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Google’s New (Old) Stance on Doorway Pages

Pat Marcello
Google’s New (Old) Stance on Doorway Pages

On Monday, March 16, Google on their Webmaster Central blog announced that they would be making algorithmic changes in regard to what they call “Doorway Pages.” We often call them portals, landing pages and any number of other things, but their purpose is simple – they’re created to get visitors back to a specific page on your website.

In building backlinks for my clients, I have seen this happening on massive scale with one competitor. One site, for example, obviously hired an SEO company, but not one with an eye toward the future.

What they’ve done is to buy up tons of expired domains in their niche with niche-appropriate names. They then created a “doorway page” with duplicate content from the main site, and then, added a canonical tag to the original page. Who didn’t know this would come back to bite them in the you-know-where?

Or, they have simply redirected every page in the purchased domain back to pages on the company’s main website. And this isn’t just one domain we’re talking about, it’s maybe 10 or 20!

Ergo, they have been very difficult to beat when it comes to search results. Does the idea to combat this by doing the same cross your mind?

Of course it does! But hopefully, you’re an SEO that knows better and has future sight. We don’t want to hurt our clients now or in the long run. That adds an air of negativity to our chosen profession, which has plenty enough.

Is Google Right to Have Its Knickers in a Twist?

We all know that SEO is a business of change. In the last 11 years, I’ve seen so very many! Florida, Austin, Vince, Caffeine, Panda, Penguin, and now, sematic search (what we used to call LSI or latent semantic indexing) changes are reality. The bots are getting smarter every day! They’re teaching themselves, and some of us haven’t changed with the times or at least cleaned up our old “games.”

With semantic search getting better every day, Google is once again sending back pages of results all pointing to the same website, taking cues from these doorway pages. This isn’t good for their business. Nobody wants to type in a query and come back with 10 or more results that are all the same, right? I sure don’t. And it’s Google’s job to provide the best search experience possible. You should understand their position on this.

It’s no wonder that they’re dropping the hammer harder. No more multiple doorway pages all leading to the same place. No pages that have little valuable content. And here’s the kicker: For some time, doorway pages have been kicked down the results pages or run completely off them. And except in blatant cases where spamming was evident, where keywords with NO relationship whatsoever to the topic at hand were used, the main site often got away unscathed.

What Google is telling us today is that it won’t just be the doorway pages feeling the kick of the algo, it will be the main website. If you have doorway pages, you’re gonna feel the heat, brothers and sisters. (At least that’s what they’re telling us.)

Should You Worry?

Doorway - MorgueFileGoogle is very clear about which pages they consider at issue:

  • Is the purpose to optimize for search engines and funnel visitors into the actual usable or relevant portion of your site, or are they an integral part of your site’s user experience?

If you said, “I just have duplicate content in foreign languages and haven’t bothered to tag it up yet,” you might squeak by because these pages are improving your user experience, but don’t count on that. Panda hurt a lot of people who were doing things the “right” way because so many of their links were at that time considered to be “low-quality.”

But if you answered, “Well… actually YES!” to Google’s query above, then, you’re pretty much screwed. Actually, you’re screwed in either example. Don’t be surprised if you haven’t tagged your pages properly that you feel the Google swat. As they say here in the southern U. S., “Git ‘er done!” Quickly.

If you said, “I don’t know,” then, you’re probably not even paying attention. Shame on you.

  • “Are the pages intended to rank on generic terms yet the content presented on the page is very specific?”

So, are you ranking for “golf clothes” even though you’re only selling used golf balls? I mean, you’ve prepared a bunch of doorway pages for all things golf – golf clubs, golf clothing, golf tees, but all you have are used golf balls. How are those keywords relevant?

Google doesn’t want that. They want people to get to the exact information they’re looking for. So, if someone types in “new Titleist golf balls,” that’s a real, live shopping query. So, what if some lady types “golf shorts” into Google? If she gets a first page of results for golf clothing and they all point to your site selling used golf balls, do you think she’s a happy searcher? Heck, no!

