Forum User Generated Content (UGC) And The Panda Algorithm
Panda Recovery Guide For UGC Sites
Panda 4.2 Recovery Guide
Last updated 29 Jan 2016
Is Forum User Generated Content Bad For Panda?
A question close to the heart of many Webmasters and SEO Services - Is forum user generated content bad for Panda?
The answer is yes and no.
In general SEO Services and Webmasters alike think Google Panda sees user generated content as poor quality. But this is actually far from the truth.
Google sees low quality UGC as poor quality, and not all UGC. User generated comments show that a webpage has a lot of visitors that are engaging, but lower quality user generated comments drag the overall quality down on a page, to such an extent it can drag down your entire website.
Amit Singhal, Google employee has confirmed that low-quality content on some parts of a website can impact the entire site's rankings.
One other specific piece of guidance we've offered is that low-quality content on some parts of a website can impact the whole site’s rankings, and thus removing low quality pages, merging or improving the content of individual shallow pages into more useful pages, or moving low quality pages to a different domain could eventually help the rankings of your higher-quality content (source)
And John Mueller, distinguished Google employee had the following to say:
If you have comments on your site, and you just let them run wild, you don’t moderate them, they’re filled with spammers or with people who are kind of just abusing each other for no good reason, then that’s something that might kind of pull down the overall quality of your website where users when they go to those pages might say, well, there’s some good content on top here, but this whole bottom part of the page, this is really trash. I don’t want to be involved with the website that actively encourages this kind of behaviour or that actively promotes this kind of content. And that’s something where we might see that on a site level, as well.
When our quality algorithms go to your website, and they see that there’s some good content here on this page, but there’s some really bad or kind of low quality content on the bottom part of the page, then we kind of have to make a judgement call on these pages themselves and say, well, some good, some bad. Is this overwhelmingly bad? Is this overwhelmingly good? Where do we draw the line?
One of the main difficulties of running a forum based website that focuses on user generated content is keeping the overall quality high by moderating the forum and running it with strict rules. Without some level of moderation will result in most sites been overrun by spam and low-quality content that is off topic.
John Mueller suggests blocking low quality user generated content.
Common with forums is low-quality user-generated content. If you have ways of recognizing this kind of content, and blocking it from indexing, it can make it much easier for algorithms to review the overall quality of your website. The same methods can be used to block forum spam from being indexed for your forum. Depending on the forum, there might be different ways of recognizing that automatically, but it’s generally worth finding automated ways to help you keep things clean & high-quality, especially when a site consists of mostly user-generated content.
And as we all know titles and descriptions are a crawling signal (not that important, but they do help guide crawlers and users and do appear in the search snippet) Titles like "HELP, I'M F*CKED!!? I DONT KNOW WHAT TO DO, GOOGLE HAS SCREWED ME OVER", mean absolutely nothing to crawlers or for that matter other forum members. John suggests you rewrite crappy titles and descriptions.
Depending on your forum, it might make sense to allow the admins to rewrite the title or description. For example, if your forum provides product support, then instead of just taking a user’s question 1:1, maybe it could be transformed into something more generic, or easier to understand, for the title or description.
As with the descriptions, Google sometimes rewrite the title tags, at times rewriting nonsensical snippets. It is advised to guide the crawlers.
Interesting comment below. John confirms that quality content by itself and users alone is not enough. Panda looks for other low quality signals such as - over design, how it comes across and how it looks like as an authority.
Well, I think you need to look at the pages in an overall way, you should look at the pages and say, actually we see this a lot in the forums for example, people will say “my text is unique, you can copy and paste it and it’s unique to my website.” But that doesn’t make this website page a high quality page. So things like the overall design, how it comes across, how it looks like an authority, this information that is in general to webpage, to website, that’s things that all come together.
This bring me back to Amit Singhal's blog post on building high quality sites. As we all know Panda is quality assigned and will attack all low quality signals on a page even if you have quality user generated content. In essence, Panda could have picked up a few low quality signals that have nothing to do with user generated content.
The Panda algorithm will also target the below (amongst others)
* Article that have excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content.
* Articles or posts that are short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics.
* Untrusted information in forum posts or articles.
* Articles written purely for ranking and NOT for the user.
And never for a single minute think Panda overlooks user generated content as not part of your content design. It is your responsibility as forum admin to clean up your forum, blocking, moving, editing or even removing off-topic low quality comments and spam that are not relevant to the page content.
John had the following to say with regards to user generated content been part of your page publish.
But also things like comments where Webmasters might say “this is user generated content, I’m not responsible for what people are posting on my website,” when we look at a page, overall, or when a user looks at a page, we see these comments as part of the content design as well. So it is something that kind of all combines to something that users see, that our algorithms see overall as part of the content that you’re publishing.
User engagement is possibly a Panda signal, it shows whether users are enjoying and engaging with your content. John was once again quoted, saying:
That’s something where we essentially try to treat these comments as part of your content. So if these comments bring useful information in addition to the content that you’ve provided also on these pages, then that could be a really good addition to your website. It could really increase the value of your website overall. If the comments show that there’s a really engaged community behind there that encourages new users when they go to these pages to also comment, to go back directly to these pages, to recommend these pages to their friends, that could also be a really good thing.
You be the judge whether or not UGC is worth your while and all the hassles of moderating low quality and spam. Reason been, if you don't moderate your forum, Panda will, by removing it from the search results.