Google Doorway Pages Update Explained

Google Doorway Pages Update Explained

In case you missed it, Google updated their Webmaster Guidelines around Doorway Pages on Monday. Essentially, doorway pages have never been a good SEO technique (except perhaps in the mid-2000’s), but now Google is taking an even more direct stance on them: just don’t do it.

Stuff like this can cause some huge (and often hilarious – SEOs are usually huge nerds) discussions, debates, and disagreements within the SEO community.  All the clarifications and opinions on this latest change are evolving in real-time, so it will be a few weeks before we see and feel the full impact of this.

What we do know is that Google doesn’t update their guidelines too often.  So, when they do, it is wise to take notice. But as we look at this update, it doesn’t necessarily represent any sort of significant shift, just a tightening of a long-existing policy. It’s not a time for alarm bells, but a great reminder to take a fresh look at your site strategy.

With all that said, here are a few insights into the announcement:

Has the Algorithm Been Updated?

There’s been no confirmation, but the update was announced in Google’s blog on Monday, 3/16 and they said that they will “soon launch a ranking adjustment to better address these types of pages”. Google updates its many algorithms hundreds of times a year though, so don’t focus on the algorithm change – focus on the larger message.

But, What is Exactly is a Doorway Page?

Doorway pages are pages created that have little unique value but are usually made in an effort to increase your search presence and rank for specific terms. These can be landing pages on your own site, or on other domains. Usually they just serve to capture ranking for a keyword, but filter the user to a different page to convert.

Can you show me some examples of doorway pages?

I’m so glad you asked! We can actually show you three:

Keyword Example

For this example we’ll pretend the business is a financial institution in Boulder, CO looking to target the market on home improvement loans.

  • Bad Idea: create pages for every variant of a keyword that a customer may use. e.g:
    • /home-improvement-loans
    • /green-loans
    • /pool-loans
    • /remodeling-loans
    • /house-loans
    • /home-repair-loans
    • /home-design-loans
    • /energy-efficient-loans, etc.
  • Good Idea: pick one URL that covers all cases and then write concise but useful copy on home loans and include a very clear call to action for the user to proceed.

Location Example

In this case, we’ll look at a house cleaning service in Denver. The business may service lots of areas and wants to capture ranking for all of those areas.

  • Bad Idea: Create doorway pages for each neighborhood served.
    • /house-cleaning-denver
    • /house-cleaning-lodo
    • /house-cleaning-cherry-creek
    • /house-cleaning-highlands
    • /house-cleaning-five-points, etc.
  • Good Idea: Create a single page that offers information on service areas in a user friendly way and a clear call to action. Write naturally about the areas that you serve and include your business address properly marked up on the site.

Qualifier Example

Finally, we’ll pick a business that may be selling discount office supplies.

  • Bad Idea: Create pages that include every variation of a qualifier for a single product
    • /cheap-office-furniture
    • /discount-office-furniture
    • /wholesale-office-furniture
    • /affordable-office-furniture
    • /economy-office-furniture, etc.
  • Good Idea: go with a single /office-furniture page. Write relevantly about the price points and the business in a natural way throughout the website.

Bottom Line
: Ultimately, the best gauge of whether or not a page is made for users or may be a doorway page is to just look at it critically as a user yourself. Trust your human judgement. If Google and organic ranking didn’t exist, would this page be designed and written the way that it is?

If you’re thinking of adding a new page to your site, think about if there are existing pages on the website that overlap with your proposed content. Updating and improving existing pages may be a better option.

How can I protect myself from this update?

  1. Focus on the user.
  2. Evaluate existing pages – are there pages on your website that largely overlap and can be consolidated? If so, consider picking one version and 301 redirecting the others. Make that single version the best possible page for your customers.
  3. Be critical when adding new pages – if you’re not adding significant unique value for customers, rethink the need to add a new page.
  4. Be awesome. By working on creating the strongest site in other ways you can help soften the risks with any algorithm change.

What’s next?

For Volume Nine, it’s business as usual. We advocate that our customers put users first and work to create fantastic and sustainable websites. If you’d like to talk more about doorway pages and how to mitigate risk on your site, we’re here to help!

  • John S

    Doesn’t this go against what Google has asked us to do with AdWords – Create Landing pages based on a keyword match and title?

    • David Yarian

      Great question! The big difference lies between the organic vs. paid models. In paid search, Google is all about good, focused landing pages. In fact, there is a whole unique field dedicated to making great paid search landing pages. In organic search, however, the tendency has been for SEOs to abuse these types of ‘doorway’ pages. Sites tend to make poor organic pages just to try to be KW focused. This is a big no-no in SEO. Therefore, the aim instead is to create great, engaging, and awesome content that fulfills a need, not to just try to ‘funnel’ organic KWs to a particular page.

    • Like David said there is a big difference. For PPC (AdWords) you almost want to do the exact opposite from SEO. Create very targeted keyword pages and I advise just marking them no-index/no-follow and excluding them from your sitemap file. A landing page for PPC shouldn’t be used for ranking purposes.

    • Wow this was a long time ago, but I figured I’d weigh in since it is something I’ve been researching quite a bit lately. With PPC, you can create landing pages that incorporate dynamic keyword insertion and even place those keywords into the headline of the content itself. This doesn’t work with SEO because the keyword result in the url are encrypted while adwords gives you the flexibility to do this. I think it would be time and cost prohibitive to create a landing page for each one of the locations you’re targeting when you have the ability to dynamically change the content as it is. It’s a bit more advanced tactic in PPC, but powerful and a huge time saver.