Google seldom gives search engine marketers advance warning of algorithmic changes; however, in a rare move recently Google announced plans to penalize “doorway pages” through a ranking algorithmic adjustment. At the same time Google, clarified its quality guidelines on what constitutes a “doorway page.” Designed to increase a site’s search footprint for specific keywords, “doorway pages” are an old and discredited search marketing tactic. Google in its guidelines for Web development has routinely advised marketers to avoid using doorway page campaigns, because they yield a poor user experience. The question this recent move begs then is: Why is Google going after “doorway pages” now?
Although it is Google’s long-standing profile that “doorway pages” are bad practice, and Google has had the technology to detect them for many years, the decision to go after them now is that, in my opinion, they have recently proliferated in morphed forms, particularly for local results. Google’s decision is also consistent with its attack on “thin content” sites. “Doorway pages” were the original thin content pages. In their early format, “doorway pages” were often machine-generated, with keywords plugged into very generic content. As search marketing has evolved, so, too, have “doorway pages,” and the new morphed forms provide almost as bad a user experience as the original machine-generated pages.
With the shift from desktop to mobile, users want crisper, more keenly targeted local results and do not want to be directed to a low-quality doorway page or a bridge page that forces them to make yet another click. It is particularly frustrating to the growing audience of mobile searchers to be guided by Google’s results to “doorway pages,” that provide little more information than Google’s search page. “Doorway pages” often create a carousel effect, where the user performs a search and is continuously lead to the same page, in spite of changing the query. These pages maximize the site owner’s search footprint as well as the user’s frustration. Because “doorway page” programs are often used to funnel localized traffic, they sit at the intersection of local and mobile search. This is a highly competitive space for Google.
Google has clearly indicated the type of pages it classifies as “doorway pages.” According to Google, these pages are created solely to derive traffic for specific queries. 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 are sometimes bridge pages that lead users to intermediate pages instead of to their final destination. They often have multiple domain names or pages targeted at specific regions or cities that funnel users to one page. These pages often look like search results pages instead of content pages, and they often function as geographic traffic funnels.
If you are not sure whether your search tactics employ “doorway pages,” now is the time to take a closer look at whether your pages fit the profile that Google indicated in its announcement. If you are not sure, my advice is quite simple—don’t fool yourself. You probably need to rethink your strategy quickly. Your very first step should be to block Googlebot from those pages and begin redirecting them to quality pages.
For some businesses and site owners whose search tactics have relied on large “doorway page” campaigns to drive traffic and manipulate the search results, this change could have a seismic impact. If your competitors have been using “doorway pages” and you have not, the change could boost your ranking performance. If this change leads to an improvement in search engine results quality, it will be a clear win for users.