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Google continuously looks for ways to improve the quality of its search results, aiming to ensure the most useful and relevant resources are always presented to its users. Many algorithmic updates have been made in the past, helping to filter out spammy/unhelpful resources from its search engine results pages. On March 16th, Google announced that adjustments were being made to its ranking algorithm off the back of their Search Quality team setting their sights on their next target – doorway pages.
Doorway pages are essentially pages or sites that solely exist for search engines as opposed to users; designed to rank well, but not to deliver value for a user. The main purpose is to attract as much traffic as possible, acting as a funnel to a website. Click here for a definition by Google on doorway pages.
There are different types of doorway pages, with two most commonly used approaches being:
It’s worth pointing out the difference between doorway pages and landing pages, as it is clear there’s confusion over the difference.
Doorway pages tend to make users take an extra step in their journey to find the resource they’re looking for, whereas landing pages provide users with the information they originally set out to find. The general nature of doorway pages is that they lack any real value to a user; however landing pages are mostly rich in information and relevance to a user’s search.
For example, you might use a targeted landing page for a paid search campaign that gives the user exactly what they’re looking for and is designed to convert or make the user take some sort of action.
In contrast, a site may have a different page for every locale that they sell their products in, or that they’re looking to target, with keyword variations and similar content on each. These pages do not serve the user any value independently and are clearly designed only to rank for local search terms. These would be doorway pages.
As mentioned previously, there is mainly one purpose to using doorway pages – to rank well for certain, often very specific search queries.
Doorway pages were/are used by businesses to target users in different locations. However, quite often these businesses lacked a physical location or presence in that area. So, for example, a plumber in Southampton is targeting potential clients in Portsmouth by creating a doorway page intended to rank well for ‘Plumber in Portsmouth’. They may have also done the same for a range of specific local areas, attempting to monopolise rankings with relevant locational search queries.
Some businesses that operate on a local basis have started to worry about whether their location-based pages are deemed as doorway pages. Before panicking, it’s worth drawing your attention towards Google’s guidelines for businesses with multiple locations, which points out that each physical presence of a company (e.g. an office or a branch) should indeed have its own unique URL.
Based on these guidelines, it’s still acceptable to have multiple location pages if you have a physical presence in each location, as long as the content is fresh and relevant to that location and the user is being served with helpful, unique information. So this is good news for a franchise, but bad news initially for our plumber in Southampton. But that doesn’t mean that he can’t rank for searches outside of Southampton, with effective local SEO.
Google has always had an issue with doorway pages and it was only a matter of time before they took more targeted action against them. The main issue Google has with these pages is that they provide little/no value to a user, so are essentially going against Google’s prime objective.
The general nature of doorway pages affects the quality of the search results provided by Google – providing users with unhelpful resources.
The first thing I’d do is set out to identify pages that Google would deem as doorway pages. Check out the blogpost provided earlier, as Google has provided guidelines as to how it’s identifying doorway pages – if there are pages on your website that fit these criteria, it’s probably best to remove the page as it won’t be long before it’s removed from Google’s search results.
If there are pages that you feel closely fit to these criteria, but you deem to not actually be doorway pages, I’d recommend reviewing the content on that page and conducting a UX review of that page. Ask yourself the following questions; will the user find what they’re looking for? Is this page providing valuable information for the user? Is it adding extra unnecessary steps to a user’s journey towards finding what they’re looking for?
If you haven’t already, it’s important to start focusing on value for the user, as opposed to value for search engines. Address the needs of the user, not just the search engine. If you’re using multiple location pages as you have offices operating in different locations, make each location page unique.
So what should you do if you’re using doorway pages? In short, don’t use them. Stop using doorway pages as they present a negative representation of your brand to users and if Google picks them up and sees them as spammy, you’re likely to receive what could be a massive hit in traffic.
There haven’t been many reported cases of unexpected traffic fluctuations thought to be as a direct result of doorway pages yet, although with Google suggesting that there could be broad impact as a result of this update, I’d recommend regularly checking both traffic in Google Analytics and the ‘index status’ tab in Google Webmaster Tools.
The extent of this Google algorithm update is still unknown; however I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s mainly targeted towards identifying and disregarding spammy doorway pages that use the cloaking and redirection tactic.
Let me know your thoughts on this; if there is anything you’d like to add to what I’ve said, leave a comment below or tweet me @LukeTheMono
For more information on doorway pages or Google algorithm updates, please contact us.