I know the Google Panda update was rolled out years ago, but its effects are still felt today. Basically, the rule is, if you have a bunch of low quality, user or system generated, empty or nearly empty pages on your website, your organic search rankings will suffer because of them. Think empty search results pages, empty or nearly empty user profile or member pages, technical pages, such as login or registration pages and the like. Image only pages are a good example too. Any type of page that wouldn’t necessarily appear in search engine results. Or, they would only appear for extremely narrow and unique keywords. Those are the types of pages that can sink the ship.
You are currently reading this page on a discussion forum. I run a few different forums and each uses the same software as the others. I set these up towards the end of 2018 and they’ve been doing fairly well. I certainly enjoy writing on them, even if it is just me and a few others who do. Anyway, I operate one forum that currently hosts approximately 1,300 threads. There are currently approximately 2,300 users. Each one of those users gets his or her own profile page. If you do the math, you’ll deduce that lots and lots of users haven’t posted threads. Perhaps they did post one in the past and removed it from the site or they never posted any because they simply wanted to become a member. Whatever the case, Google is crawling each and every user profile page and placing it in its index. Based on my knowledge of how Google works, I’m thinking that this isn’t a good thing.
Within the forum software is a feature that allows me to essentially turn off these member profile pages to those who aren’t registered for an account. If you aren’t registered and logged in and you attempt to visit a user’s profile page, you’ll be confronted with a login page that gives a 403 Forbidden error HTTP header status code. Basically, this status code tells crawlers and search engines that accessing the page is absolutely forbidden. I set this feature to operate like this, so since Google isn’t a registered member, it should be confronted with this status code. Hopefully, any member profile pages that have been indexed, will fall out of the index the next time Googlebot attempts to crawl the page in question.
I also blocked the search results pages in the robots.txt file because these results pages in this forum software aren’t exactly clean cut. There are variations of them and some have meta noindex code inside of them and others don’t. I generally try to limit the number of pages I block in the robots.txt file, but there was nothing I could do about it in this situation. Some of those empty search results pages were getting indexed. Since there are no links pointing to them, they’ll eventually drop from the index.
I did some poking around online and noticed that quite a few discussion forums were hit hard by the Google Panda update back a few years ago. I’m assuming some are having their rankings affected still today. This could be because of the user profile page issue. Out of quite a few websites, only a handful of them actually blocked these pages like I did. And just so you know, most forum software packages comes with this option. VBulletin, phpBB, MyBB, XenForo, bbPress, Discourse, Invision Community, FluxBB, PunBB and the rest. There are so many – too many to list.
So my question is, do you own and operate a discussion board? What have you done to combat the negative affects of the Google Panda Update? Do you block the user profile pages from being indexed by Google, Bing and the other search engines? Please let me know about your experiences below. Thanks!