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There’s been a lot of chatter in the webmaster world recently about “Doorway Pages”.
Recently the webmaster for a local/regional service company asked members of a Google Forum if zip code optimized landing pages linked to/from his company’s homepage would be considered Doorway Pages. The answers he got back were confusing to say the least. But, the overall impression I got from reading them was “yes” – largely similar pages of content optimized around single zip codes could be categorized as Doorway Pages by Google and draw a penalty.
Reading other forums and watching the back and forth continue between this guy and the moderators of the Google Forum left me asking the question – what’s the difference between a landing page and a doorway page? Does it all come down to intent??
What is a Doorway Page?
According to Google Webmaster Tools:
Doorway pages are typically large sets of poor-quality pages where each page is optimized for a specific keyword or phrase. In many cases, doorway pages are written to rank for a particular phrase and then funnel users to a single destination. Whether deployed across many domains or established within one domain, doorway pages tend to frustrate users, and are in violation of our webmaster guidelines. Google’s aim is to give our users the most valuable and relevant search results. Therefore, we frown on practices that are designed to manipulate search engines and deceive users by directing them to sites other than the ones selected, and that provide content solely for the benefit of search engines.
When I think of Doorway Pages, I think of web pages stuffed with keyword rich, but low quality content deployed en masse in order to trick the search engines and lure visitors to a site selling/promoting something different from what they were originally seeking. If this were the universally accepted definition, why would the zip code optimized landing pages fall into this category? Already you can see the ambiguity business owners and webmasters are being forced to interpret. And the consequences of getting it wrong could be the difference between being able to afford to send your daughter to Harvard or being forced to tell her that the best you can afford is City College because you just aren’t moving the units you used to via your company’s website!!
While nothing in the paragraph above gives any firm indication that zip code optimized landing pages fall under the category of Doorway Pages, there are certainly several elements which cause a raised eyebrow. For example – “poor-quality pages where each page is optimized for a specific keyword or phrase.” What about high-quality pages where each page is optimized for a specific keyword – would this type of page be considered a Doorway Page?
Think about the following example –
Joe’s Widget Company sells hundreds of different types of Widgets throughout Southern PA.
Joe’s website has great unique content, but his company is small relative to his Internationally owned competitors that serve the entire country. Although he ranks well organically for searches like “Widgets PA”, his site is 3-4 pages back for hyper-specific searches like “Large Brown Widgets Reading PA”. So, Joe creates some additional pages on his website. He writes loads of great information about one particular product – Large Brown Widgets. Then he makes additional pages for the major cities he serves – Reading, Philadelphia, Lancaster, etc. The pages are largely duplicate with the exception of the different cities and some information specific to each city – city specific customer testimonials, etc.
He links these pages to his homepage and each Landing Page shares the same navigation found on the rest of his site, but he adds a few additional calls to action in the right sidebar – like, “10% Off When You Order Large Brown Widgets Today!” Joe uploads the pages and a few weeks later they are all ranking on the first page of Google when someone does a search for “Large Brown Widgets [Target City], PA”. Joe is happy and apparently so are his visitors. When they search for “Large Brown Widgets Their Town, PA”, a website comes up that not only sells Large Brown Widgets, but provides all sorts of information about Large Brown Widgets and appears to regularly service their town. The pages have a low-bounce rate and many of the visitors that “land” on these pages convert and become customers.
Should pages like these be considered Doorway Pages?
I’m arguing that they shouldn’t.
I understand (and agree with) penalizing pages that deceive and/or misdirect visitors to something other than what they were searching to find. But, I don’t agree that pages – even pages with largely duplicate content excluding the City/State change, should be penalized.
Based on what I’ve seen, visitors searching for “Large Brown Widgets Reading, PA” aren’t being directed to, landing on, or visiting the quote end-quote duplicate page for “Large Brown Widgets Lancaster, PA” so it has zero bearing on their visitor experience. For all they know, Joe only services their hometown of Reading, PA! And if Joe does service this area, why should it matter to them if his company actually services other cities?
As long as the Joe’s Widget Company truly sells Large Brown Widgets and services Reading, PA, my feeling is that these City/State pages actually enhance the user’s experience.
They [the pages] should be rewarded not penalized. Note: many city/state landing pages are being rewarded by the search engines, but the talk is that they [the pages] might be flying under the search engine’s radar and once discovered, they will be penalized.
Here’s some data that an anonymous party shared with me – I think it helps illustrate my feelings above that City/State pages improve the visitor experience and should not be viewed or considered Doorway Pages:
This client had 195 visitors come to their website through a handful of City/State optimized landing pages (they’re even listed in Google Analytic’s Top Landing Page report!). Of these, 195 visitors, nearly 10% converted (more than double the website average) and the bounce rate for these pages was only a touch higher than the site’s average.
These pages improve the visitor experience. They certainly don’t detract from it.
Each page is more relevant to the individual user’s search than the company’s homepage and if Google’s goal is to “give our users the most valuable and relevant search results” – these pages definitely shouldn’t draw any penalty or decrease in organic rank.
So – what’s the difference between a Landing Page and a Doorway Page?
It seems to me that whether a page is considered a Landing Page or a Doorway Page comes down to publisher intent. Landing Pages add value. Doorway Pages deceive and mislead.
Landing Pages are designed to provide the most relevant and specific information to targeted visitors/searchers about a particular subject, product, service, etc. Companies create them because it’s nearly impossible to get a homepage to rank for everything relevant to a business and search engines like Google now have the ability to crawl very deep within (properly structured) websites. Doorway Pages, on the other hand, are created by the type of person that thinks, “if I trick enough people into visiting this page, at least some of them will buy my crap.”
It would be nice if the search engine powers that be would be a bit more specific, but I suppose they keep things vague to prevent spammers from evolving?
Send us your thoughts – what’s the difference between a Landing Page and a Doorway Page? Should City/State, Zip Code Optimized or Keyword Optimized Web Pages be penalized by the search engines?
Before you answer – consider the impact that directory sites are having on the search engine results with their thousands of listings by category and zip code.
About The Author: Ben Landers is the President and CEO of Blue Corona, a data-driven, inbound internet marketing company. Submit an inquiry to book Ben to speak at your next conference or event.
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