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Doorway Pages: A SEO Deep Dive

I confess: I once created “doorway pages” on a large scale.

In my defense, this was years before Google even existed. And that wasn’t considered spam at the time.

Doorway sites may seem like a nebulous concept to some marketers. Since Google announced that the creation of such pages is considered an illegal practice, there has been some confusion.

However, such mistakes are just as wrong as masking in SEO. So, read on and I’ll explain what doorway pages are, how to watch out for them, and what to do about them.

What are doorway pages?

“… web pages or pages created to rank for specific, similar search queries. They lead users to intermediate pages that are not as useful as the final destination.”

They also cite the following examples as doors:

• Have multiple websites with slight variations in URL and home page to maximize their reach for any particular query • Have multiple domain names or pages targeted at specific regions or cities that direct users to a single page • Pages generated to direct visitors to an actual usable page or relevant part of your sites • Substantially similar pages that are closer to search results than a clearly defined searchable hierarchy

The early days of doorway pages

Doorway pages seemed like a mystical, magical thing back in the early days of the search engine.

This is partly because, at the advent of the commercialized/public Internet, everyone thought that website visitors would only get to your site through the home page.

Essentially, visitors would only come and go through the “front door”. This idea led people to obsess over home page design, while the rest of the website was often almost an afterthought.

Therefore, as search engines absorbed and reflected web pages, it suddenly felt like reaching some high level of Buddhist monk-level enlightenment to realize that a web page could now have many “front doors” through which visitors would enter.

I didn’t know what the sides of the door were when I thought I invented them around 1996/1997. Search engines first grew out of curated link directories, but when sites began to be spidered, things changed quickly. I was tasked with driving traffic to one of Verizon’s largest websites at the time.

I recognized that the homepage of the site could not be specifically optimized for ~8,000 business categories and ~19,000 cities. I realized that I needed to create individual pages, each optimized to rank for business categories, cities, or a combination of both.

I called my pages “portals” because the whole process seemed almost magical. I followed almost mystical, ritual-like blueprints in page optimization and experimentation. I envisioned virtually teleporting people who searched for “restaurants in Springfield” or “doctors in Bellevue” to our website where I would match them with what they wanted.

Despite the lack of any guide or formula that speaks to such approaches at scale, many others have come up with similar solutions, seeking to expand content to match the growing variety of user queries in search engines.

My skunkworks project on “portal pages” was a clear success, although it would be a few more years before leadership at the company recognized the value and allowed me to implement the concept beyond my pilot research project.

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The rise of doorway pages in search results

When portal sites were first added to the list of spam practices, there was a certain degree of uproar about them, with a strong emphasis from the Googlers emphasizing that the use of the door was a violation.

In the years since, not much has been said about this topic. Google appeared to be increasingly cautious about imposing penalties related to practices and other quality rules.

The lack of attention paid to portal sites seems to have led some marketers to believe that they are no big deal.

A typical rationalization is, “Amazon does it, and the Google SERPs are full of Amazon, so…”

Often these people use portal pages on their websites.

The past six years have seen a sharp increase in lawsuits involving portals. I first wrote about this in 2017, “Initial confusion of interest rears its ugly head once again in trademark infringement case,” where I mentioned an older lawsuit in which watch company Multi Time Machine sued Amazon for hosting a search results page for “mtm special ops watches ” (and other similar keyword searches that might be related to watch company tags).

Amazon hosted the “MTM Special Ops Watches” page, but only displayed search results for other competing products.

Multi Time Machine argued that this could confuse consumers expecting MTM products, and therefore constituted infringement.

That lawsuit was ultimately dismissed because the court found that no “reasonably prudent consumer” would be confused by an Amazon page that featured products that would be significantly cheaper than MTM watches.

In another case (“Bodum USA, Inc. v. Williams-Sonoma, Inc.”), French coffee maker Bodum sued its former retail partner Williams-Sonoma under similar circumstances.

Williams-Sonoma sold Bodum’s products for a while, but eventually discontinued them, opting instead to manufacture its own branded French press machines.

However, the Bodum search results page on the Williams-Sonoma.com website continued to be maintained, only now it featured Williams-Sonoma products rather than Bodum’s.

Thus, the circumstances, including allegations that the products themselves were confusingly similar, were arguably much more confusing than in the Multi Time Machine/Amazon case.

