In 2015, Google launched an update to the algorithms they use to rank websites and to assign search engine positions. As with any of Google’s algorithmic updates, the ethos behind the Doorway Page update was to enhance the experience that users have when they access the company’s search engine.
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Google’s Brian White explained that the organisation had grown concerned about websites expanding their content and their architecture without actually offering anything of genuine value to users. This has led to a proliferation of ‘doorway pages’ in Google search results.
“We’ve seen sites try to maximise their ‘search footprint’ without adding clear, unique value,” he said. “To improve the quality of search results for our users, we’ll soon launch a ranking adjustment to better address [doorway] pages.”
This announcement led to a great deal of headscratching, with webmasters asking themselves; what constitutes a doorway page, and am I likely to get penalised for the structure of my site?
What Exactly Is a Doorway Page?
- Google’s doorway page algorithm update utilises five main criteria when deciding which sites should be penalised.
- The criteria are based upon the value that a web page offers to its visitors.
- Web pages which are designed to manipulate and distort Google’s search rankings will be hit hard.
The updated algorithm draws upon five major criteria in assessing whether a site should be penalised or not.
- Any pages designed simply to hit specific search keywords, and then to funnel users into other areas of a website, will be defined as doorway pages and could be eligible for a penalty. These pages have no relevant or useful content of their own and do not contribute to the user experience.
- Pages which are optimised for very specific keywords and yet host only very general content will also be classed as doorway pages. For a searcher, these pages are misleading. Users access them in the hope of gaining content relevant to their search, and are then left disappointed.
- A page which hosts duplicated information from other areas of a site also runs the risk of being penalised. From Google’s point of view, these pages are not providing a useful service to users, and are instead a cynical attempt to encourage traffic.
- Any pages within your site which have been developed with an affiliate program in mind must be very carefully designed. If Google decides that a page has been created solely to move traffic towards affiliates, without providing unique value to a user, this page will incur a penalty.
- Google is keen to stress that all pages must constitute an integral part of a site’s overall architecture. Any pages which exist in isolation – and are, therefore, difficult to access from other parts of the site – could be considered to be doorway pages, and may be penalised accordingly.
What Are the Effects of the Algorithm?
- Websites which fall foul of the guidelines listed above will be hit by a penalty and will slip down Google’s search pages.
- Businesses engaged in affiliate programs will need to rethink the manner in which they encourage traffic.
- Search engine optimisation teams and web designers must become more proactive and responsible in the way they develop content.
The idea of the algorithm is to deliver relevant content to users as and when they search for it, and to prevent the manipulation of results via cynically positioned, independently useless pages. As a result, websites which utilise doorway pages can expect to experience a major dip in their search engine positioning.
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This may seem alarming, particularly if your business model relies upon generating affiliate traffic, but there is no need to panic. Google is not directly punishing individuals or organisations who work on this basis; instead they are ensuring that their search results are not skewed by the practice.
In terms of SEO strategy, we are likely to see content marketing teams and SEO web design professionals becoming more savvy and proactive in their efforts to boost the performance of their sites within Google’s guidelines. By examining the search engine giant’s aims, and by taking into account the effect that such doorway page structures have on search results, we see that Google’s move was a predictable one.
This underlines the need for quality forecasting and flexible strategising in terms of SEO. Companies who opt to ‘make hay while the sun shines’ will find themselves struggling when that metaphorical sun suddenly disappears behind a rain cloud.
Conversely, firms who stay ahead of the curve, and create content which matches the quality levels expected by Google, will find their Page Rank steadily developing.
Don’t Get Caught Out
- Audit your content, ensuring that each piece is genuinely useful and is optimised for relevant search terms.
- Integrate your doorway page algorithm update measures into your wider SEO strategies.
- Check the architecture of your website, ensure that users have a positive and streamlined experience.
So what can a webmaster or business owner do, specifically, to ensure that their website is not caught out by the update?
To begin with, a content audit is required. Refer to the masterlist of web pages within your site and work through this as you assess your content for relevance, accuracy, and genuine worth. Do you have content relating to products or services no longer available? Are there mistakes in your earlier content? Do you have content which is solely for advertising purposes? All of this needs to be removed or overhauled.
Remember that, once Google has crawled your site, it views your content in its entirety. Certain pages within your site’s architecture may rank higher than others for certain terms, but the worth of what you offer is judged across your entire site, and so your SEO endeavours should be similarly wide-ranging. Use the auditing process as an opportunity to assess the totality of your content, not simply ‘doorway pages’. This integrated approach will pay dividends in the long run.
Finally, examine the overall architecture of your site. Is it easy to navigate from one area to another? Is any part of your site isolated from the main body? What is the overall user experience? Google takes all this into account when assigning search rankings, so make sure that your site is structurally sound.
Remember; keeping on the right side of Google’s shifting SEO threshold is not so difficult. It all comes down to the value of the content you offer, so make this your main focus.