In March, I wrote about the Doorway update and the impact it should have had on landing pages. At the time, I said ‘we don’t yet know how this is going to affect location based search strategies’. As we come up to six months on from the official announcement, have the implications become any clearer?
Google’s Help Center defines doorways as ‘sites or pages created to rank highly for specific search queries.’ Pages created with anything other than user intent in mind are unlikely to be met with long term search visibility, but doorways are particularly troublesome because they are an attempt to rank several similar pages without offering anything unique.
They funnel users to more suitable site sections and act only as targeted but empty access points – as nothing more than doorways to more important pages. For more on these pages and why I think penalising them is a good idea, I’d point you towards my previous post linked in the opening sentence. This post is concerned with what’s happened since.
What we know and what we don’t
Other than the announcement in March and a Webmaster Hangout in May where John Mueller, Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst, revealed the update had launched, things have been oddly quiet. Google’s updates are typically met with panic, detailed analysis and official communication, but this just hasn’t happened.
The door’s ajar, but we’re still not sure what’s on the other side of it.
In another Webmaster Hangout, this time in August, Mueller tackled a question about the best way of getting rid of doorway pages. The sum of the advice is that noindex tags, 301 redirects and deleting suspect pages are all valid routes to follow, depending on the traffic levels and relevance of the page. What’s interesting about this is the nature of the question.
It doesn’t come in the form of an urgent plea for advice on removing a penalty, but about how to avoid one. A quick search reveals that when site managers are looking to board up their doorways, they are doing so pre-emptively, rather than reacting to a clearly marked penalty. Other than the threat of sitewide ranking adjustments, the specific repercussions of having doorway pages remain unclear.
It’s safe to say guilty pages currently fall under what Google labels as ‘thin content with little or no added value’, but how is their contribution to this weighted. Does the intent of a doorway page make it a worse offence than a page that offers no value? Is creating pages with the sole intention of ranking better than having pages with no obvious purpose?
If sites had been clearly penalised for having doorway pages, investigation and debate would be widespread. Because they haven’t, I believe sites will continue to use and even build more of these pages. Uncertainty breeds inaction and this strategy is likely to be exploited until something drastic happens halt it.
Google have a history of playing with their algorithms after launching them, even reversing changes with little public explanation. Just this week there has been speculation about them rolling back the latest iteration of Panda. Whether this is due to a slow roll out, a ‘sinister surge’ or a retreat, the fact is that sure-footedness and algorithm changes don’t go hand in hand.
As they get smarter by the day and update accordingly, it’s likely that the full scale of the doorway update is still being worked on. To be fair to Google, they usually warn about major changes months before noticeably implementing them. The problem is that breaking bad habits never comes easy.
Look at previous updates and the behaviours that accompanied them. Google made their stance on keyword spam and low quality guest posts clear long before Penguin, Panda and various other adjustments really clamped down on them. Despite the warnings, a huge amount of people kept doing all of these things, right up until their rankings tanked.
Rather than taking the in your face foreshadowing for what it was, many took a position of ‘if it ain’t broke’ and continued to accelerate towards the precipice. Until the effectiveness of doorway pages is proven to be stunted or sites that rely on them are penalised in an open, obvious way, history suggests that they will continue to be used.
If, as I claimed back in March, the update was ‘only a continuation of encouraging what websites should be doing with their landing pages: enabling user intent’, there is still some way to go. However, a change will undoubtedly come and those that get caught out won’t be able to say they weren’t warned.