem. Google wants us to denote 'untrusted' links. So why can't we simply mark up untrusted content? Obviously we should curate so we don't get — even with a nofollow — just like we shouldn't allow comments that are totally useless, but wouldn't even be able to denote a review or a comment?


06/05/2013 10:50 pm

It's funny that you are constantly talking about return visitors. I've noticed how you constantly point this out but I never bother replying to you. Do you honestly believe that the main focus of Panda is return visitors and absolutely nothing else? If you do, you haven't been studying the SERPs closely enough and you haven't been listening to Google. User engagement is just 1 factor of Panda.


06/05/2013 11:49 pm

UGC means you have users. Do you really want to annoy them just to appease the Google gods? If yu have users treat them well so you don't need Google.


06/06/2013 01:21 am

That's right, I don't study the SERP. I never heard of someone who study the SERP and own successful, aged web business in the same time. That's right, I rarely listen to Google, because most of what they're saying is obvious for me. That's incorrect. I never said "the main focus of Panda is return visitors". Please read carefully what is written above for ex. : "Panda uses Return as one of the major signals." "Main focus" and "Major signal" are not even close. Anyway, I don't see what to discuss here. I presented my point of view. Feel free to present yours. Note: point of view - general understanding of the current SE algo trends. Market will select the winning point of view.


06/06/2013 02:25 am

The saying goes like this: if you've got nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all. So I'll leave it at that.

Praveen Sharma

06/06/2013 04:35 am

Did I say "all the forums are spam"? - No.

Praveen Sharma

06/06/2013 04:38 am

When websites which are genuine and useful to the user are hit by Google mistakenly, they reverse their process (if you can catch their eye). After all it's a program and it does make mistakes.

Brian Wozeniak

06/06/2013 04:59 am

No you didn't but what was the point of your original post I replied to then? The title of this website page we are commenting on is "Heavily Moderated UGC Sites Hit By Panda 22 Suffering". Since we are talking about heavily moderated UGC sites, that implies that the website is going great lengths to take care of their content. You said that "major part of these communities is filled with spam and useless content", so to me that meant you were referring to what this article is discussing and saying that these heavily moderated UGC sites had hardly any quality content. You didn't clarify you were referring to all UGC sites in general. This articles is talking about heavily moderated UGC sites.

Roman M

06/06/2013 07:25 am

He has got a valid point here. Don't know what other posts you talk about, but he is right that UGC sites might have got a boost that they don't deserve...and now it gradually reverts back.


06/18/2013 03:21 pm

Despite your claims you do a great job of increasing the value of this forum by instigating responses and creating a large body of content. Seems like you care about this thread being found. Pro-SEO for sure

Jaimie Sirovich

07/08/2013 07:19 pm

UGC is sometimes pretty valuable and _exactly_ what I'm looking for. I don't care what CNet thinks of some phone. I want to know from real people who might hate the phone.

Roman M

07/10/2013 02:57 pm

Agree, Jamie, but these pages often contain product information, etc on top of the reviews/comments...I meant just UGC content on forums. The more there is on a page...the more value to be indexed, well, depending on the topic of course :-)


05/28/2014 07:38 pm

This is very much a catch-22. Some sites that heavily rely on UGC can theoretically survive without SE traffic but they'd have likely gained traction with the help of SE traffic. Furthermore, SE traffic would very much be a key contributor to their growth so saying that they should ignore Google doesn't really help. Admittedly, that's a great situation to be in - to not NEED Google, but for the majority of sites out there, Google is the key to success.

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