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Best Methodology For A User Not Found Page?


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14 replies to this topic

#1 DaveW

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Posted 06 July 2009 - 01:11 PM

Hey everyone,

I run a community site where users get their own profile pages accessible at domain.com/username. That way people can link to them directly and they get picked up by search engines. Obviously every now and then a user deletes their profile, meaning there is no content to display. It does not currently go to a 401 as the page serving the information still exists, there's just no user. As a result it just displays a message saying this user does not exist, please try something else (but from the SE's perspective it is still a real page).

Obviously i can change this into a 404 to allow SE's to stop linking to those pages, however there are some instances where these user pages have become well ranked in the SERPs. As a result i don't really want to just put a 404 on and lose the ranking. I would rather effectively replicate a very similar version of my homepage (which contains links to the main sections of the site), with a message at the top saying 'USERNAME could not be found, why not try something else below:' (or sometihng similar).

My main concern is am i going to get penalised (particularly within google) for effectively duplicating the homepage content on another page? Additionally there does seem something a bit cheeky about continuing to rank for someone who's been deleted, but i can't work out any other way to leverage the link value?

I would massively appreciate anyones thoughts on this with regard to the best/standard way of dealing with this issue?

Thanks so much everyone,

Dave

#2 Randy

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Posted 06 July 2009 - 01:18 PM

I would still have the server deliver a 404 or similar error status code Dave. You can do pretty much whatever you want with the text on the page, but the correct way to do it is to have a 4xx series status message delivered since the profile no long exists.

#3 DaveW

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Posted 06 July 2009 - 01:21 PM

QUOTE(Randy @ Jul 6 2009, 07:18 PM) View Post
I would still have the server deliver a 404 or similar error status code Dave. You can do pretty much whatever you want with the text on the page, but the correct way to do it is to have a 4xx series status message delivered since the profile no long exists.


Thanks for your speedy reply Randy! I appreciate that this is logically correct, but do you see what i mean in that if i do this and have a very well ranked page in Google it will disapear as google will view it as an error page, hence meaning i will lose all possible traffic from that search term. Is there no other (non black hat) way of dealing with it without having to do this?

Thanks,

Dave

#4 Randy

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Posted 06 July 2009 - 01:25 PM

But what search terms is the page actually showing up for? I suspect it's when someone searches for the users name, right?

Is that really Quality traffic? Does any of it convert where those searchers become part of your community? Does it really gain you anything?

Or are you chasing crap traffic?

All traffic is not created equal. Some is good, some is bad and most is somewhere in between.

#5 DaveW

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Posted 06 July 2009 - 01:54 PM

QUOTE(Randy @ Jul 6 2009, 07:25 PM) View Post
But what search terms is the page actually showing up for? I suspect it's when someone searches for the users name, right?

Is that really Quality traffic? Does any of it convert where those searchers become part of your community? Does it really gain you anything?

Or are you chasing crap traffic?

All traffic is not created equal. Some is good, some is bad and most is somewhere in between.


I hear exactly what you are saying and you are right, although in this particular instance there is some (perhaps twisted!) logic. As you say they come up in SERPs when people are searching for that user's name. It is a amateur modelling community site, so in most cases when someone searches for a user's name they are looking for a model they have seen elsewhere. This shows they are a certain type of person who is likely to be attracted to our site and keeping the page live and showing them other things they might be interested in (other models profiles with similar stats etc) is likely to result in them looking at other similar models and hopefully becoming part of the community.

Do you see what i mean or would you still say i'm chasing bad traffic?

Thanks so much for your help,

Dave

#6 Randy

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Posted 07 July 2009 - 02:44 AM

I wouldn't have a clue. As a general rule that's not going to be good traffic. But you'd need to look to your web stats to see for sure.

Look in your stats for referral traffic directly to those nonexistent user profile pages. Then look to see what they do next. Do they leave immediately because they were looking for something specific to that user? Do they look around a bit? Do they join?

The answer will be in your stats. Though it might take a bit of data crunching to see if it's even worth going after or not.

#7 DaveW

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Posted 07 July 2009 - 03:43 AM

Obviously it varies depending on the user but when i have tried variations on the user not found page in the past and given people other (related) areas to go they tend to run with it and end up with stats similar (or sometimes higher) than average. This is the main reason why i am reticent to do a 404 and why i think (whilst perhaps not the best) it is pretty good traffic.

