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Google's Doorway Page Announcement

What the change means and how you should react

Introduction

On March 16th, Google announced their intentions to slam the door shut on doorway pages. Google made their stance clear with updated definitions, examples, and reflective questions. This update targets cookie-cutter page templates and we expect to see an effect on our local pages' visibility within Google. Although there was no concrete date for the algorithm update set, it was stated that larger sites may see a "broad impact," leading us to believe that major shifts may occur.  

What Is a Doorway Page?

Google defines a doorway page as "sites or pages created to rank highly for specific search queries. They are bad for users because they can lead to multiple similar pages in user search results, where each result ends up taking the user to essentially the same destination. They can also lead users to intermediate pages that are not as useful as the final destination." This definition sounds a lot like landing pages, which are pages typically used to funnel users to a converting section within the site. The major difference comes in volume; doorway pages are a form of “spamdexing,” or spamming the index with multiple versions of virtually the same content, optimized to maximize visibility, whereas landing pages are designed to help users make the best decision from the plethora of options available on the site.

Google feels doorway pages are damaging to the user experience. Google wants to push webmasters to provide value for each page of content they create. At the end of the day, Google gives users the results they are searching for, which demands weeding out the individuals who are gaming the system to gain unwarranted visibility. If you have questions about whether you have doorway or landing pages, Google offers up these reflective questions:
  • 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?
  • Are the pages intended to rank on generic terms yet the content presented on the page is very specific?
  • 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 these pages made solely for drawing affiliate traffic and sending users along without creating unique value in content or functionality?
  • 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?

In addition to guiding webmasters to review their content, Google also offers examples of sites and pages that might be affected by the update:

  • Having multiple domain names or pages targeted at specific regions or cities that funnel users to one page
  • Pages generated to funnel visitors into the actual usable or relevant portion of your site(s)
  • Substantially similar pages that are closer to search results than a clearly defined, browseable hierarchy

Google’s new definition of doorway pages helps separate these unhelpful pages from other URLs that have higher engagement rates. The definition has become more terse and a couple of key phrases have been removed, including:

  • Doorway pages are typically large sets of poor-quality pages” — This infers that Google will be looking at more than just the quality of the page to find doorway pages.
  • Doorway pages tend to frustrate users” — Removing this from the old definition, to me, means that their data shows poor user engagement and discussing the emotion that comes with doorway pages is unnecessary.
  • Google may take action on doorway sites and other sites making use of these deceptive practices, including removing these sites from Google’s index.” — Google’s announcement suggests that they will take action. However, by removing the punishment from the new definition (removal from the index), we are unaware of what may happen.
  • In the examples, “Templated pages made solely for affiliate linking” have been removed — This has probably been updated due to the widespread impact of this update. Affiliates are not the only party that will be affected.
  • The examples have added a bit of clarity on their potential approach to evaluating doorway pages:
    • Pages generated to funnel visitors into the actual usable or relevant portion of your site(s)” — This infers that Google will probably be looking a page’s functional capability.
    • “Substantially similar pages that are closer to search results than a clearly defined, browseable hierarchy”  — We can infer that this update will most likely hit mass produced pages with a user experience that is poor.

Who Is at Risk?

Speculation dictates that the risk is high for websites with mass-produced, cookie-cutter content. The most prominent example Google mentions relates to local strategies, where content on the pages is very similar across multiple cities. This update is expected to affect sites with large amounts of duplicate and thin content.

Other "at risk" industries include franchise business with similar templates across multiple sites or pages. Chatter also speculates that this update may affect sites that have numerous exact match search results such as eBay or Amazon. The SERP screenshot below shows a prominent example of doorway pages. Indeed, LinkedIn, and Monster, who have listings designed only to rank and requires visitors to perform another search query, are some examples of the highest risk sites capable of losing organic visibility.

Example of possible doorway pages in Google search results

How Google May Determine Doorway Pages

While nothing has been confirmed, the Merkle SEO team has brainstormed potential signals that Google might utilize in order to determine doorway pages from other site pages:

  • Engagement Metrics — A critical factor for Google will be the ability to interpret the right engagement metrics. Sites with poor engagement metrics may be at a higher risk of losing visibility. The importance of engagement and overall user experience is at the core of every algorithm update and especially in this update where positive engagement metrics tend to correlate with a stronger user experience.
  • Duplicate/Thin Content — Google may pay particular attention to duplicate and thin content. This fits in with the idea that they are targeting template pages that all have very similar content. Pages with similar keyword densities and subject matter with only slight differentiations, such as cities and state names, will likely be affected.
  • Linking Structure — Google may use linking structures to determine a page’s likelihood of being a doorway page as the update mentions doorway pages are determined by funneling traffic to a functional part of the site. Multiple links pointing to another page (outside of the buy-flow) might be affected.

What to Do Now

Soon Google will update its algorithm, which will potentially affect many businesses’ local performance. Local strategies will perform best if we adapt to the changing environment, customizing pages as much as possible, protecting our branded rankings against affiliates, and creating a broader presence across the web.

  1. Identify at-risk pages on your site (including template pages, duplicate pages, pages with thin content, or pages with low engagement metrics).
  2. Prioritize your at-risk pages in order of highest importance.
  3. Focus on making your highest priority pages’ content as unique, engaging, and customized as possible.
  4. Review your SERP landscape for competing sites.
  5. If you are finding many directory or social listings (ex. Yellow Pages, Yelp, Facebook, etc), optimize your broader search presence and be visibile on these sites. 
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