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Is Google abandoning QDF and giving more weight to category pages?

October 21, 2010 2 Comments

I'm seeing a big change in how Google treats search terms for some topical news stories - instead of prioritising individual news stories in its results, it's showing news sites' category pages.

Google's problem with category pages

Google has always had, to my mind, an irrational dislike of "category pages" - those that list all of a site's content on a particular topic. If you search for "newspapers on twitter" for instance, Google shows a couple of pages from my site - but not my ever-so-handy tag page that lists all my newspaper/twitter stories.

This is often a bad experience for searchers. They search for a particular topic and what they see are some old, irrelevant pages (pages with lots of links to them). If it's a current-news related search, they might also be shown some brand new pages that Google has decided to bump up the results because it knows people are looking for new stuff (a process known as Query Deserves Freshness or QDF).

I can see why Google hasn't traditionally returned category pages in these results - they don't tend to have external links to them, and they don't usually have any unique content on, just lists of headlines and summaries.

Often, however, a news site's category page will actually be the best result for the searcher - if they're searching for something newsy, a page that lists all a site's content on that topic will then allow a searcher to browse the topic and focus on the specific areas they're interested in.

Google's new results

That's the background. Which is why I was interested to see that a search for the X Factor is showing large numbers of newspapers' category pages. Here's a large screenshot:

Google giving category pages more weight

Google giving category pages more weight

So the results for this search go:

  • ITV's X factor page
  • Two Videos
  • Wikipedia
  • Digital Spy's X Factor category page
  • A news box with 3 news headlines
  • The Sun's X Factor category page
  • The Telegraph's X Factor category page
  • Yahoo's X Factor category page
  • The Guardian's X Factor category page

Apart from the news box itself, there are no actual news stories in the results - just links to newspaper sites' category pages. For a search like this, I would expect QDF to kick in and news sites' recent news stories to be listed (if you look at this post from last year, you can just about make out how QDF worked - you can see lots of recent news stories in the screenshot).

To see the difference, search Google for Rooney and Man Utd. The former still shows news stories, the latter category pages. (H/T Rishi Lakhani)

If this is a change, there are some interesting and serious SEO implications. However, I've got to go and do some work now so they'll have to wait.

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