The Bodum v. Williams-Sonoma case was settled out of court, and Williams-Sonoma added a disclaimer to its web results: “We do not sell Bodum brand products.”

Later, I spoke with the CEO of another company that sold its products through Williams-Sonoma. In a similar order, the latter also dropped them, began introducing its competing products, and maintained a search results page that used (and ranked) the brand name of the dropped company.

In Google’s recent revision of its Webmaster Guidelines, including renaming them Google Search Essentials, Google could have easily avoided this category if they were no longer a concern.

Instead, the newly updated Spam Guidelines page promotes Doorways to second on the list of violated practices, right after Cloaking. Google also added another example of Doorways.

Google’s take on doorway pages: A brief history

Doorway pages were against the rules very early in Google’s 20+ year history. I could find a reference to portal pages in Google’s policy as far back as June 2006 (although I think there may have been a policy a little before that):

In a session at the first SMX Advanced Conference in 2007, Google’s former head of web spam Matt Cutts was asked for more detailed guidance.

Just a few days later, Vanessa Fox announced on Google’s Webmaster Central blog that they had expanded the guidelines, providing, among other things, more examples.

“Doorway pages are pages specifically made for search engines. Doorway pages contain many links – often several hundred – that are of little or no use to the visitor and contain no valuable content. HTML sitemaps are a valuable resource for your visitors, but make sure these link pages are easy for your visitors to navigate. If you have a large number of links to include, consider organizing them into categories or across multiple pages. But in doing so, make sure they are intended for visitors to navigate through parts of your site, not just search engines.”

As of 2013, the content guidelines section of Google Webmaster Tools has modified this description, stating:

“Doorway pages are usually large collections of low-quality pages where each page is optimized for a specific keyword or phrase. In many cases, portal pages are written to rank for a specific phrase and then direct users to a single destination. Whether spread over multiple domains or established within a single domain, gateway sites tend to frustrate users.”

In 2015, Google saw fit to publish an article on the Google Search Central Blog further highlighting what Google doesn’t like about portal sites and announcing a specific “ranking adjustment” (read: a major update that would penalize portal sites).

“Over time, we’ve seen websites try to maximize their ‘search footprint’ without adding clear, unique value. These gateway campaigns manifest as pages on a website, as a series of domains, or a combination thereof. In order to improve the quality of search results for our users, we will soon be launching a ranking adjustment to better respond to these types of pages. Sites with large and well-established inbound campaigns could be widely impacted by this change.”

At their best, portal pages might be an attempt to provide navigation between search engine results pages and the most accurate content within a website. If one had a limited indexing budget, such sites could provide page collections for many individual pages at a granular level.

But in the worst case, portal pages can increase a website’s indexed pages by thousands and millions of pages, giving little value between different ones and tending to allow the website to appear for many more searches than the page deserves.

Jennifer Slegg’s analysis of the PageRank adjustment at the time was that it was most likely focused on improving the quality of local search queries and mobile search results.

Indeed, local business directory websites have attempted to index their websites for all combinations of categories and locations. (These were my early doorway pages, before the anti-doorway rules, when I worked for Verizon’s Superpages—one of the biggest early online yellow pages.)

However, there is reason to think that local directory pages get some special treatment from Google (as I’ll briefly describe in the “Types of Landing Pages” section below).

Barry Schwartz directly called this “customization” the “landing page penalty algorithm.”

The automated penalty probably made many realize that portal sites are considered a serious violation of Google’s guidelines.

Websites have been penalized for this in the past, but many believed that if their websites weren’t currently penalized, then what they were doing was OK in Google’s eyes.

This irrationally based belief was shown to be false when the landing page penalty was introduced.

Seven years later, a whole younger, fresh crop of organic search marketers have forgotten that portal sites are serious infringement, just as some have done in the past.

This can happen as an oversight in some cases. In other cases, SEO marketers may become increasingly bold and ambitious about expanding crawlable pages to the point where they have crossed the line. Until then, Google detects portal pages and knocks them down pretty hard.

Although having even a single doorway page is considered against Google’s policies, in fact doorway violations are determined by scale.

Having a few may not cause problems, but a large proportion of them compared to fewer sites is more likely to be detected, resulting in a negative outcome.

Types of doorway pages

Spammy city/region pages

This fits Google’s example of “[h]emaining multiple domain names or pages targeting specific regions or cities that direct users to a single page.”

