WebMasterWorld Founder Brett Tabke recently started an interesting thread in the forum looking at different user behavior elements, and a combination of factors that make up what he calls the "Panda Metric."
"In this socialized world, it just makes sense that Google would start using more engagement metrics such as demographic, psychographic, and behavioral metrics. I started to put together a list of possible data sources Google could use as signals, and the list quickly grew large," says Tabke. "Most of the engagement metrics Google can use, will fall into the realm of user behavior. Those data sets can be combined with a successful search result into a powerful metric for your website. I believe that metric is now replacing Page Rank as the number one Google indicator of a quality site. I have been calling this mythical metric, the User Search Success Rate (USSR) or the Panda Metric (PM). This is the rate at which any search results in a happy searcher."
He goes on to breakdown different things Google is looking at, like referrals, location data, browser request headers, site/advertiser tracking, cookies, query entry, SERP behavior, and results clicked. He concludes that "Highly successful, high referral, low bounce, quality, and historical pages have seen a solid boost with panda."
SEO Jim Boykin, references Tabke's post, and concludes that Panda is all about "User Behavior in relation to each page of your website (or sets of pages on your site)."
Bounce rate is a large part of the user behavior formula, and that's certainly come up in the past, when discussing Panda. When SearchMetrics put out its data looking at the top Panda winners/losers in the UK last month, CTO and co-founder Marcus Tober suggested that time spent on sitter is a major factor.
“It seems that all the loser sites are sites with a high bounce rate and a less time on site ratio. Price comparison sites are nothing more than a search engine for products. If you click on a product you ‘bounce’ to the merchant. So if you come from Google to ciao.co.uk listing page, than you click on an interesting product with a good price and you leave the page. On Voucher sites it is the same. And on content farms like ehow you read the article and mostly bounce back to Google or you click Adsense.”
“And on the winners are more trusted sources where users browse and look for more information,” he added. “Where the time on site is high and the page impressions per visit are also high. Google’s ambition is to give the user the best search experience. That’s why they prefer pages with high trust, good content and sites that showed in the past that users liked them.”
Of course original content is key as well. It doesn't look like some amount of syndicated content is totally frowned upon, but if you don't offer original content as the majority, you might be in trouble.
NPR actually has a new report out about a furniture seller called One Way Furniture feeling the wrath of the Panda update, possibly based on un-original product descriptions. They have been pulling descriptions from manufacturers. The report says:
"We all wanted to believe it was something else," he says. "Because rewriting the content is a tremendous task, when you have 35,000 pages."
All those pages showcase dozens of individual pieces of furniture. Lauren Fernstrom is one of the writers tasked with rewriting the product descriptions of each of these items. She writes 20 in an hour. (That's three minutes per item.) And the rewrites cost Lieberman about $1 per barstool. But each item on the site — and there are a lot of them — gets the makeover.
Anybody with a substantial amount of content that was hit by the Panda update has a decision to make: scrap the content that dropped off (as it must be considered low quality by Google)...that is unless it is providing value in other ways.. or work (and spend the time and money it takes) to improve it. For sites with loads of content, the decision might not be an easy one, particularly if Google is penalizing good content based on the less-than-stellar content that it is associated with, as some seem to believe.
The general consensus among seasoned SEO professionals seems to be that backlinks have little (if anything at all) to do with Panda. However if you're linking out to lower-quality content, that might be a different story.
This would make sense on several different levels. For one, if you're linking to content that's not useful, it makes your content itself less useful. Secondly, you can control what you're linking to. You can't control who links to you. Since you can control what you're linking to, and you're most likely linking to your own content in many cases, it can't hurt to make sure that your own content that you're linking to is up to snuff itself. That, in turn, can only help the time the user spends on your site.
The bounce rate discussion is continued in the comments, and further in this article.