As a result what would you say is the best way forward, it comes back to my original concern that (assuming it's worth trying to keep the pages live using similar content and no 404), will i get penalised by Google and others for duplicating my homepage content and is there any other sensible way round this?

Thanks so much for your help, it really is massively appreciated,

Dave

#8 Randy

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Posted 07 July 2009 - 04:54 AM

You won't get penalized for duplicate content. It's a filter, not a penalty, except in very, very special circumstances.

That said, I'm not sure I'd simply duplicate the home page. Maybe include certain parts that are important places you want to recommend to them. But I think you'll still want to be very clear that the username is no longer valid, and give them some hints to things that might interest them.

In other words, treat it as a 404 page even if the page is technically not delivering a 404 status.

#9 DaveW

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Posted 07 July 2009 - 06:34 AM

QUOTE(Randy @ Jul 7 2009, 10:54 AM) View Post
You won't get penalized for duplicate content. It's a filter, not a penalty, except in very, very special circumstances.

That said, I'm not sure I'd simply duplicate the home page. Maybe include certain parts that are important places you want to recommend to them. But I think you'll still want to be very clear that the username is no longer valid, and give them some hints to things that might interest them.

In other words, treat it as a 404 page even if the page is technically not delivering a 404 status.



Really? I was always under the impression that you got penalised, when you say a filter does that mean that if google finds duplicate content it may filter the pages (ie only show the highest ranking/most important etc) and ignore the other duplicates? That seems remarkably helpful and sensible!!

I hear what you are saying about an effective 404 page, that makes sense. My intention was to have a banner at the top saying 'USERNAME DOES NOT EXIST, PLEASE CHECK OUT SOME OTHER USERS BELOW' (or something similar). Then i will include some (not all, but most) of the modules from the homepage (as these give a broad overview of the different site areas/users).

Does this sound like it makes sense to you, or do you think i should make it even more different?

Thanks so much!

Dave

#10 Jill

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Posted 07 July 2009 - 07:57 AM

QUOTE
Really? I was always under the impression that you got penalised, when you say a filter does that mean that if google finds duplicate content it may filter the pages (ie only show the highest ranking/most important etc) and ignore the other duplicates? That seems remarkably helpful and sensible!!


You should read the pinned thread in our seo no-nos forum regarding duplicate content. What Randy is telling you is true and has always been true. The thread points to where Google says this themselves.

#11 DaveW

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Posted 07 July 2009 - 08:05 AM

QUOTE(Jill @ Jul 7 2009, 01:57 PM) View Post
You should read the pinned thread in our seo no-nos forum regarding duplicate content. What Randy is telling you is true and has always been true. The thread points to where Google says this themselves.



My apologies for not reading that and my apologies if it came across that i was doubting Randy, i certainly was not, i was just expressing my surprise at my complete misunderstanding!

Thanks very much for your comments,

Dave

#12 DaveW

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Posted 07 July 2009 - 08:09 AM

Just as a quick follow up, in the SEO no no's pinned thread google say:

"In the rare cases in which we perceive that duplicate content may be shown with intent to manipulate our rankings and deceive our users, we'll also make appropriate adjustments in the indexing and ranking of the sites involved"

Does this not imply that in some instances they may view duplicate content as deceptive and penalise on that basis? I would imagine based on that thread and what you and Randy have said that this is not an issue unless you are doing some seriously dodgey duping, however what's to say that creating a user not found page in the way i have described could not fall into this category?

Thanks so much for your comments, it's very helpful,

Dave

#13 Randy

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Posted 07 July 2009 - 01:04 PM

Right Dave.

Typically when you see an actual penalty on duplicate content is when there is massive duplication, usually across many, many domains where page after page is the same. Where it becomes quickly apparent that the goal of the duplication is to attempt to dominate the search engines index with multiple domains that all contain exactly the same or essentially the same content, all of which are under the control of the same person or organization.

You're not even close to this line in the sand. So no worries.

#14 DaveW

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Posted 17 July 2009 - 05:49 AM

Ah okay i've got you, that makes a lot of sense. Thanks very much for your help, that makes it a lot clearer, i can now go ahead and do it without fear of reprisal!

Thanks so much Randy,

Dave

#15 Michael-F

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Posted 17 July 2009 - 11:58 AM

If you really want to continue trying to drive traffic from those pages, you could try figuring out the type of content that used to be found on the page and try to display similar content below the "user not found" text.

For instance, if someone was creating models of houses before they left your site, you could try to display models of houses made by other users of the site on that page.




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