For example, imagine a law firm in a small state like New Hampshire:

It would start to look pretty spammy and repetitive if it was done for about 234 towns in New Hampshire.

But imagine this kind of thing done with over 19,000 incorporated cities and towns in the United States.

There is reason to think that local businesses for large metro areas that implement this (ie, targeting the roughly 88 cities of greater Los Angeles or the more than 200 cities of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex) could be penalized, especially if the business does not have a physical address in each target city, which would qualify it to have such sites.

Here is an example of a landing page used by a current international business directory (name redacted).

Clearly, there are some caveats to Google’s algorithmic rules around defining unwanted city/region page types.

You can do a search right now and see pages of local business listings from major directory sites like Yelp and Yellow Pages showing up in the top search results for a huge number of business category keywords combined with local city names (eg “accountants in Poughkeepsie, NY ”).

Sites like neighbourhoods.com and nextdoor.com are doing great. If a page displays high-quality, valuable information about every city the website targets, it probably won’t be considered a landing page. This is a key criterion that many seem to miss when evaluating whether Google is monitoring landing pages.

Now, if you show a page like “Lawyers in New York” but the page just links to listings for all the boroughs, that would qualify as a landing page.

If a user searches for “lawyers in nyc” and clicks on a page that has no “lawyers in nyc” listings, but only links to other sites, then that would be a very poor user experience.

But if they clicked on the site and got a list of lawyers, that wouldn’t fit the model of being a site in itself.

You can understand this by searching “lawyers in nyc”. On the first page of search results, you’ll see listings from Justie, FindLaw, Cornell University Lawyers, Yelp, the New York Bar Association, Martindale-Hubbell, and Expertise.com.

Microsites

Google doesn’t mention “microsites” in its guidelines, but this tactic used to be called that.

Google’s current rule of thumb is: “Having multiple web pages with slight variations in URL and home page to maximize their reach for any given query.”

The concept of microsites came into greater use when SEOs noticed that Google seemed to give ranking preference to websites that contained a keyword in the domain name.

Imagine if Target.com followed through on this. They sell over 3,000 types of products based on their sitemap file.

Creating a “sub-website” for each type of product with links to their main website to make purchases would be very annoying. It would also be largely unnecessary as Google can fully display their existing category pages in search results.

This is an attractive idea for website operators who think it will be a shortcut to the success they have failed to achieve by under-optimizing their existing websites.

I’ve argued with CEOs about this before, telling them that “to successfully employ a microsite, you need to market it as your main website – promote it, advertise it, use social media with it, etc. – don’t do it, because no one markets microsites sufficiently when they create tens, hundreds or even thousands of them!”

You can create a separate promotional website for a few things, but it’s better to treat them fairly close to full, stand-alone websites in order to achieve good rankings.

A unique URL with keywords alone is not enough. This is not a shortcut to comprehensive high rankings.

Indexable internal search results pages

For many years, Google has stated that it does not want to index the search results pages of a website because it could be an infinite set of pages, given the many keywords that could be used to perform a search on a website. Search-results-in-search-results is an irritating user experience.

This is perhaps the most confusing aspect of Google’s guidelines because there are several ways to define “search results” on web pages.

Category pages or item listing pages on some websites use the website/database search function to display these types of pages.

Google’s SEO Starter Guide says:

“Avoid: Let Google index your internal search results pages. Users don’t like to click on a search result only to be taken to another page of search results on your site.”

However, there are differences between allowing category pages (a limited number and very specific ones) to be indexed versus indexing many variations of category type keywords that display essentially identical pages.

This can happen with e-commerce websites when merchants create category pages including all variations of product options. E-catalog software often provides “faceted” navigation options that produce such pages. Here’s an example:

Now, some websites have such a breadth of content that they might be able to produce such pages without encountering a site evaluation.

But many websites may display almost identical content on such pages, or display only one product listing – which would be better if just indexing the product page itself.

In even more serious cases, some websites have set things up so that when consumers search on their websites, they will automatically produce indexable pages of search results for each of those queries.

This can result in a bunch of pages indexed with only the keyword name changed, while the content of the pages is largely or completely similar to the rest of the website.

This is the case with those Williams-Sonoma pages where the indexed search result for “bodum coffee makers” may be the same content as the “French press coffee makers” category page.

More worryingly, blindly generating pages from user search results can create pages with keywords that are no longer relevant to the website. In other words, spam and, to put it another way, potential trademark infringement.

