Google’s next tweak is on the way and it’s coming to inspect your landing pages. Step back from that panic button! It’s only here to encourage useful content built by honest, helpful businesses – the sort of stuff we should all be creating anyway.
We walk through doors every day. They act as filters, where the outside world ends and our current surroundings begin. We enter them expectantly, to find a friend, a way out or a solution, whatever we’re looking for.
Our reliance on search engines means we even encounter similar passages online. We click on the recommended pages hoping our queries will be answered, but all too often, when we do get inside, we find more questions. We find more doors.
Google’s definition of doorway pages talks about websites that funnel visitors into the actual usable or relevant portion of your site and are intended to rank on generic terms yet the content presented on the page is very specific.
A main example of this are island pages, that aren’t readily accessible from elsewhere on the same website, but are solely concerned with capturing more search traffic, rather than helping users with unique value or functionality.
We don’t yet know how this is going to affect location based search strategies, but it is interesting to see Google currently have pages like this themselves:
Put your views on the search giant and their dominance to one side though. Less of the rabble about shifting algorithms and how the big guy is harming local business. Does moving away from this kind of page really sound like a bad thing?
Helping people find their way
Changes like this can give some SEOs raised temperatures, sweaty brows and other symptoms of panic, but this proposed update is only a continuation of encouraging what websites should be doing with their landing pages: enabling user intent.
Think about it for a moment. Imagine yourself hurriedly pushing through a door labelled Toilets. Your purpose is self-explanatory, but instead of finding tiles and cubicles, you’re being guided back to queue for a public lavatory on the high street. Has your intent been served? Will you be returning to this misleading establishment?
More importantly; wasn’t there a café around the corner that you could sneak into instead? There was, there’s always other options that will deliver what they promise.
This begs an obvious question, if a page doesn’t meet the expectation it sets, would you recommend it to anybody? If not, why should it appear in search results ahead of pages that do? This update is a further attempt to address this. (For more on user intent, I’d like to point you towards AJ Kohn.)
It will likely affect international businesses that are based many miles away from locations they’ve created specific doorway pages for. They will have to offer something in their content, expand their business or kill these pages, otherwise their entire site could fall on the wrong side of a ranking adjustment.
To go back to an earlier point, I believe this update won’t interfere with the little guys who operate within their means - it might even give them a boost. This update is fundamentally a furthering of Google's campaign against low quality content.
The importance of being truthful
If a page doesn’t help people fulfil or at least become more informed about their goals, but instead directs them on to a generic page where they might be able to, it’s a doorway. Google want to be the doorway that leads users down a corridor of potential sites. They want landing pages to act as checkouts.
A plucky visitor trying to get through a doorway page.
Consider this a refresher on the advice your parents probably gave you. When putting pages together, treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself. Dust off those clichéd nuggets of advice and put yourself in your visitors’ shoes.
You just finished work and you’ve forgot it was your partner's birthday. You’re desperate but romantic at heart, you search for ‘flower shops in Manchester’. Does your page enable your intent? Does it contain tailored conversion points, unique content and provide a rich, useful experience?
Consider what visitors will want to see next, then make sure you provide the answer.
If you’re an online based gift shop with a nationwide depot, your user can’t walk into your shop, ask for advice on tulips vs roses and get their bouquet there and then. Next day delivery won’t cut it. You shouldn’t be positioning yourself as a flower shop in Manchester if you’re not able to fit the functions of one.
Your landing pages should highlight why you’re the best match for the query that led your visitor to you. If you’re not a match, stop kidding people that you are. Stop telling fibs or your nose will grow.
If you create pages that don’t match user expectation, you put your visitors into a revolving door. They see further doors on all sides, but more often than not the only one they’re going to push for is the exit.
Update 2/9/2015: I looked into this again six months after the update was announced and found that it's all gone a bit quiet. For thoughts on why this is and an overall update, go to the Revisiting Google's Doorway post.
Flickr Creative Commons Image: Decar66