What are doorway pages and do they boost SEO?

Doorway pages are a great example of an old SEO practice that has turned 180-degrees on itself. While these stepping-stone pages worked well for SEO, they offered little value to web users. Google’s algorithm updates along with other search engines, like Bing or Baidu, aim to keep up with searcher intentions with the goal to deliver the best content for searchers in as few clicks as possible. You need to know what they are and how to clean them up.

Lily Ray explains doorway pages and why they are a bad idea

Doorway pages for SEO – Background

Prior to 2015, doorway pages were fairly common practice on websites. They were used to help websites rank well in search results. Tactics involved invisible text that search engines could read but humans couldn’t. Keyword stuffing and other, now dubious practices were also used to trick search engines and increase a website’s SERPs rank.

Many of the tactics used on doorway pages fall under the definition of cloaking in SEO. They were a way to trick search engines into sending doorway traffic to websites, even when they didn’t provide value for the searcher.

Because doorway pages were designed to boost a website’s SERPs ranking and not help visitors, Google webmaster guidelines were updated in March 2015. The Google algorithm update that supported the change to webmaster guidelines now penalizes websites for doorway pages. In some cases, entire websites have been blacklisted because of the practice.

What was once acceptable SEO practice has become a damaging one for websites.

Doorway pages Vs Landing Pages

Unlike landing pages, doorway pages include lots of keyword variations, links to similar pages, and sometimes functions that reroute web users to other destinations. In short, doorway pages are used for gaining website traffic but obstruct web users who want to get straight to a product or find an answer to their question.

Doorway page styles vary and often appear very similar to landing pages. The one main difference between landing pages and doorway pages is the value they provide for website visitors. Google’s explanation of doorway pages includes:

  1. Creating multiple domain names, subdomains, and multiple sites with the sole intention of increasing ‘search footprints’ for groups of keywords, phrases, or targeting geographical regions.
  2. Creating numerous ‘thin content’ pages for the purpose of funnelling visitors to a useful part of your website.
  3. Creating near-duplicate pages just for a keyword or specific variations of a keyword without fitting a clearly defined browser hierarchy or delivering value to the searcher.

Landing pages, on the other hand, provide specific and relevant information for a website user. They are targeted to deliver content that supports the searcher’s intent, whether that’s to learn something new, purchase a product, or complete a particular action. While landing pages are optimized so they rank well, they don’t require web searchers to jump through a number of hoops to get what they want.

How to check for doorway pages

Now that doorway pages are viewed by Google and other search engines as another cloaking device for SEO, it’s important to find and remove any such pages from your website. The similarity between doorway pages and landing pages can make this a little more difficult than it first appears.

Doorway pages - what to look for (list)

Because Bing webmaster tools and the Google console won’t specifically look for doorway pages, it’s important to be able to spot them and remove or update them yourself. There are three key things to look out for when reviewing your website for doorway pages:

  1. Similar pages that don’t fit the natural navigation hierarchy of products/services pages on your website and instead respond to different search results related to specific keywords. (E.g.: carpet, wool carpet, white carpet, wool mix carpet, carpet for offices, etc.)
  2. Duplicate pages that only vary for location names. (E.g.: wool carpet installation London, wool carpet installation Manchester, wool carpet installation Cardiff, etc.)
  3. Pages that are difficult (or impossible) to navigate to from your website’s menu and their only purpose is to push visitors to a useful page. (E.g.: carpet installation Cardiff, carpet installation London, etc. that all lead to the same carpet installation booking page. Instead, aim to rank with the booking page and let the user choose the location)

Updating doorway pages to boost SEO

Once doorway pages have been identified, you have two options for mitigating the damage they are causing for your SEO: remove them completely or change them so that they provide value for the website visitor.

Adding value for the searcher means investing in great content or allowing searchers to complete the intention of their search. If that means booking your service for their location, enable that on the doorway page instead of sending users to a central booking page. It also means ridding your website of the kinds of SEO cloaking techniques that are designed to dupe search engines – funneling redirects, multiple domain names, invisible text, etc.

Ridding your website of spam pages, cloaking techniques, and other black hat SEO practices have many benefits for your brand. You’ll increase your website credibility, you’ll reduce duplicate content that damages SEO, and you’ll be attracting searchers who are actually interested in what you have to offer. Legitimate SEO tactics support your business goals as well as helping search engines do their job. This alone makes it worth your time to address doorway pages and other misleading SEO tactics that may have been employed on your website.

Doorway pages may look harmless. Pre-2015 lots of websites used this tactic to rank well in SERPs. Today, doorway pages are just another black-hat SEO tactic that will ultimately harm your digital strategy. While this may work for a while with Google’s spiders, eventually you’ll come unstuck. Google’s third-party Quality Raters are human and they’re on the lookout for websites that don’t deliver what they promise. They’re also keen to identify websites that make it easy for web searchers to do what they intended in as few clicks as possible. Great SEO practice is all about helping website visitors, delivering value, and letting search engines know that too.