In one lawsuit I worked on, an online retailer allowed thousands upon thousands of pages generated by user queries on the site to be indexed, including big brand names that the site did not carry, such as Nike, Versace, Burberry, Gucci, Yves St. Laurent, Chanel, Eddie Bauer and more.

An even greater number of pages were indexed from the website, focused on keyword phrases that would produce essentially identical pages of search results:

Imagine these types of key phrases multiplied hundreds and thousands of times, and you get the picture. Massive scale, duplicate content and spam.

Any web page with significant content and search functionality that uses the GET method can end up with indexed internal search results.

I had a client in about 2007/2008. whose business model created a sort of curated search results pages that were de-indexed by Google overnight when this rule was promoted.

Substantially duplicate content propagated via keyword variations

You can already see how this could work in the example above where pages are indexed for an online retailer under multiple, very similar keywords, and the pages would have identical content.

There can be some level of plausible deniability where SEO software paired with Shopify or other online shopping software can cause more and more user search queries to be indexed as pages.

But some websites have sought to programmatically create alternative versions of content pages using synonyms, keyword research APIs, AI, or some human editors. Page content could be published on multiple pages, each with a title and title with different keywords.

Many thin content websites have done just that in the past, and it probably doesn’t work well in Google these days.

Unsure? How to avoid a doorway ‘ding’

You may wonder if you are at risk of your website being “woke up” by Google for having landing pages. If you *know* you have landing pages, eliminate them in favor of focusing on promoting quality and promoting other content pages.

If you’re not sure if you have what Google would consider landing pages or want ideas on how to fix them, read on for some recommendations.

There has long been a suggestion that Amazon gets away with portal sites because they have loads of PageRank. Therefore, Google shows many of Amazon’s doorway pages where other websites would not.

With 135 million pages indexed and ranking for top product name queries worldwide, Amazon is truly in a unique position. Google can – and has – taken the position that providing users with what they are looking for is the first and foremost priority.

So if a page is desired/expected in search results, Google could allow the violation to pass in order to keep the page in search results where consumers can find it. However, this does not mean that Google likes portal sites.

But I don’t think Amazon’s sites are portal sites in particular.

Generally, if you click on an Amazon listing in Google search results for a product, you’ll find what you’re looking for. These can be category listing pages or specific product pages.

But, you usually see pictures of what you’re looking for, and the results are quite satisfying. This is a key determinant.

The bottom line is not that “Amazon is getting away with Doorway Pages”. The bottom line is that “Amazon delivers a very satisfying experience for searchers by delivering on the promise of keyword targeting on their pages.”

Here are some tips to reduce the risk of door dings.

Simply remove doorways from the index

Google suggests using robots.txt, but I have a different opinion.

A robust internal link hierarchy is valuable for SEO, as it can help ensure that Google finds and indexes the granular content of a page.

For this reason, perhaps the fastest solution is to add a robots meta tag to those pages with a “noindex” directive, along with a “follow” directive to index the links on the page.

Keep internal search from generating pages

It’s true that you can get internal website search data to discover the keywords your users might be using to find your type of content.

You should still use it as a guide for creating new content, modifying existing content, or introducing other pages related to the most searched terms.

But don’t let your internal searches automatically turn into pages of search results that search engines can index.

Doing so will set your site on an ever-increasing cookie-cutter page curve that will generate levels of duplication, low-value pages, and open you up to possible spam hacking attacks.

You should human-control the pages that are added to your site, so that you stop the uncontrolled flow of pages that are created every time users enter combinations of words into your search forms.

You should also consider technical modifications if your internal search URLs are indexable because it is natural for users to share page URLs with others. This can cause user-generated external links to grow over time until you inadvertently end up with a large pool of landing pages.

You may need to set all those robot meta tags with noindex directives or disallow them in robots.txt.

Alternatively, you can switch the search function to only work with the POST method, thereby revoking the ability for full URLs to be tagged/indexed.

Redesign your category pages to be richer

Category and subcategory pages don’t have to be mere navigational lists of links to deeper pages. You can display the main items from the categories on the page along with navigation links deeper.

Informative textual content could be included, as well as video and preview clips and links to related blog posts. Highlight the latest items, recently updated content, best sellers or recommendations.

In short, you want to transform what were essentially link pages for search engines into pages that are both highly usable and useful for end users.

Make core content pages more relevant for alternate keywords

If you use portal pages to try to have content that appears for many related keywords, use only one SEO method.