If you’re trying to rank for myriad terms related, but not specific to what your content is about… look out. You could find the fickle finger of fate (as prescribed by Google) coming to a site near you.

  • “Do the pages duplicate useful aggregations of items (locations, products, etc.) that already exist on the site for the purpose of capturing more search traffic?”

Are you trying to sell 10 things using the keyword of one? To me, and I’m just sayin’, that’s kind of like advertising a movie with a big name in the lead, who has a very small part in the film. Doesn’t that irk you? Does me. If I want to see a movie with Dustin Hoffman, then we better see some good acting from Dustin Hoffman throughout the film, brothers and sisters.

Or… Let’s say you have multiple pages built specifically for each state or town: Pennsylvania dog training, Pittsburgh dog training, Los Angeles dog training, Lawrence dog training, etc. In other words, trying to make a global business seem like it’s local. I’ve seen lots of this, too. Again, bad idea.

Use keywords that fit the page. When it comes to SEO, the cues are in your content. Period.

  • “Are these pages made solely for drawing affiliate traffic and sending users along without creating unique value in content or functionality?”

Uh-oh… You’re an affiliate marketer. That means you put up those icky squeeze (lead capture) pages with no content and long copy sales letters with tons of blatant SEO stuff on them and ewwwwwwww…

They are SO totally looking for you. To the Web spam folks, you’re well… a spammer. The doorway pages will hurt you. This is going to be a cardinal sin to most serious marketers, but you’re better off putting an optin box on your website’s pages than to have separate squeeze pages. And I say that only in relation to SEO.

If you’re not depending on Google for traffic, then do as you will. Paying for traffic is always an option, but consistent free traffic that’s targeted and that converts is still 100% better. Just sayin’.

But whatever you do, allow the content on the page to drive the SEO, not the other way around. If you’re writing well, I need not explain this. If you suck at being a writer, a formatter, a pro… Pay someone to create great content and then, allow that content to dive your SEO for that page. If you’re selling apples and indicating “apples” to Google, your page should be professionally prepared information about apples.

  • “Do these pages exist as an “island?” Are they difficult or impossible to navigate to from other parts of your site? Are links to such pages from other pages within the site or network of sites created just for search engines?”

Yeah, by this fourth bullet point, Google was a little worked up, you think? “DOOOOOOOOOOOopoo these pages exist as an ‘Island’?” Now, we’re getting into those single quotes… Look out. Here it comes…

“Are links to SUCH pages, blah, blah…” In other words, “What are you trying to pull?!?” We’ve known it. We warned you. (Google does give hints about things that are going to change all the time. Sometimes, however, they give us a “maybes” and not “musts.”)

So, WE warned you and YOU didn’t listen? You’re still trying to manipulate search results? Seriously? You’re in for a quick ride to purgatory, my friend. You’ll wake up one morning and something will be different, but you won’t know what that is until you check your Analytics accounts.

Then, you cry a little and wonder what the heck happened.

What to Do?

I like how Google ends the announcement with, “If you have questions or feedback about doorway pages, please visit our webmaster help forum.” I find that helpful, and you should, too. Ask questions there if you’re not 100% on this or any other topic for that matter. Sometimes, the forum can be better than some missives directly from the Google’s mouth.

If you notice above, what Google writes is often murky and open to interpretation. Get clarity from the Google personnel whenever you need it.

But listen, if you have doorway pages, even if they make perfect sense to you, they won’t to Google. Think about getting rid of them or at least tagging them properly so that it makes sense to have them.

The Bottom Line

There are THREE things that matter right now: Authority, Branding, and Killer Content. It’s much better to produce 100 articles than 1,000 doorway pages, anyway. Add the amazing content to your site and promote it in social media, get a conversation started, create authority, and make your brand strong. BOOM! You’re awesome.

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Pat Marcello is President and SEO Manager at MagnaSites.com, a full-service digital marketing company that serves small- to medium-sized businesses. Follow her on FacebookTwitter or Google+. Pat’s last article for SEMrush was "Google's Fetch and Render: Why It's Important."
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