In March we got word that Google was releasing a “doorway page” algorithm adjustment. (please don’t call it a penalty or Marie Haynes might attack you.) ;)
Before we go any further let’s revisit the definition of a doorway page, per Google:
“Doorways are 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.”
But this really isn’t anything new. Google has been avidly against doorway pages now for as long as I can remember.
The topic of doorway pages is something that has a lot of SEO’s in a frenzy. There aren’t a whole lot of ways for SEO’s to target multiple cities / niches with one website without creating multiple pages. In this post, I’m going to do my best to guide you in the right direction towards maintaining quality organic traffic while protecting yourself against future penalties.
Quick recap: example of a doorway page
For those of you that aren’t sure what a doorway page is, a good example is what a lot of SEO’s call “city pages.”
For instance, if you Google “website design Delray Beach” and instead of the root domain ranking in the search engines, you will see something like this:
I’m sure you’ve seen these before.
Many times you will see crazy hierarchical navigational structures such as:
But it isn’t just limited to city pages. Webmasters and SEO’s create doorway pages all of the time for different entities such as products, services and more.
In my opinion this can be a valid tactic if you are looking to target multiple cities or niches. There is a very fine line between a well-defined doorway page and a landing page that targets a specific niche or city.
How to not get penalized
It’s been 4 months now since Google made the announcement about this doorway algorithmic update. To my knowledge it still has not happened yet but my guess it will hit in the next 6 months. This still gives webmasters and SEO’s time to modify their websites so that they don’t get penalized. Here are some very basic tips to get you started.
Above all else, make sure your pages are helpful to your users. If a user lands on a page and it just repeats nonsense content over and over with the name of their city, it is probably going to annoy them and make them bounce. It is probably also a huge red flag to Googlebot.
Ask yourself the question: If I visited this site with the keyword intent of my visitor, would I find this page actually helpful?
If yes, move onto the next section. If no, you’ve got some work to do.
If you’ve just discovered that you have 20,100, or even 1000 of these-low-quality pages you might have some major work to do.
Make sure all pages have a unique look and feel
Go through your pages and make sure they are unique. No, I don’t mean just the content. Look at everything. For starters make sure all the permalinks don’t look exactly the same. For instance instead of this:
You can switch it up and do something like:
Also make sure they don’t all have the same overall template. For instance make sure they all don’t have 3 paragraphs of text with an image. Randomize the content as much as possible. Utilize web 2.0 properties such as HTML forms, user generated interactions, social media, PDFs. Do your best to make them as random as possible, while still sticking to quality guidelines.
Reduce keyword density
If Googlebot has targeted your site, chances are it is being scrutinized. This is just a theory, but I like to play my SEO game super-safe by reducing keyword density on all pages. This includes but is not limited to meta-tags, body text, title tags, categories, permalinks, etc.
If you have an eCommerce website, make sure you don’t have a ton of duplicate product aggregations page after page. If you are going to have a list of products make sure that they are custom and that they are helpful.
Unfortunately I don’t have any hard set rules in terms of menu / navigation structure but try to be smart about it. Stay away from huge menus with dozens of drop-downs with levels upon levels. My advice is to pick the best of the best and go from there.
A website with 5-10 city pages is much less likely to get noticed than a huge eCommerce website with 400 doorway pages.
This is the part when you are going to have to use your best judgement depending on the size of your site.
Try to take into account the entire navigational structure of your website.
I screwed up! How do I get rid of these pages completely?!
If you’ve made the determination that your website is basically a spam factory consisting of 100 or more doorway pages, it might be time to make some major moves.
The problem is, the doorway algorithm update could literally be rolling out as we speak. Time is of the essence. If you need to delete your pages to try and preemptively avoid the update, now is the time to do it. Once you’ve deleted these pages, make sure to redirect the URL to an appropriate category. Please don’t redirect them to the homepage.
If you do want to roll the dice and try and fix your doorway pages, that is an option but again time is of the essence. My suggestion is to pick a very small % of your highest traffic pages, and delete the rest. Follow the instructions above on how to optimize these pages and pray to the god of Google you will be spared.
With all this in mind, these are just my opinions based on my experience as an SEO for the better part of this decade. I do not have a crystal ball and I do not know how severe or thorough this algorithm update will be. For all I know the update will only be targeted the super-spammy affiliate pages with thin content and no value. I do not know.