Instead of a door, you can judiciously add one or two other keywords to the page itself if you add them in a natural way that is easy to read for users. Don’t overdo it, or you’ll run into Google for keyword stuffing.

Another option is to create external links that point to the main page for any topic, using alternative keywords for the link text. Again, avoid overdoing it and don’t resort to external link building to collect links.

You can write your website blog posts or articles to link the text of the alternative keywords back to the main page for the topic.

Do away with doorway pages

Doorway sites have been a broken practice for about two decades now.

Google’s recent update to Search Essentials increased the prominence of portal pages in the broken spam policy section. They also added an example among those who have been present for a long time.

This indicates that portal sites are still considered a bad practice and as serious as other black SEO practices which are risky, wrong and unethical. Otherwise, Google would take the opportunity to update the section to revoke the door guidelines.

Despite some degree of rationalization and confusion by the search community, doorway pages will still remain a bad practice.

This could penalize your website (or part of it) so that the pages are buried far down in the search results or even completely de-indexed so that they cannot be found by any search.

Alternative optimizations can provide the perceived benefits associated with door sides and reduce or avoid the conditions that can cause them.

Stick to modern SEO best practices and avoid getting bogged down in doorway pages. You’ll see your organic search ranking program grow and benefit without the risk of getting on Google’s bad side.

Managing page doors (by eliminating them) has additional benefits. You will remove potentially significant legal liability associated with the practice.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily those of Search Engine Land. The employed authors are listed here.

What are examples of doorway pages?

What is page content in SEO?

Page content refers to all information contained on the website. Page content can be displayed as text, links, images, audio, animation or video, among others. Browsers have a limited ability to recognize images, animations, videos and sounds.

. Quality content helps you generate backlinks – One of the best SEO strategies is to get high quality backlinks from high authority sites. For Google, high-quality backlinks indicate credibility and trust. The more quality backlinks you have, the more likely you are to rank higher on Google.

What is doorway to a website?

Doorway pages (bridge pages, portal pages, jump pages, access pages, or landing pages) are web pages that are created to intentionally manipulate search engine indexes (spamdexing).

What is the difference between a search landing page and a landing page? Landing pages are designed to provide users with specific information or content, while a gateway page is an SEO optimized page used to redirect users to a specific page or pages adding an extra hop to the user.

What is doorway in SEO?

A good page will influence the search engine index by inserting results for certain phrases while sending visitors to another page. Doorway sites that redirect visitors without their knowledge use some form of cloaking. This usually falls under Black Hat SEO.

What is the starting point or a doorway to the website?

(d r w ) (n.) Also called a landing page, jump page, entry page, or bridging page. A website designed specifically to achieve high search engine rankings.

What is doorway page example?

Some examples of doorway pages For example, if the main page is “Best Dog Food”, you create 10 different pages such as “Best Dog Food in Texas”, “Best Dog Food in Houston”, “Best Dog Food in New York”. and so on. Creating similar pages that are closer to search results than a browseable hierarchy.

What is doorway in SEO?

A good page will influence the search engine index by inserting results for certain phrases while sending visitors to another page. Doorway sites that redirect visitors without their knowledge use some form of cloaking. This usually falls under Black Hat SEO.

What is a landing page in SEO? Doorway Page – An Important SEO Technique Doorway page known by many names such as jump page, entry page or bridging page is basically a page that is designed specifically to achieve higher search engine rankings. Or they are simply pages that are optimized to rank high for one or two keywords.

What is the starting point or a doorway to the website?

(d r w ) (n.) Also called a landing page, jump page, entry page, or bridging page. A website designed specifically to achieve high search engine rankings.

What is doorway page example?

Some examples of doorway pages For example, if the main page is “Best Dog Food”, you create 10 different pages such as “Best Dog Food in Texas”, “Best Dog Food in Houston”, “Best Dog Food in New York”. and so on. Creating similar pages that are closer to search results than a browseable hierarchy.

What is doorway content?

In short, portal pages are used to gain website traffic, but they hinder web users who want to get directly to a product or find an answer to their question. Doorway page styles vary and often look very similar to landing pages.

What is Gateway or doorway pages?

A gateway page, also known as an entry page, is a web page designed to rank highly for certain search queries that does not offer useful information to the searcher. For example, imagine you search for “easy dinner recipes” and click on the organic result above.